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How to Become a Good English Interpreter and Translate TV Shows Into Your Native Language

How to become a good English interpreter

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Fluent English can ONLY be acquired by learning IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS – and that’s why I’m going to highlight them for you in RED!

As you may already have noticed, sometimes I create blog posts and videos based on my blog visitors’ comments and questions.

This article is not an exception, and here’s the original comment that inspired me to write it:

Question by my blog reader

So basically the problem I’m going to discuss in this blog post is the following:

“How to develop your ability to translate from English to your native language INSTANTLY?”

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this matter, just let me tell you that I’ve actually written about this particular phenomenon of not being able to translate a TV show into my native language while watching it with others – you may read about it HERE.

It goes to show that this problem isn’t unique – I would even go so far as to say that it’s NOT ACTUALLY A PROBLEM at all!

Not Good at Interpreting? It Mightn’t Be Such a Bad Thing After All!

Not being able to interpret is maybe a good thing!

Yes, you did get me right!

I just said that it might be actually a good thing that you CAN’T translate very well from English into your native language during the actual speech.

Why?

Well, here’s the thing – if you can perform this task very well, it means that you possess a very well developed mechanism of TRANSLATION, and it drastically increases the chances of you trying to do the same kind of thing when you’re speaking in English.

Basically being good at translating may encourage you to translate from your native language into English when you’re speaking with other people, but needless to say, it’s not a natural process.

It makes your speech hesitant and interrupted, it’s a recognized problem among foreign English speakers, and HERE you can find out exactly why it happens.

Personally I would choose spoken English fluency over ability to interpret from English into my native language any day – to me, it’s a no-brainer!

I mean – after all these years of suffering from debilitating fluency issues I’m finally able to maintain fluent English conversations, and not being able to interpret is such a small price to pay!

Having said all that, I have to admit that the skill to interpret simultaneously (meaning – at the same time as the original speech occurs) can be developed without damaging your EXISTING English fluency.

What I mean is:

There’s no harm working on your interpretation skills provided you don’t have any major English fluency issues. If you do, however, have the typical English fluency issues whereby you translate from your native language in your head as you speak and as a result your speech is interrupted and hesitant, you’d be much better off working on your fluency instead of worrying about your interpretation skills!

Difference Between Translation and Interpretation

Difference between translation and interpretation

Sometimes these two concepts – translation and interpretation – are confused, so before we start looking at ways of improving your ability to interpret TV shows from English into your native language, let’s clarify what’s what.

TRANSLATION is done in writing – you basically do the translation job using dictionaries and other materials so that you can polish the written piece to perfection.

INTERPRETATION is done by speaking – you’re listening to some other person speak and you’re simultaneously translating it into the target language by speaking out loud.

I guess it goes without saying interpretation is so much more difficult than translation because you have to be able to do all the following:

  • Convert the meaning of what you heard 5 seconds ago into the target language;
  • Keep listening to what’s being said RIGHT NOW;
  • Produce coherent and fluent speech while doing all previously mentioned!

Sounds like quite a task, right?

Translation is No Big Deal…

Translation is no big deal

Compared to simultaneous interpretation, translation is really no big deal.

Sure enough, you have to be very well versed in both English and your native language in order to complete the translation task successfully, and most importantly – you have to fully embrace idiomatic language and avoid direct, word-by-word translation by all means.

But think about all the technical tools available these days such as online dictionaries or Google translator – interpreters don’t have ANY of that when translating on the spot, which makes paper-based translation a walk in the park in comparison.

Yes, just like I said – you have to possess a real skill with words in order to pull it off – especially in your target language, which in this case is your native language.

But it doesn’t change the fact that…

… Simultaneous Interpretation is a Real Multitasking Challenge!

Simultaneous interpretation is a real challenge

As I mentioned previously, you have to be able to handle all of the following when doing live interpretation:

  • Converting the meaning of what you heard 5 seconds ago into the target language;
  • Keeping listening to what’s being said RIGHT NOW;
  • Producing coherent and fluent speech while doing all previously mentioned.

