Simultaneous Interpreters are invisible

Simultaneous interpreters are indeed invisible! Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that our lot suscribed to Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

Mind you, in most cases neither the conference participants nor the speakers are not aware of our existence or our work. I for one take great care to be at the venue very early, so that there is enough time to set up my gear in the booth, say hello to the organizers, download last-minute presentations to my computer, have a chat with my colleague, make sure that there is enough water and go through my glossary again.

When the attendees arrive, I am in the booth, so that they do not see me. In many cases the interpreting booth is located somewhere in the back of the room; firmly installed booths in large congress centres are somewhere on the second or third floor – bird’s view!

Ideally, our audience perceives only my voice via the earphones. Sometimes I see heads turning when we swap and the “new” voice is different (louder/softer, high- or low-pitched, male/female).

Some time ago over lunch I “outed” myself as one of the interpreters. The gentleman sitting next to me said spontaneously “Wow, are you telling me this is live interpreting? And I thought I was listening to a tape…!

No, no, it’s human beings and not (yet) machines! Back then I reflected on this reaction for some time, and then I decided to accept it as a compliment.


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