Are you listening correctly?

“There are many ways of listening to a speech. We may listen to a voice, to its music, its color, consider its beauty or harshness, or else we may single out an accent and try to guess at the origin or cultural background of a speaker”

For interpreting, the type of listening we employ has to be an entirely different one, since it is crucial to extract meaning from the uttered words.

While it sounds perfectly logical, this passage in Danica Seleskovitch’s “Teaching Conference Interpreting”* oddly resonated with me – maybe because it explains a problem I have encountered various times without being able to pinpoint it!

Language-enthusiastic interpreting students might focus too much on HOW something is being said, instead of paying attention to WHAT is being said:

“Students of interpretation have often been trained previously in translating languages; they frequently have a way of listening that is therefore difficult to get rid of: they listen to language, to words, instead of trying to understand what a speaker has in mind when uttering a word sequence.”

Having read this sentence, I wanted to burst into affirmations!

How often have I admired the steady rumble of a broad American accent, traced the delicate, metaphoric loops produced by an Italian native speaker, or listened to Russian proverbs being artistically incorporated into an otherwise mundane discourse: all without paying too much attention to what was being said.

Ideally, the interpreter would wait, pen poised, for the first meaningful unit to be uttered like a predator lurking for prey!


*Seleskovich Danica (1999) The Teaching of Conference Interpretation in the Course of the Last 50 Years. Interpreting 4 (1), 55-66.