It’s like watching three different TV channels at the same time!

It shouldn’t actually come as a surprise to anyone that it’s so hard to translate a TV show into your native language because it’s not really about you not being able to do the translation.

You’re feeling inadequate in front of other people because you think they assume your English skills are not up to scratch, while in reality the problem is of a totally different nature.

TV show live translation is so hard because it’s very difficult for ANY HUMAN BEING to handle so many tasks at the same time!!!

So for starters, you should stop feeling ashamed of your English skills. It’s got nothing to do with the interpreting task.

Just ask the person whom you’re translating the TV show to read a book, watch TV and listen to you at the same time – that should give them some perspective on the task you’re facing.

Only PRACTICE Will Make You Perfect!

Practice makes you perfect!

Just like with so many other things in life, it’s only a matter of DOING them.

Remember – YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO!

If you want to be good at interpreting TV shows and movies live, you have to DO IT.

Do it A LOT.

Or else you’ll be in the same situation as me when my sister-in-law visited us here in Ireland and I tried to interpret a movie for her. It was a total disaster because sometimes I clearly knew what I had to say but I just couldn’t – it’s as if I’d forgotten half of the words in my native language!

But you see, such situations don’t occur too often in my life.

To be totally honest with you, I can’t remember when was the last time I had to do it!

If I had to do it on a daily basis, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure that I would have become a very good interpreter by now.

So – you can’t expect yourself to become good at this task if you only do it once in a blue moon.

But now – let’s give you some tips!

TIP #1: Forget About Word-to-Word Translation!

Forget about word-by-word translation

This is something you should start with.

If you try to translate EACH English word into your native language, it’s going to become an impossible task – it’s just TOO MUCH INFORMATION TO DEAL WITH.

You have to perceive WORD GROUPS as the basic information units, and then all of a sudden it’s going to be much easier for you to handle that information.

Let’s say, for example, the movie character says: “Hey buddy, why did you let me down, we’re partners, remember?”

If you try and translate each word individually, you’ll run into a number of problems:

  • You won’t be able to perceive the full meaning of English speech. “Let me down” can’t be broken into individual words or it’s going to lose its meaning;
  • You won’t be able to convey the verbal message in your native language properly! If I tried to translate “we’re partners, remember?” into Latvian word-by-word, it would actually sound awkward in Latvian. In order to make it sound right, the word “remember” actually has to be ignored!

TIP #2: Develop Your Ability to Express Yourself in Your NATIVE Language!

Develop your ability to express yourself in your native language!

This may sound like a really weird piece of advice, but it actually makes an awful lot of sense.

We all quite naturally assume that once Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, German or – like in my case, Latvian – is our native language, we automatically speak it very well.

Guess what?

Nothing could be further from the truth!

There are plenty of folks whose native language isn’t very well developed, and they start struggling when it comes to expressing more sophisticated concepts.

I’ve noticed it time and time again with foreigners and native English speakers alike, so please don’t be offended when I’m telling you that you should develop your ability to speak well in your native language in order to become a good simultaneous interpreter.

I’ve actually written about the role of your native language as an English speaker in the past – please read THIS ARTICLE.

So basically the problem is that while you may understand fully what the character says on the screen, you may not be able to put it in a coherent way in your native language.

Once again, it’s all a matter of practice, and I guess the best thing you can do in this situation is to become more MINDFUL when speaking in your language.

We have the tendency of going for the easy option when speaking in our native lingo, use plenty of slang and cut our sentences short.

So maybe it’s time you started purposefully introducing more colorful words and expressions in your own native language speech? I guarantee you’ll feel that over time your speech becomes more developed and this in turn will enable you to choose the best things to say when doing simultaneous interpretation!

TIP #3: Develop Your Ability to Paraphrase!

Develop your ability to paraphrase

While doing instant translation, you may be under the impression that you have to provide the most precise translation possible.

But guess what?

In real life it’s almost impossible to provide 100% accurate interpretation of English speech into your native language!

