What does an interpreter do?

Interpreters convert spoken or sign language statements from one language to another. Interpreting involves listening to, understanding and memorising content in the original ‘source’ language, then reproducing statements, questions and speeches in a different ‘target’ language. This is often done in only one direction, normally into the interpreter’s native language, but may be on a two-way basis. Interpreters facilitate effective communication between clients in the following settings:
•large conferences and formal meetings;
•business functions such as smaller meetings, exhibitions and product launches;
•criminal justice proceedings, known as public service interpreting or PSI, including police and probation service interviews, court hearings, solicitor interviews, arbitration hearings and immigration tribunals;
•community-based events and assignments within the education, health and social services sectors.

Interpreting can be carried out in various ways: person, whether in the same room or from a nearby conference booth; telephone, when the interpreter is in a different location from the speakers;
3.via video conferencing and internet-based technologies.

There are several types of interpreting:

1.Simultaneous interpretation (SI)  Simultaneous interpretation involves working in a team at a conference or large meeting. The interpreter sits in a soundproof booth (there are separate booths for each conference language) and immediately converts what is being said, so listeners hear the interpretation through an earpiece while the speaker is still speaking. A variation of this is whispering, or chuchotage, where the interpreter sits near one person or a small group and whispers the translation as the speaker carries on. Sign language interpreting is also usually simultaneous.

2.Consecutive interpretation (CI) Consecutive interpretation is more common in smaller meetings and discussions. The speaker will pause after each sentence or point and wait while the interpreter translates what is being said into the appropriate language.

3.Liaison interpretation. Liaison interpretation, also known as ad hoc and relay,is a type of two-way interpreting where the interpreter translates every few sentences while the speaker pauses. This is common in telephone interpreting as well as in legal and health situations. The interpreter supports people who are not fluent in the language being used to ensure their understanding.

4.Sign language interpretation.  Sign language interpreters convert spoken statements into sign language and vice versa. Interpreting from one sign language to another is a new area.

The following work activities are likely in any interpreting setting:
•assimilating speakers’ words quickly, including jargon and acronyms;
•analysing sentences expressed in one language and explaining them using another language;
•building up specialist vocabulary banks;
•writing notes to aid memory;
•using microphones and headsets;
•preparing paperwork – considering agendas before meetings, or lectures/speeches when received in advance;
•using the internet to conduct research;
•organising workload and liaising with internal departments, agencies and/or employers;
•working to a professional code of ethics covering confidentiality and impartiality.

by Leslaw Fiutowski


The development and use of machine translation systems and computer-based translation tools

Historical background

Systems for automatic translation have been under development for 50 years – in fact, ever since the electronic computer was invented in the 1940s there has been research on their application for translating languages (Hutchins 1986). For many years, the systems were based primarily on direct translations via bilingual dictionaries, with relatively little detailed analysis of syntactic structures. By the 1980s, however, advances in computational linguistics allowed much more sophisticated approaches, and a number of systems adopted an indirect approach to the task of translation. In these systems, texts of the source language are analysed into abstract representations of ‘meaning’, involving successive programs for identifying word structure (morphology) and sentence structure (syntax) and for resolving problems of ambiguity (semantics). Included in the latter are component programs to distinguish between homonyms (e.g. English words such as light, which can be a noun, and adjective or verb, and solution, which can be a mathematical or a chemical term) and to recognise the correct semantic relationships (e.g. in The driver of the bus with a yellow coat). The abstract representations are intended to be unambiguous and to provide the basis for the generation of texts into one or more target languages. There have in fact been two basic ‘indirect’ approaches. In one the abstract representation is designed to be a kind of language-independent ‘interlingua’, which can potentially serve as an intermediary between a large number of natural languages. Translation is therefore in two basic stages: from the source language into the interlingua, and from the interlingua into the target language. In the other indirect approach (in fact, more common approach) the representation is converted first into an equivalent representation for the target language. Thus there are three basic stages: analysis of the input text into an abstract source representation, transfer to an abstract target representation, and generation into the output language.

Until the late 1980s, systems of all these kinds were developed, and it is true to say that all current commercially available systems are also classifiable into these three basic system types: direct, interlingual and ‘transfer’. The best known of the MT systems for mainframe computers are in fact essentially of the ‘direct translation’ type, e.g. the Systran, Logos and Fujitsu (Atlas) systems. They are however improved versions of the type; unlike their predecessors, they are highly modular in construction and easily modifiable and extendable. In particular, the Systran system, originally designed for translation only from Russian into English, is now available for a very large number of language pairs: English from and into most European languages (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese), Japanese, Korean, etc. Logos, originally marketed for German to English, is also now available for other languages: English into French, German, Italian and Spanish, and German into French and Italian. The Fujitsu ATLAS system, on the other hand, is still confined to translation between English and Japanese (in both directions).

Among the most important of the mainframe ‘transfer’ systems was METAL, supported for most of the 1980s by Siemens in Germany. However, it was only at the end of the decade that METAL came onto the market, and sales were poor. During the 1990s, rights to METAL have been transferred to two organisations (GMS and LANT) in a complex arrangement. But the best known systems adopting the ‘transfer’ approach were research projects: Ariane at GETA in Grenoble, an MT project going back to the 1960s, and Eurotra funded by the Commission of the European Communities. There were hopes that Ariane would become the French national system, and there were plans to incorporate it in a translator’s workstation for Eurolang (see below), but in the end nothing came of them. As for Eurotra, it was undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated systems, but after involving some hundred of researchers in most countries of Western Europe for almost a decade, it failed to produce the working system that the sponsors wanted. It had been hoped that Eurotra would eventually replace the Systran systems that the Commission had acquired and was developing internally. In the late 1980s, Japanese governmental agencies began to sponsor an interlingua system for Asian languages, involving co-operation with researchers in China, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, this project too has so far not produced a system after a decade of work. (For surveys of MT research and development in 1980s and early 1990s see Hutchins 1993, 1994.)