Fast delivery in simultaneous interpretation
2 nd year Master student, Simultaneous interpretation
2 nd year Master student, Simultaneous interpretation
Fast speech is the arch enemy of simultaneous interpreters. Prior preparation may address deficiencies in knowledge and terminology, and to some extent, alleviate the pressure of fast delivery. But if the speed is beyond a certain limit, no interpreter can transmit the message in full, even if the interpreter is an expert in the subject. This is even more so when the structures of the source and target languages differ substantially. The reason is simple. All interpreters have limited mental capacity.
FAST DELIVERY IN SIMULTANEOUS INTERPRETATION
Khujaniyozova Nargiza Kadamboyevna
year Master student, Simultaneous interpretation,
Uzbekistan State World Languages University
Fast speech is the arch enemy of simultaneous interpreters. Prior preparation
may address deficiencies in knowledge and terminology, and to some extent, alleviate
the pressure of fast delivery. But if the speed is beyond a certain limit, no interpreter can
transmit the message in full, even if the interpreter is an expert in the subject. This is
even more so when the structures of the source and target languages differ
substantially. The reason is simple. All interpreters have limited mental capacity.
In simultaneous interpretation (SI), interpreters have to allocate attention
among several tasks: listening and analysis, production, short term memory and
coordination (Gile 1995: 161). When a
speaker’s delivery is rapid, listening and
analysis alone will consume almost all the
interpreter’s energy. Little energy will be
left for production, especially when production involves complicated language
The human brain is like a washing machine. The drum must never be
overloaded with laundry, or there will be no room for spinning, and cleaning will not
be thorough. Likewise, fast speeches overload the brain with too much information
within a specific time span, leaving no room for proper processing of information to
produce a coherent translation.
Problems of Fast Speech
Delivering fast speeches in an international conference may lead to several
problems: First, mistranslation and loss of information. There is a maximum output
that an interpreter can produce within a given time interval; the greater the input, the
greater the chance of error and omission. Secondly, fast delivery makes
comprehension difficult even when the audience is listening to a native language.
Thirdly, English is a non-native language to many, if not most, international
conference participants. Participants lose information when either the speaker or the
interpreter speaks too fast.
What is the optimal speech rate for English?
To ensure the proper functioning of the
interpreter’s brain, the speaker must
speak at an appropriate speed. Studies show that speech rate has a direct correlation
with interpretation quality. Accuracy is reduced as the speech gets faster. Interpreters
generally believe that, to ensure the quality of interpretation, a rate between 100 and
120 (English) words per minute (wpm) is optimal for speeches that are not read from
a written text, although the figure may differ for different types of speech. Lederer
suggested that for recited texts which are devoid of hesitation and redundancy that
characterize official speeches, the maximum rate should be 100 wpm (Gerver 1969;
Seleskovitch 1978; Lederer 1981; as cited in Chang 2005: 12).
Coping with Fast Speeches
Interpreters have to find coping strategies to deal with speeches that are
delivered faster than the optimal speed. Based on the
author’s practice and
observation, four strategies may be used: the speaker is advised to slow down, the
interpreter speeds up, summarization, termination of service.
Strategy one: Request the speaker to slow down.
This is the first possible tactic when a speaker is speaking too fast; however,
one must remember that reminders seldom work, for speakers are either set in their
speaking habits, or are always trying to cover too much within a limited time. After
being reminded, a speaker will usually slow down for a sentence or two, before
quickly forgetting the rules. Also, too-frequent reminders impede communication. A
fast rate of speech is a universal challenge for interpreters.
To ensure that speakers speak at a reasonable pace, the efforts of several
organizers, and individuals. As an association of interpreters, AIIC has
communicated with institutional users of SI such as the United Nations and the
European Union on speakers requirements. As a result of AIICs efforts, the European
Commission’s Directorate-General for Interpretation issued Tips for Speakers, giving
speakers tips on how to deliver speeches when interpreters services are used (Tips
for Speakers). One of the tips is to
“speak naturally, at a reasonable pace. If speakers
could observe the tips, interpretation quality would be greatly enhanced. In dealing
with ad hoc users of interpretation services, interpreters should communicate with
the conference organizer, requesting speakers to speak at a reasonable pace. At
small and more personal meetings, interpreters may communicate directly with the
speakers. Most speakers are quite ready to cooperate, and would even request
interpreters to raise their hands at any time when slowing down is needed. As a
general rule, interpreters must make known their difficulties to conference organizers
and speakers to ensure that they receive the required cooperation.