Moreover, not only it’s impossible, but it’s also unnecessary.

Let’s take the sentence we already looked at earlier in this article – “We’re partners, remember?”

If I were to translate everything into Latvian, I’d have to translate the word “remember” as well, right?

But the thing is that if I did it, the resulting Latvian sentence “Mēs (we) esam (are) partneri (partners), atceries (remember)?” sounds AWKWARD.

There’s nothing wrong with the grammar or anything, but it’s just that I as a native Latvian speaker can immediately tell it doesn’t sound native-like.

Here’s how the sentence should be translated: “Mēs taču esam partneri!” – and the funny thing is that I actually had to introduce a completely new word “taču” into the equation to make it sound alright while at the same time getting rid of the “remember” equivalent “atceries”. Yes, “taču” doesn’t bear the same exact meaning as “remember”, but let me reiterate once more:

It’s not the word-by-word translation that matters. It’s the OVERALL meaning and sound of the translated speech that you should be focused on!!!

And that’s where paraphrasing steps in as a very important concept – after all, what I just did was paraphrasing the English speech while translating into Latvian.

Some may say that some of the original meaning gets lost in translation, but I don’t really agree with that. After all, you’re speaking it out loud in your native language, and you have to adopt certain speech features that are unique to your language.

For as long as you’re not twisting data or facts, you’re fine!

And allow me to point out once more – PRACTICE is the key. You can only become good at paraphrasing things if you do it OFTEN!

TIP #4: Develop Your Ability to Summarize!

Develop your ability to summarize

This is of the utmost importance when translating fast speech.

I seriously doubt if the world’s best interpreters can fully keep up with a fast English speech and deliver an exact replica of that speech 100% of the time.

At some point, you’re just going to be forced to summarize certain amount of information in order to catch up with the speaker, and here’s what it entails:

Making an INSTANT decision as to what information can be omitted.

As you can imagine, you can’t leave out vital bits of information – most likely you’ll omit various adjectives, adverbs and descriptions (thus “Now listen to me carefully and don’t make me repeat it once more” becomes “Listen to me – I won’t repeat it” when interpreting).

Referring to something that that’s already been stated without going into the very detail of it once more.

Let’s say, the character on the screen is repeating word-by-word what some other character had recently said – so you can refer to it in your translation simply as “and now he’s talking about what Charlie did to Mary” without telling what he actually did – after all, your listener already knows what it is.

Pointing out the MAIN bits of information and leaving out the least important, less relevant facts if you’re under severe pressure to keep up with the speaker.

So, for example, the following speech: “Recently it’s become known that the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is much larger than previously thought – according to current estimates, it’s twice the previous size and to put it in perspective, it’s the same area as the state of Texas” simply becomes: “The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is the size of Texas – twice bigger than we thought.”

You have to make an instant decision as to what information is less relevant, so in this case you just ignore these bits: “recently it’s become known”, “according to current estimates” and “to put it in perspective” because your summary of the speech does in fact encapsulate the main message.

Basically it’s all about you developing your ability to say more with less, and once again – you have to practice a lot to be good at it!

* * *

Now, I hope this article sheds some light onto the matter, and obviously – if you’ve any further questions, please publish them in the comments section below!

Cheers,

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • You’re welcome Mehdi, and I’m really glad I could help you realize that your English isn’t so bad after all!

    Such wrong assumptions about our English is what prevents us from realizing our full potential as English speakers, so now I hope you’ll approach the whole translation thing from a new angle.

    Any more questions – feel free to ask!

    Robby

  • Mehdi

    Hi Robby!
    I meant to thank you sooner but I’ve just been busy.
    Thanks for this article.
    It really cleared up for me many things and many mistakes I’ve been taking for so long.
    *”Only PRACTICE Will Make You Perfect!”*
    I can understand this now.
    before, I thought my interpretation skills are so bad due to my ” bad ” English.
    My other mistake was that I was trying to translate word-by-word. It was slowing me down considerably.