Emotion/tone of voice while interpreting
Thread poster: xxxyapivy
xxxyapivy
United States
Local time: 21:00
Tagalog to English
+ ...
Aug 14, 2007

I was recently on a phone interpreting call where one of the parties was quite angry (it was a customer service call). My husband happened to overhear part of the call, and said that I also sounded angry when I was interpreting the angry person's words. I was not deliberately trying to sound angry, although I was trying to interpret the meaning faithfully. (There was no profanity, so that was not an issue in this case.)

My question is: should I try to modulate my tone of voice to sound calm, even if the words being spoken are quite angry? The third person on the line could hear quite well that the other party was angry, even without my interpretation. They responded with a calm, soothing tone, which I also adopted when interpreting their words.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:00
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Taking sides Aug 14, 2007

Ivy Yap wrote:
The third person on the line could hear quite well that the other party was angry, even without my interpretation. They responded with a calm, soothing tone, which I also adopted when interpreting their words.


By mimicking the calm person's voice and not the angry person's voice, you are taking sides with the calm person, and you are no longer an objective interpreter.

However, in my opinion, if the two parties can hear each other, interpreting should be done in a neutral voice anyway (well, accentuate words or phrases if the speaker does, if this is normal in the target language also, but don't mimick his mood).

I'm not an interpreter, by the way.


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Nuria Navarro  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
Languages sound different Aug 14, 2007

Hi!

I am a conference interpreter myself and teachers used to tell me that the tone of the voice is one of the interpreters' tools. It does not mean that you have to shout if the speaker is shouting, or that you have to bang on a table if the speaker does so. I means that the way you speak should refect the feelings of both speakers (without exaggerating, of course).

It happens that the way some languages sound make other people think that the speaker is angry (for example, last year I spent some weeks in Finland and when I spoke on the phone everybody thought I was arguing with my family).

So I would just just tell you to try to express the parties feelings with words and not to worry too much about it.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:00
Flemish to English
+ ...
Mustn't it be the same? Aug 14, 2007

During a meeting, a woman cried with a high-pitched voice cried out : "I am not a lesbian". A female student of interpreting was able to mimic the same pitch and the same tone and got a compliment from her teacher who was also present at that meeting.

[Edited at 2007-08-14 10:03]


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Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Germany
Member (2002)
Swedish
+ ...
Staying neutral Aug 14, 2007

Williamson wrote:

During a meeting, a woman cried with a high-pitched voice cried out : "I am not a lesbian". A female student of interpreting was able to mimic the same pitch and the same tone and got a compliment from her teacher who was also present at that meeting.

[Edited at 2007-08-14 10:03]


So what would a male interpreter have done? A man shouting this would surely be the source for a great and long laugh. I don't agree with you, Williamson. Interpreters are not actors.

It's quite seldom that I do any interpreter jobs, but I always stay neutral in tone. As Swedish and German are quite similar in the tone, any person who can't master either of the language would still understand if somebody is angry. For other language combinations, e.g. Spanish-Finnish as Nuria explained, there can be a bigger "distance". In general, Finnish is spoken in a "calm way", not that intense as Spanish or Italian sometimes.

Also, in some languages the speaker can deliberately put in a small pause of 2-3 seconds, not to let the next person speak, but just to continue his own story. This can be misunderstood as a signal "I have finished, your turn to speak" if the different persons come from different cultures.

Erik


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Christina Courtright  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
reflect emotion but don't mimic Aug 14, 2007

In court interpreting in the US, we are taught to reflect but not mimic the speaker's emotion. The nuance is important. The judge or jury can hear the original speaker's tone and see his/her expressions and gestures. The interpreter's ability to add *some* force or sadness or calmness or hesitation or distress to his/her subsequent rendering is useful to help the listener recall the original speaker's way of delivering that utterance. So I raise my voice somewhat or lower it or speak more quickly or more slowly, or more firmly or more hesitantly, as needed.

But mimicking the *exact* emotion with which it was originally said is neither necessary nor respectful. It would also be terribly draining for the interpreter to do so! Nor are we actors (at least, most of us aren't!). Hope that helps.


