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Psychological Problems of Simultaneous Interpretation

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Simultaneous translation – is a mandatory attribute of all respectable international conferences and meetings. Consecutive interpretation gives much better results in terms of accuracy, completeness, and expression than simultaneous, but on the other hand, simultaneous interpretation, especially in a multilingual audience, saves so much time that all the arguments against it are invalid. Therefore, in modern world simultaneous interpretation is firmly established in all international organizations and at numerous international forums.

Nevertheless, profession of simultaneous translator is considered to be one of the most stressful. So, what are the difficulties of simultaneous translation?

First of all, the work of the translator under conditions of simultaneous listening and speaking requires constant concentration and continuous speaking. Arises the situation of an attention split, caused by the need to constantly compare the two languages ​​and switch from one code to another. This leads to the fact that after 20-30 min of translation simultaneous interpreter begins to suffer from sore articular apparatus, reduced self-control and there appear serious and sometimes stupid mistakes in their translation, even in their native language. For this reason translator must have a forty-minute rest after every twenty minutes of work, in other words, translators must work in groups of three. In addition, the translator must be protected from the noises of a conference room, i.e the presence of a special booth and telephone installations is a necessary condition for effective work of an interpreter. Simultaneous translation without special equipment is not only impossible but also undesirable: the translator will mute the speaker`s words [3, 276 ].

The second problem connected with simultaneous translation is a responsiveness of an interpreter, or rather, his reactivity. Simultaneous interpreter is forced to react instantly on perceived words and phrases every second. That is why, a slow person even with excellent knowledge of foreign languages​​ is unlikely to be a good simultaneous interpreter. The essential condition of success is the interpreters availability of a large supply of equivalent pairs of lexical units linked with a sign connection that allow him not to translate through analysis and synthesis (ie, thinking), but through reflexes, i.e at the level of "stimulus-response". A simultaneous interpreter has neither time nor opportunity to review the full meaning of an acquired statement [5, 176].

One sophisticated linguistic task is a "language compression" designed to compensate the lag of translation into the language which has longer words and verbose rhetoric. For example, the words of the Ukrainian language are 6-7% longer than English, grammatical constructions are more detailed, and in addition, many common notions transmitted in English in one word, require a few words in Ukrainian language. This is especially true for new, not established notions. Even more difficult task is the translation of the report (usually on a purely academic conference), when the presenter says long, complicated and confusing phrases. Translator, however, should make them clear and concise. As a result, during simultaneous translation syntax should be easier, and the average length of sentences must be shorter. Ability to reduce and condense the live speech – is one of the main skills in the art of simultaneous interpretation [6, 137].

A big complexity is the mental stress associated with the "irreversibility" of the speaker`s words (you neither can`t stop him nor ask him to repeat) and "irreversibility" of translation (you neither can`t apologize nor fix it). In other words, there is no feedback with the speaker. And all this happens before a large audience of listeners.

We should not forget that the translation is a complex activity itself, even without additional complicating factors. But in real life, unfortunately, these factors happen to be: the speaker may have a non-standard pronunciation, speak, or even worse, read his report with an unacceptably rapid pace, use the jargon, slang or deviant lexical elements [4, 260].

Also, simultaneous interpreters have such problems, about which even they prefer not to think. This primarily relates to their incredibly multifunctional role. Only interpreters know how it is possible to hear, understand, remember the phrase they have just heard, if necessary expand or compress it and change the syntax while breathing quietly and calmly, and speaking smoothly and seamlessly [8, 194].

An ability to always be in a good shape, instant reaction to each translatable phrase, simultaneous juggling of notions and ideas - is a precise essence of simultaneous interpreters work.

In psychological terms, working conditions of simultaneous interpreter are very difficult. Since any speaker refers ultimately not to the interpreter but to the listeners, interpreter has to perform a dual role - to be the recipient and sender of information and do both jobs simultaneously [7, 138 ].

Own sense of isolation presses on a translator`s mind, whatever his mentality is. And it is in spite of fact that he sits next to his colleague and they are both members of the group, where people help each other. But at the moment when he starts interpreting, simultaneous interpreter goes one on one with the audience [9, 175 ].

Another psychological press is that in his field of work each is rewarded only for mistakes. There were cases when as a result of a single mistake or oversight during a delicate negotiations translators have acquired an international fame.

