When to start speaking in simultaneous

The following is a summary of a section of Roderick Jones’ fantastic book, Conference Interpreting Explained.

Conference Interpreting Explained. Roderick Jones. Paperback, 152 pages. Routledge

Don’t start speaking until you know you can complete a grammatical sentence…but you don’t have to complete the sentence you originally had in mind nor the same sentence the speaker finishes.

1. Don’t start speaking until you know you can complete a grammatical sentence. Any sentence, no matter how short, but  you must be able to finish a sentence. 

(Any grammatical sentence….but if the speaker stops mid way and changes tack it’s the interpreter who looks like a fool. One of the fundamental rules of learning to interpret is “finish you sentences!”).

2. But you don’t have to complete the sentence you originally had in mind. 

(The interpreter can change his/her mind while speaking and come up with a better sentence than the original idea, no harm in that but because there was always a complete sentence in mind the interpreter has a safety net.) 

3. nor the same sentence the speaker finishes. 

(The speaker may well launch himself into long complex sentence structures which he may well get tangled up in…the interpreter can create shorter sentences from that long one to gain clarity. Jones calls this the salami technique.) 

Jones’ example goes something like this….. 

Imagine the speaker begins as follows, 

“Despite the ruling of the European Court of Justice last month, the UK government has decided not to change its much criticised and controversial policy on the disposal of waste products from hospitals.” 

By the time the intepreter has heard the words “last month” he can form a grammatical sentence, for example, “The ECJ made a ruling last month.” This may seem simplistic but as we said above it is a safety net, and can be changed as we go along. What is crucial is that the interpreter start with a whole sentence in mind.

As the speaker continues the interpreter may for example aim to continue, 

“The ECJ made a ruling last month, despite which the UK government has not decided to change policy.” 

The interpreter may also leave the original sentence and start a new one.

“The ECJ made a ruling last month. Despite this the UK government has not decided to change policy.”

It his is a technique and as such it needs to be practised. Knowing this in theory will not help you. Making its application the goal of practice sessions over a number of days or weeks will. Initially it will seem to make interpreting more difficult because it is new to us and because it is a technique that is not natural – our natural reaction is to start too early, particularly when we are nervous – but once mastered you will find that this technique eliminates many of the common pitfalls that interpreters encounter. For example, correcting oneself, restarting sentences, forgetting the grammatical structure of the beginning of long sentences and therefore not matching the end to it correctly etc.

To read a fuller description of how this technique works in practice, buy Roderick Jones’ book!