What Kind of an Interpreter are You?

weeping willow monet

‘Weeping Willow’ by Claude Monet.

A few days ago a friend and colleague of mine (you can take a look at her blog and thoughts on the matter here) suggested that I read an article on different interpreting styles by Cyril Flerov for The Linguist.

In the article, the author draws a clear line between what he consideres to be two very different interpreting styles: Type 1, when you stay as close to the original as possible, and Type 2, when you allow yourself more freedom, and focus mainly on the most important details. Indeed, when you look at these techniques like that, they do seem to be extremely different. And I could probably agree, that in order to do either you would have to focus and devote time to practice.

Yet somehow I am not sure it is always a question of either or. At least for me. Interpreting is not an exact science, and even if we work hard to develop a certain technique and improve our personal style, everything still depends on the situation at hand, on the speaker, the subject, and the speed of delivery. Which is why I have to admit that I’m not so sure whether I am a Type 1 or a Type 2 Interpreter.

And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Georges Mounin, a French linguist, translator and semiotician, described translation as an art based on science :

” La traduction reste un art – mais un art fondée sur une science.”

I believe it is even more so when it comes to interpreting. You learn a language, maybe, if you really commit yourself to it, you learn two or three, or even four. Then you learn and constanly work to better your interpreting skills, you put in endless hours of practice in the booth and at home, and you listen, you watch, and you read, you make sure you understand the politics, the economics, and all the untranslatable jokes. You even begin to find them funny. And yet even if you do all that, be it for three years or for three decades, there will always be something to surprise or even puzzle you. Life without challenges is boring, and interpreting isn’t much different. Same rules apply.

After all, interpreting is a lot like life.

Now I may be wrong, but I honestly believe that interpreting (and life) is about taking risks. It’s about constantly challenging yourself to go further, to do better. I’ve mentioned the learning and the practice parts of the process. I believe that refers to the scientific side of the matter. Style, on the other hand, is traditionally associated with art. And here you may say that all great artists had their own style.

But tell me this – what do you think of the Impressionists? Painters like Monet and Cezanne, for example? They knew all the rules, but they also knew that sometimes it was okay to break them, to try something new, to step over the line. And it’s the same with interpreting. You may prefer Type 1 interpreting, you may feel more comfortable staying as close to the speaker as possible. That’s all right, as long as you don’t have anything against those who prefer Type 2, and vice versa. And sometimes you may just have to venture into that other type as well. As long as that doesn’t scare you, I don’t think there is anything to worry about.

And I truly believe that interpreting is that form of art (and I do believe that it is, or certainly can be, a for of art) where it is okay to venture, to seek, and to seek to discover.

It is the message that matters, the impression that counts.

etretat la falaise d'aval   ‘La Falaise d’Aval’, Etretat, by Claude Monet

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