The problems of oral translation

Central Kazakhstan University “MHTI - Lingua”

The Institute of language and translation “Lingua”

Interpretation faculty

Evening department

Shkurskaya Elena (ЗАПР-053)


Course paper

Speciality: 050207 - Interpreting

Discipline: Translation theory

Superviser: Isabaeva N.S.

Karagandy 2008














When you stop and think about it, everything in life is translation. We translate our feelings into actions. When we put anything into words, we translate our thoughts. Every physical action is a translation from one state to another. Translating from one language into another is only the most obvious form of an activity which is perhaps the most common of all human activities. This maybe the reason people usually take translation for granted, as something that does not require any special effort, and at the same time, why translation is so challenging and full of possibilities.

There is nothing easy or simple about translation, even as there is nothing easy or simple about any human activity. It only looks easy because you are used to doing it. Anyone who is good at a certain activity can make it appear easy, even though, when we pause to think, we realize there is nothing easy about it.

Translation in the formal sense deals with human language, the most common yet the most complex and hallowed of human functions. Language is what makes us who we are. Language can work miracles. Language can kill, and language can heal. Transmitting meaning from one language to another brings people together, helps them share each other’s culture, benefit from each other’s experience, and makes them aware of how much they all have in common. /tr.handbook/ 

The conditions of oral translation impose a number of important restrictions on the translator's performance. Here the interpreter receives a fragment of the original only once and for a short period of time. His translation is also a one-time act with no possibility of any return to the original or any subsequent corrections. This creates additional problems and the users have sometimes to be content with a lower level of equivalence.

The purpose of the present work is to study the problems of oral translation.

To achieve this purpose it is necessary to find solve to the following tasks:

1) To give the definition to the notion “translation”;

2) To find out the difference between written and oral translation;

3) To characterize the types of oral translation;

4) To define the problems of oral translation;

5) To find various ways and translating devices for solving those problems.

This paper consists of two chapters. The first chapter describes the translation itself, its development and types. In the second chapter there are the problems of translation and the ways of its salvation.

Throughout history, written and spoken translations have played a crucial role in interhuman communication, not least in providing access to important texts for scholarship and religious purposes.

Writings on the subject of translation go far back in recorded history. The practice of translation was discussed by, for example, Cicero and Horace (first century BC) and St Jerome (fourth century AD); their writings were to exert an important influence up until the twentieth century./19/



Translation is a means of interlingual communication. The translator makes possible an exchange of information between the users of different languages by producing in the target language (TL or the translating language) a text which has an identical communicative value with the source (or original) text (ST). 

As a kind of practical activities translation (or the practice of translation) is a set of actions performed by the translator while rendering ST into another language. These actions are largely intuitive and the best results are naturally achieved by translators who are best suited for the job, who are well-trained or have a special aptitude, a talent for it. Masterpieces in translation are created by the past masters of the art, true artists in their profession. At its best translation is an art, a creation of a talented, high-skilled professional.

The theory oftranslation provides the translator with the appropriate tools of analysis and synthesis, makes him aware of what he is to look for in the original text, what type of information he must convey in TT and how he should act to achieve his goal. In the final analysis, however, his trade remains an art. For science gives the translator the tools, but it takes brains, intuition and talent to handle the tools with great proficiency. Translation is a complicated phenomenon involving linguistic, psychological, cultural, literary, ergonomical and other factors.

The core of the translation theory is the general theory of translation which is concerned with the fundamental aspects of translation inherent in the nature of bilingual communication and therefore common to all translation events, irrespective of what languages are involved or what kind of text and under what circumstances was translated. Basically, replacement of ST by TT of the same communicative value is possible because both texts are produced in human speech governed by the same rules and implying the same relationships between language, reality and the human mind. All languages are means of communication, each language is used to externalize and shape human thinking, all language units are meaningful entities related to non-linguistic realities, all speech units convey information to the communicants. In any language communication is made possible through a complicated logical interpretation by the users of the speech units, involving an assessment of the meaning of the language signs against the information derived from the contextual situation, general knowledge, previous experience, various associations and other factors. The general theory of translation deals, so to speak, with translation universals and is the basis for all other theoretical study in this area, since it describes what translation is and what makes it possible.