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Binnur Tuncel van Pomeren  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 06:00
Member (2007)
English to Turkish
+ ...
Reflecting emotion: I agree Aug 14, 2007

cecourtright wrote:
In court interpreting in the US, we are taught to reflect but not mimic the speaker's emotion. The nuance is important. The judge or jury can hear the original speaker's tone and see his/her expressions and gestures. The interpreter's ability to add *some* force or sadness or calmness or hesitation or distress to his/her subsequent rendering is useful to help the listener recall the original speaker's way of delivering that utterance. So I raise my voice somewhat or lower it or speak more quickly or more slowly, or more firmly or more hesitantly, as needed.

But mimicking the *exact* emotion with which it was originally said is neither necessary nor respectful. It would also be terribly draining for the interpreter to do so! Nor are we actors (at least, most of us aren't!). Hope that helps.


I totally agree with reflecting emotion however I don't see so much of difference between reflecting the emotion and mimicking (of course mimicking the tone and speech). Originating from our linguistic and historical differences, we have cultural differences. A Dutch husband of mine can convey something in a very calm manner, which should be toned more emotionally in Turkish.

You may also avoid mimicking, but I would consider this type of interpretation as summarising and giving a brief account about a client's emotion. Well, why not? It is good.

All types of relations should be based on one principle: MUTUAL TRUST. If one client perceives this as not respectful that the exact emotion is mimicked, the other also can as well perceive that the emotion is not conveyed.

Well, I remember that we had paid a special attention to tones during our French lessons. We used solfege in order to give the tones correctly. It helped me somewhat at a later stage I presume.

Warmest regards,
Binnur


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buble  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
Spanish to German
+ ...
depends Aug 14, 2007

I've heard a couple of opinions on this matter.
It surely depends a lot on where you are and what subject you are interpreting.
It's important to express the moods of the person you are interpreting for, but oftentimes it will do to ad: Mr/Mrs XXX is very excited about this offer/irritated about your choice of words/can't find herself in what you are saying there. However, opinions here vary a lot. We've, ie, been told, to use the I-form when interpreting in English, but it's oftentimes a neutral form you wold have to use in practise (this is what we've been told for Spanish). And while the I-form is used in business exchange, in the medical field, especially in interpretation sessions with traumatised, you will be adviced to create a distance and not identify with the person you are speaking for, and naturally use a he/she-form when talking about the person.

My personal opinion is: this is, after having taken in consideration the situation in which you are, a personal and creative element of the job.
I've met people who have been very successfull interpreting political speeches with a lot of affection, so that the audience would hang on their lips, and others who are nearly invisible, but do a good job and get a perfect feed-back.
It's most important to reflect the situation, be correct and create understanding. That's the job. The rest is not so important. So, go for your own comfort. Bet it's part of what makes the fun to find out about this


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
A natural thing to do Aug 14, 2007

I think to mimic the tone is not only a natural thing to do, but a good thing when interpreting. When someone goes to extremes (very angry, for instance), I do not think it is desirable to go to the same extremes, but perhaps somewhere in between. Even body language can get involved as well, but if you are sitting in a cabin and everyone else is watching the speaker it will go unnoticed! However, it can help you in getting the tone right.

It is also interesting to note that tone not only varies between languages as mentioned by some contributors. It also varies within languages.

An illustration would be to contrast the calm, laid-back speech of Mexicans compared to the rapid, excited speech of Cubans. Many Mexicans will think that a Cuban is angry when he is really not angry at all, and can sometimes take offense.


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xxxyapivy
United States
Local time: 21:00
Tagalog to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Reflecting emotion is okay Aug 14, 2007

Thanks for your opinions! In future I will be more aware of my tone of voice, especially when there is anger involved. I'll try to reflect both speakers' emotions without necessarily mimicking, e.g. if one person shouts, I might speak more forcefully but maybe not shout myself. I think it would be more difficult to say angry words without sounding even a little angry. After all, I'm not a robot

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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:00
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Tone of voice while interpreting Aug 14, 2007

Well nobody has ever told me how to use my voice whilst interpreting.

