The Voice of the Interpreter

The voice of the interpreter

Interpreting is a complex task which requires mastering many skills. It is essential to know the languages and cultures that are connected, but it is also essential to understand how to reflect in our voice what is said through words.

To acquire or improve these skills, at the Colegio de Traductores Públicos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires we had the honour of receiving Patricia Arizu, who developed the following agenda in a very interactive session: 

  • Interpretation from its origins in the face of the challenges of the 21st century
  • The interpreter as speaker
  • Simultaneous and consecutive translation
  • The connection between interpretation and a theatre performance:
    • Physical action (Stanislavski)
    • The external world (Mamet)
    • The circles of attention (Rodenburg)
    • Warm-up physical exercises for interpretation work
    • How we find our voice
    • Physical and mental techniques for coping with public speaker challenges

For almost two hours, Patsy guided us through a path of examples, exercises, and connections to acting.

Here are some of the conclusions drawn from her masterful presentation:

  • Of the resources used by the interpreter, the voice is the only one that will always allow us to differentiate ourselves from the machines and oral translation engines.
  • The voice requires as much preparation and training as the skills inherent in interpreting.
  • Our voice is the only thing that allows participants to understand what is being said.
  • Intonation and emphasis allow us to convey not only words and content but also emotions and metalanguage.
  • When something is clearly put into words a thought is transmitted.

The session ended with several body and vocal production exercises that must be done every time you enter a booth. In short, it was delicious to listen to Patsy’s VOICE for two hours. 

Patricia Arizu (A-EN, ES, C-FR) was Director of the Interpretation Service of the U.S. Department of State until 2014. In such a capacity, she supervised staff interpreters and free-lancers in the White House and other agencies of the Executive Branch of Government in more than eighty languages. She was one of the first members of HINTS (Heads of Interpreting Services). She has more than forty years of  experience as an interpreter.  As an actress, she is now dedicated to theatre performances in New York and  London. She also works as a consultant on issues related to  interpretation, the use of the voice and presentation techniques.

Training of Trainers for Spanish interpreters

Formación de Formadores de Intérpretes de Español

From 14 to 18 January 2019, I had the honour of participating in the First Course for Trainers of Spanish Interpreters organised by the Directorate General for Interpretation of the European Union (SCIC) at the Albert Borchette Conference Centre (CCAB).

The training included five days of intense work. With specialists in interpreter training from the European Union, we followed the recommended pedagogical path for any interpreter training programme: from the selection of ideal candidates to the final examination.

The contents presented were of great richness, and this blog develops the key themes on which this course was articulated:  the ideal profile of future interpreters (candidates), the pedagogical sequences, the preparation of speeches, the palnning of training sessions, the ways to capitalise the evaluations in positive feedbacks and the resources available for interpreter training.


The job of the interpreter requires a great deal of responsibility. Poor interpretation can lead to the discredit of the speaker or the institution he/she represents, to the failure of a business, or even to an international conflict. For this reason, it is essential to have interpreters who have specific qualifications and competencies to carry out their profession.

With regard to the admission exams, the most appropriate options were analysed to assess the qualifications expected of any potential interpreter: ability to concentrate, speed of reaction, capacity of analysis and synthesis, love for languages, intellectual curiosity, resistance to pressure, prudence, knowing one’s place at all times, teamwork, and intellectual maturity.

For some specialists, the interpreter must cultivate and employ four main skills: linguistic, pragmatic, encyclopaedic and strategic. The linguistic competence is understood as specialised knowledge of grammatical rules with a normative approach, which includes the phonetics, morphology and syntax of the language. Concerning the encyclopaedic competence, the more knowledge on the subject being interpreted the easier it is to translate through inference processes. The pragmatic competence makes it possible to functionally understand what happens when a speaker addresses an audience and, therefore, gives the interpreter the opportunity to reflect on the relevance of specific terms.  Finally, the strategic competence comprises specific verbal and non-verbal abilities to overcome obstacles, such as the systematic deficiencies of speakers, or to reinforce communicative effectiveness.

For this reason, in this First Course for Trainers of Spanish Interpreters, the means to assess these qualities and competencies in future interpreters were analysed.

The following evaluation strategies were described:


  • A multiple-choice test to measure general culture.
  • Composition in the working languages.
  • Listening comprehension by questionnaire.
  • Language test.
  • Translation at first sight into language A and B (on a current short text).


  • Interview to evaluate the expression in Spanish and English, or the other working languages.
  • Preparation of a speech on a current topic.
  • Presentation of a detailed summary of what was heard from a speech in their working languages.

Pedagogical sequence

Since knowledge is acquired gradually and continuously, one of the most critical factors in the training of an interpreter is the thematic progression on which the curriculum is built. It is always advisable to start from the most straightforward processes to be carried out and to culminate with the integration of all the methods in a final evaluation.

