By Daniel Tamayo
Another equally important pillar is subject matter expertise. Bottom line, you may interpret very nicely, but if you are not familiar with the subject matter you will lament accepting any technical assignments (e.g. just because you are a bilingual doctor or attorney, it doesn’t mean that you can interpret well). One of the main challenges of technical text is the abundance of technical terminology, and we must learn how to deal with it accordingly, both when we are familiar with it and when we’re not. We must always keep in mind that we cannot interpret what we don’t understand.
This brings us to the last pillar, passive knowledge. This is the knowledge that we carry with us at all times, the one that we have been accumulating since childhood: everything that we may or may not even know we know, but that it’s there, ready to come in handy when we need it most. This is the type of knowledge that helped me and my boothmate make it through a real-time translation from oral speech into screen supertitles, in front of thousands of people at a religious event at the Los Angeles Coliseum. I knew a considerable portion of the vocabulary that I encountered thanks to my primary and secondary education at a Catholic school. Although I had prepared for it, I was still pleasantly surprised at how well I remembered some words and phrases that I had not said or heard in decades. Perhaps it was a miracle, pun intended! I will never know.
Business administration expertise is also important to our practice, but this is more so the case if we are independent contractors. Much of our success or failure as practitioners is related to our ability to manage and promote our businesses.
To conclude, during and after our interpreting training, we must undergo a continuous process of self-reflection, one that makes us doubt about what we know and what we don’t know, as doubting propels us to carry out the preparation and the research necessary to become competent interpreters. How can we interpret well at a United Nations level conference without a strong background in Economics and History, or work in a courtroom without a solid understanding of the different legal and administrative systems of the places and parties involved, or work at a hospital without a sound knowledge of anatomy and physiology? We can’t. We shouldn’t. We need that passive knowledge that helps us fit in the technical puzzle pieces of the subject matter at hand, and we must have the interpreting and language skills that allow us to communicate people across cultures, accurately and naturally.
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Daniel Tamayo began interpreting for the life insurance industry in 1993. Independently or through his company, GlobalTradu Language Services, he serves as an English<>Spanish technical translator and conference interpreter. He frequently interprets and translates for international organizations within the United Nations framework, specializing in sustainable development, environmental policy, education and human rights. Since 2006, he teaches Translation and Interpreting at Cal State University, Fullerton. He has a master’s degree in Translation Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, a master’s degree in Spanish, and graduate studies and a bachelor’s degree in International Management and Economics.
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