Please, stop speaking about “simultaneous translation”!

Translation and interpreting are two sides of the same coin, that of intercultural and multilingual communication. Yet, even if sharing some common aspects, they are not the same. The difference between the two of them can be graphically summarised with the following equation:

translation     :     written     =      interpreting       :       oral

In other words, the translator is the one converting a written message from a source language into a target language (again in a written format), while the interpreter orally conveys a spoken message.



Interpreting, more than translation, is a discipline indeed far away from being well-known. Interpreters see it in their every-day life, when asked what they do for a living. Most of the time, we are commonly confused with actors (so many times I had to disappoint people asking me in which film I was acting!). At that point, we can’t help explaining our profession as an “oral translation”. Especially in the case of simultaneous interpreters, this becomes paradoxical when we speak of “simultaneous translators” (properly speaking, someone that, during a speech, writes in another language all what is being said)!

Yet, leaving the format (written or oral) apart, translation and interpreting have very similar pillars and key principles.

As translation and interpreting students are constantly reminded of, these two disciplines are not a word-for-word translation (both written and orally). Their function is to convey a message from a so-called source language to a target language. In fact, in the case of translation, the verbatim (i.e. word-for-word translation) would lead the translator to stick too much to the source text, resulting in a poor and not very fluent target text. As a consequence, the target reader would become aware that what s/he is reading is actually a translation.


Although it might be considered obvious that way, on the contrary, one of the main aims of translation and interpreting –and maybe the reason why people ignore these two discipline or do not value them enough– is to remain invisible und unnoticed: should the target audience not realise, or at least not be constantly be reminded, that what they are reading or listening to is a translation or an interpretation, respectively, then the translator/interpreter will have done the job successfully.

Finally, another commonality translation and interpreting share is the recommendable, yet difficult, balance between being loyal to the original and to the target language at the same time. This maxim can be brilliantly displayed with the golden rule of translation provided by Valentín García Yebra:

“The golden rule for every translation is, to my judgement, to say everything that the original says, not to say anything the original doesn’t say, and to say it in the most idiomatic way and with the naturalness that the language we translate to allows.”



Any comment is very welcome!



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