August 20, 2018

Is Interpretation a Miracle?

by Sharleen Quinones, Interpreter

Witnessing a real-time interpretation is nothing short of witnessing a miracle. Allow me to explain:

For this example, we will be using the language combination of English and Spanish.

In a setting where one person does not speak Spanish, another does not speak English, and we have an interpreter, they face a mountain of challenges in order to complete the task at hand.

The interpreter does not know what the speaker will say. There is almost always information previously available about the topic that will be discussed, but the interpreter can never know exactly what words will be used.

The interpreter must have the cognitive focus, skill and speed needed to process all the required steps in order to complete this task. These include, but are not limited to: listening to the speaker's message, decoding the message in the language of origin and understanding the idea that the speaker is trying to relay.

This is immediately followed by a search for words at lightning speed in order to form an equivalent phrase which must contain the original and intended message, from an impressive collection of approximately 350,000 words in the English language (according to the Real Oxford Dictionary) or 150,000 words from the Spanish language (from the Real Academia EspaƱola). In addition to this, the interpreted message must already be polished with the correct syntax, grammar and phonology the listener requires in order to be able to decode the phrase spoken, which in itself is a feat as these can be very different between the two languages... all of this, in a matter of seconds!

In the time it took you to read and understand this article in this language, the active interpreter would have already read it, processed it, and interpreted it out loud into Spanish, needing only a few more seconds than you did to accomplish this.

If you consider the title question thoughtfully and purposefully after what you've just read, can you still doubt it?


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