Interpreter Terminology

Interpreter Terminology for Beginning Interpreters

So you want to know about interpreting terminology? Well, first off, one of the hardest things to do when entering a new career field or learning about a new profession is understanding the terminology associated with that specific profession.

It’s the same with interpreting.

Interpreters have their own way of talking and referring to different things in the interpreting industry, and many of these terms can leave would-be interpreters shaking their heads at the possible meanings. If you’ve been around the language industry for any amount of time, you’ll know what I mean.

When I first began my journey towards becoming a professional translator, one of the most tedious things to do (not necessarily difficult, just tedious) was to learn about the profession, and I couldn’t get a strong grasp on what that was until I understood the translation terminology that everyone was using.

Everything was new.

I couldn’t keep source language and target language separate. I didn’t understand what a translation agency was, or even the difference between a freelance translator and an in-house translator. Did translation providers provide for translation clients?

It’s the same with the interpreting industry.

How are interpreters just starting out supposed to know what everything is?

Hopefully this page will help alleviate that gap in knowledge and provide potential interpreters with information that will help them navigate the sometimes-confusing field of interpreting.

Interpreting Terminology

The granting of an approval or authority by an organization. In the interpretation industry, there are various organizations that offer accreditation, which is similar (and sometimes used interchangeably with) interpreter certification.

Ad Hoc Interpreting
Often refers to interpreting that is improvised or impromptu. The most common scenarios for this type of interpretation are business meetings, telephone conversations, and even sometimes court sessions. Usually the interpreter in this instance is not a professional interpreter and does not get paid for the interpreter work they perform.

Certified Interpreter
This refers to an interpreter that has been granted certification by a certifying organization. There are numerous certification organizations, and many aren’t regulated by federal government statutes.

Community Interpreting
This type of interpreting refers to interpreting that is done in community-like settings such as in hospitals, legal domains, and social security.

Conference Interpreting
Interpreting that is done in various types of conferences, wether they be business conferences or international conferences such as those held at the United Nations. Conference interpreting usually requires the services of professional interpreters and professional interpretation equipment.

Consecutive Interpreting
Probably the most common form of interpreting, consecutive interpreting involves the interpreter interpreting what the speaker says after a delay. Sometimes the interpreter will take notes during the speech in order to know what to interpret.

Court Interpreting
As can be seen in the term, court interpreting is done during court proceedings, whether it be state court, federal court, or any other type of court. Usually the type of case and court venue will determine whether professional or non-professional interpreters are used.

Face-to-Face Interpreting
Interpreting that occurs face-to-face, as opposed to over the telephone or behind an interpreting booth.

Wikipedia defines language interpretation as the practice of facilitating oral and sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between two or more users of different languages.

Interview Interpreting
Interview interpreting is done in an interview setting, whether in a doctor’s office, or oftentimes done with people conducting surveys.

Language Pair
A language pair consists of the languages that will be used by a single interpreter during an interpretation event. So for an interpreter that is interpreting from Spanish to English during a conference call, the language pair would be Spanish and English.

Medical Interpreting
Interpreting done in a medical setting. This can include situations such as interpreting for a nurse who is getting a medical history of a patient, interpreting for a doctor explaining the results of an x-ray, or interpreting for a billing specialist who is explaining doctor fees to the patient. This type of interpreting can be done over the phone or face-to-face, and is done both by professionally certified interpreters and those that are not.

Mother Tongue
In its most basic definition, mother tongue refers to a person’s native language. In interpreting, the mother tongue is usually the language an interpreter interprets from.

Proceedings Interpreting
Interpreting that occurs during court sessions when an interpreter interprets for the defendant or plaintiff. The interpreter usually sits next to the person and whispers them the interpretation of the proceeding.

Professional Interpreter
A professional interpreter is an interpreter that has certain credentials which demonstrate that the interpreter is competent. These credentials can be school degrees, certification by an outside organization, or real-world experience.

Sight Interpreting
Sight interpreting is similar to simultaneous interpretation, but does vary slightly. In sight interpretation, an interpreter is given a text beforehand to study, and then after a certain amount of time, the speaker gives a speech using the text prepared earlier, while the interpreter interprets. The interpretation is not always straightforward, however, as the speaker can, and often does, change parts of his/her speech and the interpreter has to adapt.

Simultaneous Interpreting
In contrast to consecutive interpreting, simultaneous interpreting requires at least some interpretation equipment, as the interpreting is done real-time as the speaker is speaking. This type of interpreting is most often seen in a larger conference setting where interpreters are sequestered behind soundproof booths so they can interpret. A well-known example is interpreting done at the United Nations.

Source Language
The source language is the language the speaker is using, and the language that the interpreter is interpreting from.

Target Language
The target language is the language of the listener, and is the language that the interpreter is interpreting to.

Team Interpreting
Using more than one interpreter to perform an interpretation event.

Telephone Interpreting
Interpreting over the telephone has gained some traction in recent years as more and more companies and organizations are realizing the benefit that comes from this type of interpreting. Rather than have a full-time interpreter, businesses are relying on telephone interpreters that can be available at all hours of the day.

Witness Interpreting
This is a type of legal interpreting where the interpreter focuses on interpreting for the the person on the witness stand. Sometimes this is done by relatives or family members, but it’s obviously much better if a professional interpreter is chosen for this assignment.

These are just some of the terms that are used in the interpreting industry.

Got any more that I missed?

Feel free to add any interpreting terminology in the comments below.

P.S.¬†Interpreting is just one of the many types of language professions out there. If you’re interested in other types of jobs you can do with your second language, read my book.

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