I adopt a fairly neutral voice as the words themselves are explicit enough to convey the emotions. I am a linguist not an actor or dramatist. Also it would make interpreting even more difficult and tiring if you had to mimic the voice of the speakers!

Stay calm and stay neutral, that is my policy. Nobody has complained to me yet, in fact I receive a lot of positive comments about my work..

Liz Askew


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:00
English to Hungarian
+ ...
There are standards and there are "opinions" Aug 19, 2007

buble wrote:
I've heard a couple of opinions on this matter.
It surely depends a lot on where you are and what subject you are interpreting.
It's important to express the moods of the person you are interpreting for, but oftentimes it will do to ad: Mr/Mrs XXX is very excited about this offer/irritated about your choice of words/can't find herself in what you are saying there. However, opinions here vary a lot. We've, ie, been told, to use the I-form when interpreting in English, but it's oftentimes a neutral form you wold have to use in practise (this is what we've been told for Spanish). And while the I-form is used in business exchange, in the medical field, especially in interpretation sessions with traumatised, you will be adviced to create a distance and not identify with the person you are speaking for, and naturally use a he/she-form when talking about the person.

My personal opinion is: this is, after having taken in consideration the situation in which you are, a personal and creative element of the job.
I've met people who have been very successfull interpreting political speeches with a lot of affection, so that the audience would hang on their lips, and others who are nearly invisible, but do a good job and get a perfect feed-back.
It's most important to reflect the situation, be correct and create understanding. That's the job. The rest is not so important. So, go for your own comfort. Bet it's part of what makes the fun to find out about this


I am afraid I have to disagree with you on the following points:

1. The number one rule of interpreting is that as much as it is humanly and linguistically possible, you do not add or omit anything to what is being said. Especially you do not offer your opinion!
It will NOT do to add: "Mr/Mrs XXX is very excited...."
If you feel that YOU must say something, you have to ask permission and say it in both languages.
How does this sound to you then:
"I said to the other party that: You, Mr/Mrs XXX are very excited..."

2. When somebody speaks in the first person, you do the same. You may start your interpreting explaining it to the parties in a couple of sentences how you are going to do it. Even when the speaker is a different sex, this is the right way, and it works even with telephone interpreting.
There are no exceptions. If you are not comfortable with that, it means you need more practice.

3. The interpreter's role is to echo what is being said, albeit in a different language. The listener is not always able to discern in the foreign language, where the emotional emphasis culminates.
(Read the above sentence a few times, with different emotions and emphasis: "If you feel that you must say something, you have to ask permission and say it in both languages." It can be said so many different way, that I haven't got enough fingers to count them.)

It is the interpreter’s job to convey the meaning of what is being said in the fullest possible way, and that means to identify with the speaker and indicate the emotions as well.
The art lies in doing so without "acting", without overdoing it.

Ivy, I think you got it. Good luck and happy interpreting.


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buble  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
Spanish to German
+ ...
there are standarts, and opinions next to them Aug 25, 2007

@juvera
Dear Juvera,

thanks for adding your comment. I had not been aware of the ambiguity of my first phrase, when I wrote it down.
I'll happily correct my "opinions on this matter" by adding that I'm taking it from my own experience, first of all in 3 different language departments where I used to study (in 2 countries) and the theories I used be confronted with during my studies which were used as a base for the real situation. It would be just as correct to call that a set standart. It certainly is in my language pairs.

I chose to call that "opinions" because I wanted to include what I know from active interpreters I've been talking to. It's oftentimes the same questions one is gonna come across.

As for "no exceptions": I'm not knowing a lot about other countries and languages (like Tagalog), but I know that I had to do the interpretation part during my finals (simulating a business conversation) in the 3rd person. Though this was different from department to department. That standart is set by the Ministry of Education. However, that's years back, so it might have changed in the mean-time.

I don't think I would bother someone with a pure opinion if it was without some background

But I'm sure Yvy's taking out something of the comments.
All my best

[Edited at 2007-08-25 22:57]


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