The general theory of translation describes the basic principles which bold good for each and every translation event. In each particular case, however, the translating process is influenced both by the common basic factors and by a number of specific variables which stem from the actual conditions and modes of the translator's work: the type of original texts he has to cope with, the form in which ST is presented to him and the form in which he is supposed to submit his translation, the specific requirements he may be called upon to meet in his work, etc.

Contemporary translation activities are characterized by a great variety of types, forms and levels of responsibility. The translator has to deal with works of the great authors of the past and of the leading authors of today, with intricacies of science fiction and the accepted stereotypes of detective stories. He must be able to cope with the elegancy of expression of the best masters of literary style and with the tricks and formalistic experiments of modern avant-gardists. The translator has to preserve and fit into a different linguistic and social context a gamut of shades of meaning and stylistic nuances expressed in the original text by a great variety of language devices: neutral and emotional words, archaic words and new coinages, metaphors and similes, foreign borrowings, dialectal, jargon and slang expressions, stilted phrases and obscenities, proverbs and quotations, illiterate or inaccurate speech, and so on and so forth.

The original text may deal with any subject from general philosophical principles or postulates to minute technicalities in some obscure field of human endeavour. The translator has to tackle complicated specialized descriptions and reports on new discoveries in science or technology for which appropriate terms have not yet been invented. His duty is to translate diplomatic representations and policy statements, scientific dissertations and brilliant satires, maintenance instructions and after-dinner speeches, etc.

Translating a play the translator must bear in mind the requirements of theatrical presentation, and dubbing a film he must see to it that his translation fits the movement of the speakers' lips. The translator may be called upon to make his translation in the shortest possible time, while taking a meal or against the background noise of loud voices or rattling type-writers. In simultaneous interpretation the translator is expected to keep pace with the fastest speakers, to understand all kinds of foreign accents and defective pronunciation, to guess what the speaker meant to say but failed to express due to his inadequate proficiency in the language he speaks.

In consecutive interpretation he is expected to listen to long speeches, taking the necessary notes, and then to produce his translation in full or compressed form, giving all the details or only the main ideas.In some cases the users will be satisfied even with the most general idea of the meaning of the original, in other cases the translator may be taken to task for the slightest omission or minor error./14/


In mid-fifties of the last century conference interpreter was still in its infancy with the first simultaneous interpretation having been used after World War II at the Nuremburg Trials (English, French, Russian and German).

In the interwar years consecutive interpretation alone was provided at international gatherings, such as at meetings of the League of Nations in Geneva where English and French were used.

The first interpreters were not trained but entered the profession on the strength of their mastery of languages, prodigious memory, and their impressively broad cultural background. Some of the legendary figures of interpreting include Jean Herbert, Andre Kaminker and Prince Constantin Andronikof, who was personal interpreter to General de Gaulle and one of the founders of AIIC, which was established in 1953.

With the setting up of international and European organizations (United Nations – 1945, Council of Europe – 1949, European Community - 1957) there was a growing need for a much larger number of trained professionals. To meet this continuing challenge, the course has expanded and now encompasses the languages of the European Union and the UN family.

The situation in the early 20th century was totally different from what is known now as conference interpreting – a highly professional field requiring advanced learning and special training. Conference interpreting actually started during World War I, and until then all international meetings of any importance had been held in French for that was language of the 19th century diplomacy.

After the Armistice had been signed on November 11th, 1918, interpreters were invited to work for the Armistice Commissions and later at the Conference on the Preliminaries of Peace. This was the period when conference interpreting techniques to be developed. According to the conference interpreter and author Jean Herbert, they interpreted in consecutive in teams of two, each into his mother tongue.

So conference interpreting was becoming a profession, assuming certain standards in the period between the two World Wars. It started as a non-professional skill, developed from sentence-by-sentence interpreting into consecutive proper and involved special techniques of taking notes as well as many others.