Following this principle, we concluded that it was of vital importance to follow the following pedagogical progression when configuring an interpreter training program:

Formación de Formadores de Intérpretes de Español

Among the strategic possibilities for effectively capitalising knowledge, it is advisable to establish thematic weeks to address different fields of expertise. Practice is the fundamental thing: repeat, repeat, repeat. It is necessary to set objectives, that is, to have a clear idea of what we want to achieve with each module, according to the available translation time -with memory, consecutive, simultaneous, etc.-. There must be a general coordinator to be able to follow up on each student. Knowing how to choose speeches is essential.

Speech preparation

A well-articulated speech allows participants to perceive their knowledge of the source and target languages, their capacity for synthesis and analysis, general culture (history, technology, agriculture), communicative skills (intonation, lexical selection, the structure of translated sentences).

According to the intention of the speaker, speech can be articulated in different ways. The simplest are those that introduce the audience to a topic, develop some aspect of it, and then propose a point of view in the form of a conclusion. However, they can also be constructed on the basis of the Socratic method, with an introduction, a thesis, an antithesis and a conclusion. Alternatively, they can focus on the opposition, with an introduction, a first argument, with its corresponding counterargument, which is opposed by a second argument with its counterargument, and thus the game of contrasts can be extended until a satisfactory conclusion is reached.

A very effective exercise to practice with future interpreters is to expose a text and, together, identify the model to which it responds and the discursive strategies through which it was composed. In this sense, activities were suggested in which students should construct or transform the structure of the text according to the models cited. Another possible exercise is to take a speciality article, choose a scheme and turn it into material for consecutive and simultaneous interpretation.

A fundamental step in the learning of the profession is to develop skills in public speaking, that is, to transform texts into oral speeches.

For this purpose, future interpreters must have the necessary linguistic knowledge to expand the lexicon in terms of a more technical register. For example, it is necessary to exercise recognition of expressions, reading figures, proper names, quoting texts. Exercises can also be developed from a brainstorming session with non-exhaustive enumerations or figures centred on order of magnitude.

Planning of a training session

From the trainer’s point of view, it is vital to use a logbook or some record-keeping instrument where the student can see the planning, but also that serves to record the performance class by class. In this way, it will be possible to identify recurrent problems and, at the same time, analyse the results of the dynamics proposed in each course. Besides, it makes it possible to introduce objectives for the next session and to become aware of the progress made.

A useful resource for measuring pedagogical progress is periodic tutorials with students. Although it may vary according to the complexity of the contents, a frequency of two months is recommended.

Another useful resource that facilitates the trainer’s follow-up are performance forms, where it is possible to record if the interpretation was faithful to the original, if it was developed in a complete manner, if parts were omitted, if it was carried out in an adequate manner, if the text was interpreted correctly, and so many other details.

Positive feedback

A generally neglected aspect of teaching is that of feedback. That is, when a student is evaluated or develops a task, it is crucial for trainers to explain the strengths and weaknesses in performance. This feedback should follow the objectives set a priori.

Based on the feedback, the student can understand the diagnosis and recognise what has failed.

Role-playing exercises can also be great self-diagnosis tools. For example, working with a mirror to see the paralinguistic gestures made by the interpreter while carrying out his activity makes it possible to adapt the movements according to the communicative situation.  These exercises allow, from the interaction between peers, to practice different ways of interpreting and to become aware of the degree of exposure to the audience.


Parallel to the skills mentioned above, prospective interpreters must learn to use the resources that contribute to enhance their daily work. Trainees are often unaware of how they can expand their work, as well as improve it by doing so.

For this reason, it is important to dedicate a certain number of sessions to explore some resources available online such as ORCIT or SCICTRAIN and The Speech Repository.

Annual Seminar on Interpretation: From Buenos Aires to Oxford, non-stop

Seminario anual sobre Interpretación: De Buenos Aires a Oxford, sin escalas

As every year, the network of consultant interpreters to which I have had the honour of belonging for the past four years, Calliope-Interpreters, met for its annual seminar and General Assembly in early January.  This time the meeting took place in the charming city of Oxford, a town with a long academic history and the ever-present Harry Potter imprint.

During three days of intense meetings at the distinguished Department of Continuing Education of Oxford University, new trends in simultaneous translation, consecutive interpretation, chuchotage, and the star of the moment, sign language interpretation, were discussed. The expert in this field, member of Calliope-Interpreters and the International Association of Conference Interpreters, Maya de Wit, presented the most frequently asked questions on sign language interpretation based on real-life examples in the European Parliament. Unfortunately, sign languages are not yet part of the set of official languages of the institutions of the European Union.

Sufficient time was devoted to discussing policies relating to visibility and social networks, an issue that always presents difficulties because of the fine line between the possibility of promoting our translation and interpretation services and the confidentiality that obliges us.

It is always fascinating to analyse the differences and similarities between markets, needs and users in the different countries in which we offer interpretation services, translation and simultaneous interpretation equipment from the City of Buenos Aires to Sydney, passing through Chile, Peru, Brazil and the United States, among many other countries.

Aware of the importance of general culture for interpreters, there was no shortage of touristic tours around the city of Oxford, university cloisters and the remnants of civilizations as old as the Roman one.

We arrived at the end of the three days with a suitcase full of tasks to carry out, plans to execute and the same desire to meet again in a year, somewhere else in the world.