Aptitude for interpreting: innate or taught?
Thread poster: Mario Chavez (X)

Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jan 5, 2018

My university's translation program (4-year in the mid 80s) included a seminar on consecutive interpreting towards the end. There was no interpreting course or track at the time. Teaching how to interpret was sort of an afterthought, not that I wanted to be an interpreter per se at the time.

I became interested in interpreting in the late 80s and early 90s as the possibilities for court interpreting were beginning to sound attractive to a New York City resident. I had performed pro bono consecutive interpreting for a church for several years and I enjoyed it. Other assignments cemented my conviction that I could do interpreting alongside translation projects. That was NYC in the early 90s and I had no shortage of opportunities.

However, whether one has to have an innate inclination to interpret or learn interpreting skills was always in the back of my mind. At least, one has to enjoy doing something to claim any degree of talent one is born with. Over the years, I've done mostly translations because I enjoy writing them. Interpreting? Maybe the opportunities are too far apart to really enjoy them, but I'm questioning whether one person can do both enjoyably and successfully.

Besides, many in-house positions for translators posted by government organizations in the USA also require interpreting skills and experience. I tend to shun them because I feel I'm not cut out for interpreting in terms of personality (I'm an introvert and constant contact with people deplete my energy). What's your take? Are successful interpreters largely people who are very extroverted?


EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:27
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
Two different things Jan 5, 2018

One thing is your technical capacity to do it, which is innate in my opinion - I have been always able to do it, while I know some people who studied it at the University (here, people do receive proper interpreting training) and were never able to do it. From what you say, you have this capacity.
Your personality is a different thing - you say you enjoyed it in the past, so why do you think you wouldn't? I mostly hated it and so I stopped interpreting. I hated it, as you say, because of the human contact it involves - among other, I hate dressing up and travelling in the early morning and being nice to people some of which I deeply dislike. AND I am a perfectionist and interpreting is seldom perfect - you are in a hurry, sometimes you don't hear properly what people say, so you cannot really avoid cutting corners. AND simultaneous interpreting is team work, while I am not a team player and cannot stand people who do things badly. To answer your question: I don't think an extrovert will be automatically a good interpreter (technical capacity) - besides, extroverts can get on peoples' (clients', colleagues') nerves quite a lot, so...
As to doing both translation and interpreting - many people do, I used to. It is a good thing if you do both for the same (direct/final) clients - you prepare your vocabulary by translating, then you can see what it is about and ask people questions when you go there as an interpreter.


Local time: 15:27
Hebrew to English
+ ...
Not about being extrovert/introvert Jan 6, 2018

Mario, I can tell you from personal experience working with (simultaneous) interpreters here in Israel that I've met plenty of introverts who are fantastic interpreters. I'm definitely an extrovert, but I can tell you that I rarely interact too much with the people at an event when I interpret. Also - sitting in a booth, effectively isolated from the rest of the crowd, should work well for introverts... so I don't think that is the issue.

That said, there are definitely personality traits that matter, not to mention natural talent. I can safely say that here, there are far more translators than interpreters, and most of those who do interpret need to supplement their interpretation gigs with written translation, as I do, because there simply isn't enough work in a small country like ours to do just interpretation.


Darwin Escobar  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:27
Member (2016)
Spanish to English
+ ...
With enough practice... Jan 8, 2018

When I first started taking interpreting courses at my university to fulfill my Spanish Translation and Interpreting degree, we (my class) were all pretty bad at it at first. Even simple short sentences filled with basic legal or medical jargon proved a challenge for us. Our professor was a former interpreter for immigration court in New York and I think he did an excellent job of teaching us exercises to improve our mental capacity so that we could consecutively interpret longer phrases with less pauses, as well as juggling "source language in, target language out" when we were practicing simultaneous interpreting.

Now I work full-time as a medical interpreter (translator on the side, although I wouldn't mind if it was the other way around!) The action of interpreting is not nearly as hard for me today as it was those first few months of class. The only thing that slows me down is terminology I am not familiar with but we were also taught how to appropriately intervene when those situations arise.

As for as introvert/extrovert tendencies go, I also consider myself an introvert but have surprised myself at the accomplishments and praises I've gotten, for example, after interpreting an end of life discussion in a big conference room with about 25 family members all staring at me to understand what the team of doctors was saying.


United Kingdom
Local time: 13:27
Serbian to English
+ ...
you can't learn "aptitude", only techniques Jan 8, 2018

a natural ability to do something.
"children with an aptitude for painting and drawing"
a natural tendency.
"his aptitude for deceit"
synonyms: talent, gift, flair, bent, skill, knack, facility, finesse, genius; ability, proficiency, competence, capability, potential, capacity, faculty; expertise, expertness, adeptness, prowess, mastery, artistry; propensity, inclination, natural ability, suitability, fitness; head, mind, brain; informalknow-how
"he showed an aptitude for skiing"

N.B. : "a natural ability to do something" = you can't "learn" something that is "natural" (=you either have it or not)

OTOH You can be "taught" a lot of practical/technical aspects and even manage to be fairly good at interpreting - but the less "(inborn/natural) aptitude" you already have, the more efforts will be required - the extreme situation being comparable to trying to teach music /musical instruments to people who can't distinguish one musical note from another ... [which many fee-charging institutions will happily do, as long as it takes ...]

There is at least one KEY element that you either have or not: as far as I know, there is no "tuition" anywhere to teach you how to be totally unimpressed by the titles / positions of people you are interpreting for, and focus only on what they are saying ... in practical terms, I know of few extremely good translators who had terminal mental blocks when they tried interpreting.


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Aptitude for interpreting: innate or taught?

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