When in Doubt, Think Broad! (Tips for Interpreters)

As an interpreter, you need to retain a lot of vocabulary and have knowledge of a wide range of topics. While the endeavor to understand all the tiny details to every medical procedure and disease, every legal ruling, or financial technicality is admirable, it’s better to first retain the equivalent of the words in your target language than to focus on the details that go along with the specific terminology.

For example,  all medical interpreters should know the term “Hepatitis B.” The other thing to know about this is that it’s relating to the liver.  Everything else you know about it is a bonus and will be helpful to your work as an interpreter, but it is not critical. While you can always do research and learn about the causes, the symptoms, the treatments, and prevention, all that knowledge isn’t necessarily required for you to be able to interpret the phrase “Hepatitis B.” If the patient does not know what Hepatitis B is, he will ask the doctor, and the doctor will answer any of the patient’s questions. At this point, all you’d have to do is interpret. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time to learn more about the phrases or procedures we are interpreting about, just that we should try to maximize our time and to ensure that we are retaining what will be most applicable to our work, which is a wide-ranging vocabulary.

Expanding your vocabulary is the first step to being able to render good interpretations, and learning more about each component relating to the terms is something you can build up overtime. Our understanding about the technicalities and details will benefit our work, but they aren’t necessarily critical to our performance, so when in doubt, go for more vocabulary than more details.

Fellow interpreters, do you agree? What are your thoughts on this general approach?

As always, happy interpreting!

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