With the rise of globalization, people in different parts of the world have become more connected than ever before. Organizations, and therefore their meetings and conferences, are increasingly more diverse in terms of attendees. Think about the proceedings of the UN, where dozens of nationalities (and languages) may be represented. It all leads to a great need to provide interpretation services to overcome barriers in understanding. But not all interpreters are created equal, as certain situations call for different skill sets.
In this post, we focus on onsite interpreters, the skills they must possess and some of the roles they typically perform.
What is an onsite interpreter?
An onsite interpreter provides face-to-face interpretation services—at the event—that help provide accurate communication between speakers of different languages. Conducting interpretation in-person gives everyone involved a better experience: everyone has the benefit of seeing body language and other non-verbal cues that give a full understanding of the speech.
Onsite interpreters are often the preferred option because of the additional peace of mind that their physical presence can offer compared to remote interpretation. There is an undoubted sense of comfort that comes with getting something done in front of you because you can confirm it’s being done correctly.
Types of onsite interpretation
There are two different ways in which an onsite interpreter can do their job: consecutive interpretation and simultaneous interpretation.
In consecutive interpretation, the onsite interpreter and the original speaker talk and listen in turns. Generally, the speaker will say a few sentences, pause so that the interpreter can translate the message and then repeat the process until the full message has been delivered.
In cases where the original speaker talks continuously—without pause—for a prolonged time, the onsite interpreter will take notes to make sure that they deliver an accurate message.
In addition to their language skills, a consecutive interpreter needs to possess three other core skills:
- Active listening (comprehension) – Since the purpose of listening is different, it is not as simple as it may seem. People in general listen to take part in a conversation, versus listen to remember full dialog so that they can accurately translate the message.
- Analyzing (taking notes) – This requires the ability to differentiate primary and secondary information and prioritize it as such. In addition to the ‘what,’ an interpreter must also remember the ‘who,’ ‘why,’ ‘where’ and ‘how.’ This means who said what, when and where, whether the speaker has an opinion on it, and so on.
- Reproducing (communication) – Great short-term memory is the first skill needed here. Thereafter, the interpreter should be able to quickly make sense of the message, which could be in the form of their notes, and translate the message in a captivating way.
As the name suggests, simultaneous interpreting is when the onsite interpreter translates communications at the same time as the original speaker is talking. The skills required for simultaneous interpretation are almost the same as those used in consecutive interpretation above.
The main difference is that all three are happening at the same time, which significantly increases the complexity of the task. Along with all the skills needed for consecutive interpretation, including listening to translate, differentiating and prioritizing primary and secondary information and great memory skills, simultaneous interpreters must anticipate what the speaker is likely to say as well. This is particularly important when the original language and target language have vastly different syntactical structures.
Simultaneous interpreters are under a greater deal of pressure since they have to actively listen while analyzing and translating the message at the same time. As a result, they must have the ability to excel in high-stress situations and have stronger language skills that allow them to do everything required of them simultaneously.
Common onsite interpreter roles
In addition to the translation aspect of their job, an onsite interpreter must also be knowledgeable in the subject matter that is to be discussed, including common industry jargon. This ensures there is no communication breakdown due to a lack of understanding on the part of the interpreter.
Below are a few areas in which onsite interpreters are most commonly needed.
- Legal – Onsite interpreters help with communications between lawyers and their clients. These can include office briefings, depositions, divorce proceedings, probate or any other legal matter that fits the mold.
- Healthcare – They provide interpretation services for doctors, nurses other healthcare professionals and patients. Both medical personnel and their patients are more at ease when an onsite interpreter can help accurately relay important medical information, including symptoms, diagnoses and prescriptions.
- Corporate business – For companies looking to enter foreign markets, onsite interpreters ensure that all stakeholders understand product information, functionality and any other important messaging that needs to be conveyed with precision. The onsite interpreter’s services improve the brand’s perception and credibility in the new market.
Onsite interpreters are here to stay
Even with the continuous advancements in technology that have given rise to services such as VRI (video remote interpreting), onsite interpreters are still in very high demand. Certain situations simply call for the physical presence of someone at the event. The level of accuracy, the efficiency of communication and the ability to capture emotions as well as words makes onsite interpretation the preferred choice for many international events and proceedings, especially for high-stake scenarios and sensitive situations.