Strategy Two: The interpreter speeds up.
If the speaker fails to cooperate, the interpreter will have to speed up. The
constraint, however, is that speech rate cannot be increased indefinitely. And as
mentioned earlier, if a speech is delivered too quickly, most of the
processing capacity will be devoted to comprehension, leaving little energy and time
for translating and speaking the target language. The resulting utterance would be
either incoherent or too fast for the
Strategy Three: Summarization.
This is a tactic used when the interpreter cannot keep pace with the speaker
even with increased speed. The best approach to interpreting speeches with
redundant information (such as impromptu speeches) is to summarize. Summary
interpretation will produce a more succinct speech than the original. On the other
hand, speeches densely packed with information or with complex reasoning cannot
be further condensed. Any attempt at summarizing will result in omissions or
truncated logic, and the audience will find difficulty following the speaker, particularly
when speakers read verbatim and rapidly from written text or in government jargon.
Interpreters can only do their best, and translate as much as they are able within the
limited time. Having said that, summarization consumes a lot of energy and is not
Interpreters familiar with the subject-matter and who understand the
audience’s needs and the central message can respond faster by capturing essential
information and discarding the trivial. In any case, no amount of familiarity with the
subject-matter can compensate for a speech delivered too fast.
Strategy Four: Termination of service.
In the event that working conditions do not meet the
requirements and as a result, interpretation quality is compromised, interpreters may
terminate their services. Although the author has not seen any interpreter using this
strategy, the author has heard it.
Having said that, interpreters who serve as the bridge between speakers and
audience should refrain from turning off the microphone (despite it being one possible
strategy) unless absolutely necessary. First of all, not all speakers speak fast, and
speaker’s turn will be over very soon. The organizer will understand if the
interpretation for that particular segment is not completely satisfactory. Turning off
the microphone because of one speaker will attract the
audience’s attention to the
interpreter. Secondly, many conferences provide SI services simply to raise the
prestige of the meeting or as part of the complete language service offered at the
If the interpreter determines that this is indeed the case, i.e. meeting
participants do not actually use the interpretation service, there is even less necessity
to turn off the microphone and attract the
organizer’s attention to interpreters. Finally,
as a protection of the
interpreter’s interests and to prevent any unnecessary dispute,
interpreters should stipulate in their interpretation contracts that the organizers
ensure that speakers observe a reasonable rate of speech.
1. Gile, Daniel (1995). Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and
Translator Training. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
2. Gerver, David (1969).
“The effects of source language presentation rate on
the performance of simultaneous conference
interpreters”. Emerson Foulke (Ed),
Proceedings of the 2nd Louisville Conference on Rate and/or Frequency Controlled
Speech. Louisville, KY: University of Louisville. October 22-24, 1969. 162-184.
3. Chang, Chia-Chien (2005), Directionality in Chinese/English Simultaneous
Interpreting: Impact on Performance and Strategy Use. PhD thesis. Graduate School
of the University of Texas at Austin. Online at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/etd/d/2005/
changc71804/changc71804.pdf (consulted 13.09.2006).
4. Seleskovitch, Danica (1978). Interpreting for international conferences.
Washington, D.C.: Pen&Booth.
5. Lederer, Marianne (1981). La Traduction
simultanée. Paris: Minard Lettres
6. Tips for Speakers. Online at http://www.eudevdays.eu/docs/tips2007_
en.pdf (consulted 18.10.2009)
Gile, Daniel (1995). Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Gerver, David (1969). “The effects of source language presentation rate on the performance of simultaneous conference interpreters”. Emerson Foulke (Ed), Proceedings of the 2nd Louisville Conference on Rate and/or Frequency Controlled Speech. Louisville, KY: University of Louisville. October 22-24, 1969. 162-184.
Chang, Chia-Chien (2005), Directionality in Chinese/English Simultaneous Interpreting: Impacton Performance and Strategy Use. PhD thesis. Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin. Online at http://www.lib.utexas.edU/etd/d/2005/ change? 1804/changc71804.pdf (consulted 13.09.2006).
Seleskovitch, Danica (1978). Interpreting for international conferences. Washington, D.C.: Pen&Booth.
Lederer, Marianne (1981). La Traduction simultanee. Paris: Minard Lettres Modernes.
Tips for Speakers. Online at http://www.eudevdays.eu/docs/tips2007_ en.pdf (consulted 18.10.2009)