This interpreting process required special qualities on top of an excellent command of two languages, among others tact and diplomacy; above average physical endurance and good “nerves”.

All this applies to both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting and interpreters.

Simultaneous interpreting came into life much later although first attempts to initiate this new conference interpreting procedure were occasionally made at multilingual gathering in the late twenties and the early thirties. In the USSR simultaneous interpreting was first introduced at the VI Congress of the Communist International in 1928 with interpreters sitting in the front row of the conference hall trying hard to catch the words of speakers, coming from the rostrum, and taking into heavy microphones hanging on strings of their necks. Isolated booths for interpreters started to be used five years later, in 1933. Attempts to introduce simultaneous interpreting in the International Labour Organisation were made a few years before the Second World War. Interpreters there were seated in somewhat like an orchestra pit just below the rostrum. They had no earphone to facilitate listening and had to do their best to understand what came over the loudspeakers. They whispered their translations into a sort of box called a Hushaphone.

With the establishment of the United Nations Organisation which opened up an era of multilateral diplomacy, and the development of multilateral economic relations a new era for conference interpreting also began. Simultaneous interpreting gained ground, particularly as Russian, Spanish and Chinese languages were introduced as UN working languages./28/   


Though the basic characteristics of translation can be observed in all translation events, different types of translation can be singled out depending on the predominant communicative function of the source text or the form of speech involved in the translation process. Thus we can distinguish between literary and informative translation, on the one hand, and between written and oral translation (or interpretation), on the other hand.

Informative translation is rendering into the target language non-literary texts, the main purpose of which is to convey a certain amount of ideas, to inform the reader. However, if the source text is of some length, its translation can be listed as literary or informative only as an approximation. Literary works are known to fall into a number of genres. Literary translations may be subdivided in the same way, as each genre calls for a specific arrangement and makes use of specific artistic means to impress the reader. Translators of prose, poetry or plays have their own problems. Each of these forms of literary activities comprises a number of subgenres and the translator may specialize in one or some of them in accordance with his talents and experience.

A number of subdivisions can be also suggested for informative translations, though the principles of classification here are somewhat different. Here we may single out translations of scientific and technical texts, of newspaper materials, of official papers and some other types of texts such as public speeches, political and propaganda materials, advertisements, etc., which are, so to speak, intermediate, in that there is a certain balance between the expressive and referential functions, between reasoning and emotional appeal.

As the names suggest, in written translation the source text is in written form, as is the target text. In oral translation or interpretation the interpreter listens to the oral presentation of the original and translates it as an oral message in TL. As a result, in the first case the Receptor of the translation can read it while in the second case he hears it.

There are also some intermediate types. The interpreter rendering his translation by word of mouth may have the text of the original in front of him and translate it "at sight". A written translation can be made of the original recorded on the magnetic tape that can be replayed as many times as is necessary for the translator to grasp the original meaning. The translator can dictate his "at sight" translation of a written text to the typist or a short-hand writer with TR getting the translation in written form.

These are all, however, modifications of the two main types of translation. The line of demarcation between written and oral translation is drawn not only because of their forms but also because of the sets of conditions in which the process takes place. The first is continuous, the other momentary. In written translation the original can be read and re-read as many times as the translator may need or like. The same goes for the final product. The translator can re-read his translation, compare it to the original, make the necessary corrections or start his work all over again. He can come back to the preceding part of the original or get the information he needs from the subsequent messages. These are most favourable conditions and here we can expect the best performance and the highest level of equivalence. That is why in theoretical discussions we have usually examples from written translations where the translating process can be observed in all its aspects.

The conditions of oral translation impose a number of important restrictions on the translator's performance. Here the interpreter receives a fragment of the original only once and for a short period of time. His translation is also a one-time act with no possibility of any return to the original or any subsequent corrections. This creates additional problems and the users have sometimes to be content with a lower level of equivalence.

