When I first started simultaneous
interpreting for the US Department of State in 1974, I observed that
sometimes I did not readily find the necessary word and I asked myself:
"How does one say this in English?" I was short of words, and
this was a serious shortage. This shortage was accompanied by a certain
excess: when I was going from the original to the translated sentence,
superfluous debris of unprocessed original(s) often ended up carried
'across the immune boundary' into the body of the new organism, the
translated sentence. This was not desirable. Each of these organisms (the
original and the translation) is clean within itself and for itself, but
they ought not to be contaminated by each other's 'bodily fluids'. It can
lead to such 'diseases' as impoverished vocabulary, alien sentence
structure and word order, irrelevant cultural assumptions, use of idioms
non-existent in the target language, tortured syntax, and, finally,
sentences which are difficult or impossible to understand.
I asked myself:
"Why am I talking like this in the target language?" and my
inner voice answered:
"Because you are not talking in it."
"And what am I doing in it?" I asked.
"You are copying, you are imitating the original."
Then I thought:
"Oh, my God, I better stop doing that and begin to talk."
Between talking and interpreting there is at least one important
difference. Talking happens from a place inside of me to the
resulting sentence which is outside, while imitation happens from the
original sentence outside of me to the final sentence which is also
outside. Thus in the imitation process I play only the motive role of the
means of transportation, but I do not generate the cargo in any way. I am
just the train that carries sentences from point O (the original) to point
T (the translation). What I decided to do instead, back then in 1974, and
what I still practice today, a quarter of a century later, is three-point
I listen to the original and interiorize it. This causes a certain feeling
inside, like the lump I feel when I want to say something of my own. Then,
without looking at the original I say it, or I verbalize this lump, just
the way it happens when I speak in the target language or in any language,
for that matter. The sentence I say sounds natural and clear; none
of the debris of the original muddies its clear form. While saying
it, I compare it to the original ever so lightly, just for compliance
This description sounds complicated, but so would a similarly technical
description of the way you walk. In reality, all this is fairly easy to
do. Just don't be in a hurry to carry the original to the translation.
Interiorize it first and get a feel for it, then forget about it and where
it came from, and speak. In addition to making the interpreter sound
natural and opening access to the enormous natural vocabulary one
possesses without being aware of it, this three-point process keeps one
alert and helps against being hypnotized by the original.