Lotus flower at Kew Gardens

Putting the human in interpreting

A couple of weeks back, I had the privilege of interpreting Miss Yalitza Aparicio (the actress from Roma, the award-winning movie) at a Latin American women’s summit, where she was interviewed and honoured with an award.

It is remarkable how different each job is. It should not be surprising, though. After all, each speaker is unique, just as each and every one of us is.

However, not every situation requires the same from us, interpreters. True, we are never the protagonist and we always take a step back and let our speakers shine.

But, sometimes, we have to take half a step forward and put the human in our interpreting, bring their voice closer to the ‘other language’ audience, reflect their tone, their warmth, their sense of humour, their rhythm.

Another remarkable artist I have had the pleasure to lend my voice to is Argentine writer Samantha Schweblin. When asked in an interview about her expectations of the translated version of her book Mouthful of Birds, she said that all she could hope for was for her translator to take her readers to the same emotional state than the version in the original language did.

I believe there are times when that is precisely what we have to do.

A medical conference requires factual precision.

A diplomatic setting requires professional detachment.

An academic lecture requires linguistic artistry.

And interviews require the audience being able to ‘see’ the people they came to see and admire in full technicolour.

It is our job, then, to put the human in interpreting and carry them across linguistic and cultural barriers so that those listening to the interpreter arrive to the same emotional state than those listening to the original.

It is certainly a delicate balance that, when achieved, puts the audience in complete sync with the speaker and changes the atmosphere in the room.