A Tale of Two Fields: Doing Research on Interpreting

By Deborah Giustini
[booth with a view]

Booth with a view: researching and interpreting at the same time

For most interpreters, whether they work in healthcare, media, asylums, international conferences, business meetings and so forth, the very idea of research – and doing research – on interpreting may be nebulous. The life of interpreters is a notably practical, hands-on and real-time occupation, and our training focuses mainly on acquiring the necessary technical knowledge and interpreting skills, with little space for research. However, in any discipline, research is often a dynamic and effective process that advances the state of the art of professions, especially those whose access is regulated by academic education. Starting from the 1950s, the work of many interpreters who also conduct academic research, or, in Gile’s (2000) terms, practisearchers, has played a pivotal role not only in stimulating reflections about interpreting, helping in formulating and applying core concepts which serve as explicit guidelines to trainers and practitioners, but also in advancing our knowledge of the profession, forging and improving codes of conduct, understanding what happens in our brains when we turn off the mike and words start flowing, improving training methods, and in making interpreting more known to the general public (see Alvstad, Hild, and Tiselius, 2011; Gile 2000, 2001; Gambier, Gile, and Taylor 1997).

As a young trainee, I became more and more fascinated with the craft of interpreting and developed a sense of awe deriving from the marvellous skills and activities of interpreters – especially when performing in simultaneous mode. Since interpreting, academically-wise, is still a rather under-valued discipline, I felt that many areas are still out there to explore, and I embarked in a research on conference interpreting from a sociological perspective. I became more and more curious about the social trajectories and professional status of interpreters, and in the issues revolving around the social factors in the contexts of training and real-life performances. Therefore, I teamed up with that bunch of colleagues who got into the process of digging deeper into the profession by joining the academia, whilst probably trying to balance all aspects of life.

“Research is often a dynamic and effective process that advances the state of the art of professions.”

As I type this, I am writing what seems to be yet another chapter of my never-ending PhD dissertation on conference interpreting, whilst preparing for my next interpreting assignment coming next week, and panicking over an academic conference presentation that needs my attention and a decent speech. As an early career researcher who is juggling conference interpreting, researching, and teaching at a higher education institution in the UK, life is pretty hectic. At least, if anything, given that as an interpreter, my research is on interpreters (it just screams ground breaking! – as Miranda Priestley would say) it is a victory, as I get to work under the very same conditions that I am researching, benefitting from the support of colleagues. In fact, in conducting-research-while-interpreting, I look for collaboration and engagement with other interpreters. This way, I get a chance to debate what is going on there, whenever it involves or concerns them, and to make academic research my tool to find out ways to efficiently address these same concerns. In fact, many colleagues lament that our profession is underestimated, that we (still) get confused with translators, that nowadays many clients consider us a necessary evil and that our future is to be jeopardised by remote interpreting, automated translation, fights on rates and the spread of English as a globalised lingua franca. As researchers, we try and fight such concerns by making presentations at conferences, publishing articles and books, writing blog posts and collaborating with practitioners in our field at professional events to try to spread out all the possible info. The goal: to educate not only new interpreters, but also clients and service providers. We advocate for our voice to be increasingly heard.

To me personally, the continuous shift from being a practitioner who enjoys the buzz of interpretation, to the kaleidoscopic configuration that I see in it today – thanks to my other lenses as a researcher – has turned the profession into a process of ongoing discovery and puzzling. In a conversation with a colleague of mine, a scholar who has been active internationally in promoting the value of research on Conference Interpreting (CI), we discussed the merits of conducting interpreting research and collaborating with one another, practitioners and practisearchers alike. This is what she proposes:

“The goal: to educate not only new interpreters, but also clients and service providers. We advocate for our voice to be increasingly heard.”

‘Academia and interpreting are so different, and still they can live together through research on interpreting. Findings do not impact only the academic environment of CI, but also our profession; we should spread more research to the public, it would be beneficial for the society to realize better what interpreters do and what interpretation is, and how to use interpreters. Research also helps advancing training methods to educate good interpreters: findings feed teaching, which is the basis of training new interpreters in the best ways possible. By understanding more about what we do while interpreting, we can better explore how we teach trainees to do it.’

I cannot help but wish that interpreters might play a more active role either in research or by spreading information about the profession. The better they understand the workings of interpreting through the engagement of practice and research – both as skills and as pivot of human interaction – the better our chances of ensuring that advancing knowledge on interpreting may prove instrumental in bringing about positive changes. For those interested, I provide a bibliography as food for thought below.


Alvstad, C., Hild, A., & Tiselius, E. (Eds.). (2011). Methods and strategies of process research: Integrative approaches in Translation Studies (Vol. 94). John Benjamins Publishing.

Gile, Daniel, et al., eds. (2001). Getting started in interpreting research: Methodological reflections, personal accounts and advice for beginners. Vol. 33. John Benjamins Publishing.

Gile, Daniel. (2000). The history of research into conference interpreting: a scientometric approach. Target 10:1. 69-93.

Gambier, Y., Gile, D. and Taylor, C. (eds). (1997). Conference Interpreting: Current Trends in Research. Proceedings of the International Conference on Interpreting: What do we know and how? Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.



Deborah Giustini is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Manchester and a conference interpreter, director at DG Interpreting and Translation. Her comparative ethnographic research explores conference interpreting as a social practice in the UK and in Japan. Her publications include Conversing with pioneer interpreters: The past and present of interpreting training in Japan (2017); Conference Interpreting as a Social Practice: A Bourdieusian Theoretical Approach (2016); Gender and Queer Identities in Translation (2015). You can find her on FB (@dginterpreting) and Twitter (@deborahgiustini).


Image from booth kindly provided by the author

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ata-divisions.org/ID/deborah-giustini-a-tale-of-two-fields/

1 comment

  1. Boris Bosnjak

    Thank you for this wonderful article. You have written what i have been quitely thinking and writting about for many years since becoming a freelance interpreter here in the states where the interpreting profession is slowly gaining ground, but for someone who freelanced through their 20s a little too slow:)

    I am looking forward to keeping up to date to your progress in this area of research!

    Best regards

    Boris B

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