Interpreters: what they do and how they do it

If you take part in outreach activities, or if people ever ask you the difference between translators and interpreters, and what they actually do, then you might find this “More Than Words” TEDx talk useful. Produced by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, it features Laura Burian, Miguel Garcia and Barry Olsen.

The talk also provides a good answer to anyone who asserts that everyone speaks English so there’s no need to bother learning other languages:

If you talk a man in a language he understands, that goes his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Anyway, it’s a myth that “everyone” speaks English: check out the Map of the percentage of people speaking English in the EU by country from Jakub Marian’s website (for copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the image here). Only 22% of Spaniards say they can hold a conversation in English, 27% of Portuguese and 34% of Italians. So if you want to do business in those countries, you’d do well to learn (or employ a translator/interpreter who knows) their languages!

By the way, check out the back-drop to the speakers: it’s amazing what you can do with plastic bottles and coloured lighting.

Other posts you might like:

Languages as they is spoke, by Catherine Tate

Ministry of Justice language services: FUBAR?

Spreading the language love (1) 

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

Join the conversation


  1. What a fantastic video! I have so much admiration for translators and interpreters, particularly simultaneous interpreters. I had two interpretation exams as part of my finals for my French and Spanish degree. Each was only 20 minutes but I was SHATTERED! The concentration required is phenomenal – as the speaker explains you need to listen, understand, process and convert to the other language all within about a second! I hope these professionals are well paid!

    1. Thanks for commenting Kim. I haven’t done much interpreting but, as you say, the concentration required is indeed phenomenal and mentally exhausting. I loved the part of the video showing Miguel Garcia’s notes (hieroglyphics?) for consecutive interpreting.

Leave a comment

Have your say!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.