Retour problems

In a previous post, Language combination and the retour debate in interpreting, we talked about what retour is and the debate related to it (you may want to have a look at it before reading this more specific post). Again, retour is the interpretation from the A language into a B language. Despite me personally having nothing against retour, in this post, as the title clearly suggests, I would like to focus on the problems retour entails. I will do it by summing up the main points made by Matthew Perret in the 17-minute videoRetour: problems“.


For those who don’t know him, Matthew Perret is a freelance conference interpreter working mainly for the EU institutions, an interpreting trainer specialising in retour into English, as well as the protagonist of many interpreting videos by Lourdes de Rioja. Plus, he’s a writer and a comedian (Matthew will be performing in his comedy, The EU explainedin Edinburgh Fringe in August. Don’t miss it!).

Now, let’s sum up Matthew’s main points with regards to retour:

  • Distraction for the listener due to voice quality, intonation, unnatural emphasis, accent, misinterpretation of idioms, etc.

Tip: voice coaching, strategic use of intonation, self-monitoring through self-recording but also with external feedback.

  • Lack of clarity: your speech can be phonetically unclear, logically unclear or have a misleading intonation,  etc.

Tip: concentrate on analysing as always in interpreting.

  • Failure to anticipate: the result is that form prevails over substance.

Tip: since you’re adding your mother-tongue as a passive language, you need to research the different registers, accents, etc. used in your mother tongue.

  • Perfectionism: thinking that a native speaker would have done it better constantly distracts you from your task.

Tip: assume imperfection during the interpretation and use it as a mere inspiration to do it better next time.

  • Translator-based approach rather than interpreter-based method: even the right words can be misunderstood without the proper intonation.

Tip: Seek feedback and be inspired by eloquent speakers.

  • Lack of certain emergency tools (ending sentences correctly, paraphrasing, improper use of the “salami technique”, etc.).

Tip: practice the “salami technique”, play the game “finish the sentence you started”, have a repertoire of elegant fillers.

  • Failure to identify with your listener.

Tip: talk to the listeners if possible and immerse yourself, even through the Internet, in the culture.

As Matthew underlines, it’s not all about the native accent: interpreting is about properly conveying the message and the accent is just an ingredient!

For today this is all on retour, but I recommend watching this great video on the “Interpreter’s mid-career crisis” to get to know Matthew better. Enjoy it and have a great week!


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