During their work, interpreters have to deal with the terminology of political negotiations, geography, literature, world history, not to mention the rules and procedures for conducting meetings. This means that the interpreters must prepare for any translation, especially to problems that are unfamiliar to them.

Besides all the above mentioned, translator needs to posses speech and language competence not only in a foreign language, but also in the mother tongue, oratory and even literary talent, he should have excellent long-term and short-term memory, ability to concentrate, ability to improvise, ability to capture the nuances of tone and speech and adapt to the style of the speaker; he should not have speech defects, he should be able to hold his tongue (because during translation interpreter gains an access to confidential information), should be able to remain neutral, possess cultural competence, know the culture of the target language country without which it is impossible to sufficiently understand the speech of the people of this country, and much, much more.

It is impossible to become a simultaneous interpreter without a specific set of innate psychophysiological features. These innate features must be necessarily complemented with some acquired qualities and skills. And as for any extraordinary case, simultaneous translation requires talent. So, what qualities must an interpreter have?

1. Psychophysiological characteristics:

• concentration, maximum ability to concentrate, ability to abstract yourself from interference;

• ability to pay attention to several tasks simultaneously;

• fast reaction;

• rapid speech;

• physical and mental stamina.

2. Acquired knowledge and skills:

•spacious mind, encyclopedic knowledge;

• fluency in your native language, copious vocabulary;

• ability to freely comprehend any speech on your foreign language;

• fluency in your foreign language, especially in its colloquial, idiomatic layer;

• creativity, flexibility of mind [1, 271].

However, even when interpreters posses all of the characteristics, knowledge and skills mentioned above -- good and bad, experienced and inexperienced interpreters – they make mistakes because of the influence of their native language, or the so-called “interference” [2, 311 ]. Also, a translator who is ready to manipulate idioms and terms in any field does not exist. It means that the interpreter must prepare for any translation, especially on unfamiliar for him problems, because the range of lexical strata, with which he/she will have to face is unpredictable. Of course, it is impossible to know everything, but each translator is obliged to reduce the field of his own ignorance.



As we can see, the profession of translator - is a complex, tedious and very demanding profession, and simultaneous interpretation – is the most difficult type of translation which stands among one of the most difficult human mental activities.

Simultaneous translation is inevitable part of all modern multilingual conferences, meetings, broadcasts etc. Even though consecutive interpretation gives much better results in terms of accuracy, completeness, and expression than simultaneous, but on the other hand, simultaneous interpretation, especially in a multilingual audience, saves so much time that all the arguments against it are invalid. Therefore, in modern world simultaneous interpretation is firmly established in all international organizations and at numerous international forums.

Despite all its advantages, simultaneous translation requires a lot of mental and physical resources of an interpreter, thus making his job very, and very difficult. An interpreter must master and improve all his skills and knowledge, and to mobilize all those skills and knowledge in order to conduct an effective simultaneous translation. And even that isn`t enough. Only a few of those who try themselves in this kind of activity achieve any considerable success.




1. Алексеева И.С. Профессиональный тренинг переводчика. - М.: Союз, 2000. - 271 с.;

2. Бархударов Л.С. Язык и перевод.- М.: Международные отношения, 1975. - 311 с.;

3. Виссон Л. Синхронный перевод. - М.: Р.Валент, 1998. - 276 с.;

4. Влахов С.Непереводимое в переводе. - М.: Международные отношения, 1980. - 260с.;

5. Миньяр-Белоручев Р.К. Общая теория перевода и устный перевод. - М.: Воениздат, 1980. - 176 с.;

6. Чернов Г.В. Теория и практика синхронного перевода. - М.: Международные отношения, 1987. - 137 с.;

7. Чужакин А.П. Мир перевода / Палажченко П.Н. - М.: Валент, 2000. - 138 с.;

8. Швейцер А.Д. Теория перевода: статус, проблемы, аспекты. - М.: Наука,1988. - 194 с.;

9. Ширяев А.Ф. Синхронный перевод. - М.: Москва 1979. - 175 с.;

10. Delisle, Jean. (1995). Translators Through History. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing;

11. Gaiba, F. (1998). Origins of simultaneous interpretation: the Nuremberg Trial. Ottawa: Ottawa University Press;

12. Kelly, L. G. (1979). True interpreter: a history of translation theory and practice in the West. New York: St. Martin's Press;


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