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Home » Interpretation » Common Myths about Simultaneous Interpretation

Common Myths about Simultaneous Interpretation

18th March, 2016 I by Kyra Hogue

There are several myths and misunderstandings surrounding the field of translation. Some are larger than others, and more or less harmless. Let’s take a look at the five most common myths about simultaneous interpretation.

  1. Translation and interpretation are the same thing

    Conference Interpreter

    Conference Interpreter in Action

The biggest misunderstanding of them all. Using translation and interpretation interchangeably, while understandable, is like nails on a chalkboard for those who work in the industry. A translator is someone who takes the written text of one language and turns it into another in another language while keeping the original meaning. The interpreter conveys a message from one language to another orally.

  1. If you can translate, you can interpret

Stop, language time. As defined above, these are two different services. Translating words on a page takes time, and practice. A single page, depending on its complexity can take hours. Translators have dictionaries and other references to translate the document correctly while keeping the original intent intact. Interpreting is mush faster, and requires a quick thinker who can interpret without the need for dictionaries. The interpreter continually listens to what the speaker is saying, understands the speakers intended meaning, and then redelivers the message into their targeted language. At the same time the interpreter is constantly listening to the other information and verifying the interpretation is correct.

  1. Anyone who speaks more than one language can instantly be a translator or interpreter.

Not true. To become either, you need extensive background knowledge of both languages, and must be good at multitasking. Professionals go through school to learn techniques and receive proper training. Both can take years to perfect, and even then, more training is required for new words, phrases and specialized fields.

  1. Culture behind the language is irrelevant.

Culture and context are vital to all languages. Slang, idioms and colloquialisms are tricky, and can be downright impossible to convey in another language. Interpreters need to be able to pick up on cultural nuances and idioms in the languages they work with to convey the proper tone and message. Some cultures may treat strangers formally, while others treat strangers informally. If a professional doesn’t realize this and fails to incorporate it into their work, major issues may arise.

  1. If you are a translator/interpreter, you can cover any topic.

Have you ever heard a sous chef talk at length with an E.R. doctor about the best way to operate a fighter jet? Chances are you haven’t. With a vast array of topics and specialty fields in our world today, there’s no way to know every word for every field out there. Translators and interpreters typically specialize in a handful of topics and professions, and try to avoid translating and interpreting in areas that they’re not as comfortable in. A few specialties include medical terminology, and information technology.

Were there any myths that we missed? What are a few of your pet peeves? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section.


You may also be interested in the following:

Ebook: A Resource for Working With Interpreters and Interpretation Equipment

Article: When should names be transliterated?

Article: The World’s Ten Most Translated Authors

Article: Why Translation Mistakes Happen

6 responses to “Common Myths about Simultaneous Interpretation”

  1. Andrey says:

    This is a good article and I agree with every sentence (well, almost). But I wonder who it was written for? If a person is a translator / interpreter he or she should be aware of all the things said in it from day one of that person’s career in language services. If not, why would the reader care?

    • Kyra Hogue says:

      Thank you for the comment. This was meant as more of an entertainment post with facts thrown in to educate whoever clicked on the title. The audience is anyone with an interest about language, professional or a novice. With the internet full of both truth and lies, covering common myths about any topic can help clear the air.

  2. Glendia says:

    Great refresher! This is just one of many great articles posted ! Thanks so much for your writings!

  3. Vicente Aguilar says:

    Strongly agree on all said

  4. Kehinde Adeyanju says:


  5. HORVÁTH-MILITICSI Attila says:

    I am not quite sure the author(s) wanted with the above article.
    In my my family we use beyond our mother tongue, at least 15-20 foreign languages, my mum and I where using till 2014, instead of the 15-20 at least 60 (3 scores). Now both of us is a linguistical chameleon – that means in which language surrounding we are we use the dialect or language wanted. Even if we never learned this or that language. I know it makes no sense – but that IS the reality we have to live in.
    An other problem: even though I passed in 1986 the interpreter exams fro English, French and Hungarian, the local Ministry of Justice even 30+ years afterwards does not accept the fact that a non-Serb person can be an interpreter. This is racism. I was told there “Dear colleague, do you not know that in Serbia there is no place for Hungarian people and Hungarian language ?” Well, whe are here around half a million and living here for 1600+ years… Them about 350 years. In 2010, we all interpreters where rebaptized by the local government as “translators”. In 2009 in the first 6 months I had beyond 400 spoken and written translations/interpretations, while now yearly I do not have even 50 written ones.
    And my licence is an international one: “Officially agreed permanent court translator and interpreter for life by all embassies and State-chiefs of the World, for all domains of all the existing languages”. I am not boasting – in July 2007 I had in the 4 days of the EXIT musical event 49 interpretations in 12 languages, many of them from 2-3 languages to Serbian and backwards. That amount is only 20% of my “before 2014” period. I am doing all domains, because I know them all. If not, I am learning what I have to know about the subject. I am quite well known to have done simultaneous interpretations at court for 6-7 hours in a shift or even longer: from 6 o’clock in the morning till midnight, in any language combination wanted, as fastly as works a rocket-launcher…

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