There are two main kinds of oral translation — consecutive and simultaneous. Interpreting requirements – depending on the type of interpreting one is engaged in – can range from simple, general conversation, to highly technical exposes and discussions. In consecutive translation the translating starts after the original speech or some part of it has been completed. Here the interpreter's strategy and the final results depend, to a great extent, on the length of the segment to be translated. If the segment is just a sentence or two the interpreter closely follows the original speech. As often as not, however, the interpreter is expected to translate a long speech which has lasted for scores of minutes or even longer. In this case he has to remember a great number of messages and keep them in mind until he begins his translation. To make this possible the interpreter has to take notes of the original messages, various systems of notation having been suggested for the purpose. The study of, and practice in, such notation is the integral part of the interpreter's training as are special exercises to develop his memory.

Sometimes the interpreter is set a time limit to give his rendering, which means that he will have to reduce his translation considerably, selecting and reproducing the most important parts of the original and dispensing with the rest. This implies the ability to make a judgement on the relative value of various messages and to generalize or compress the received information. The interpreter must obviously be a good and quickwitted thinker.

In simultaneous interpretation the interpreter is supposed to be able to give his translation while the speaker is uttering the original message. This can be achieved with a special radio or telephone-type equipment. The interpreter receives the original speech through his earphones and simultaneously talks into the microphone which transmits his translation to the listeners. This type of translation involves a number of psycholinguistic problems, both of theoretical and practical nature. /14/

This is a highly specialized form of interpreting, which requires a special aptitude. The interpreter has to be able to listen to the speaker and repeat the same words in a different language almost at the same time. This takes a great deal of training and experience, and is paid at a higher rate than consecutive.

Simultaneous interpretation may be required for such things as business or professional conferences, training seminars, or presentations. A simultaneous interpretation longer than two hours requires at least two interpreters to allow for rest periods./22/



Consecutive translation is not full by definition. Firstly, even unique memory of some legendary interpreters is hardly able to keep all the details of a long speech, let alone the memory of mere mortals. Secondly, the consecutive translation is fulfilled basically denotatively, i.e. this is not a word-for-word translation of source text but its more or less free interpretation. This either suggests differences and incompleteness.

In consecutive translation the interpreter should rely on as much as possible set of wide and universal equivalents, on the context and on maximally full common and special knowledge base. Context plays the most important role in consecutive translation in contrast to simultaneous translation where the wide context practically absent and the choice of equivalents given by the dictionary is to be made according to the situation and background knowledge. /18/

Professional simultaneous translation is the type of oral translation at international conferences which is realized at the same time with the perception of the message by ear given instantaneously at the source language. The interpreter is at the booth which isolates him from the audience. During the simultaneous translation the information of a strictly limited volume is being processed in the extreme conditions at any space of time.

The extreme conditions of professional simultaneous translation sometimes lead to the statement of a question about appearing the condition of stress at the simultaneous interpreter. /25/

Simultaneous translation is always connected with huge psychological works and often with stress and it is quite natural, because to listen and to speak simultaneously is impossible for a usual man it is a psychological anomaly. It is impossible to translate simultaneously without special equipment. The translator needs earphones, a special booth and most of all he needs skills and translation devices. During the translation the reporter speaks or reads his text to the microphone in one language and the interpreter hears it from the ear-phones and translates it into another language simultaneously with the speaker. When the interpreter speaks to his microphone the audience, which hears his translation from the ear-phones, must gain an impression that the speaker reporter speaks in their language.

The specialists pay special attention to the following factors which determine the difficulty of simultaneous translation:

- Psychophysiological discomfort caused by the necessity to listen and to speak simultaneously;

- Psychophysiological strain connected with irreversibility of that the reporter has said into the microphone. The reporter won’t be stopped and asked to repeat;

- Psychological strain connected with big audience and irreversibility of the translation. It is impossible to excuse and to correct;

- Psychophysiological strain caused by quick speech. The simultaneous interpreter must always speak quickly without pauses otherwise he will be left behind. But the pauses in speech bring not only semantic but psychophysiological work: to take breath, to collect one’s thoughts.

- Difficult linguistic task of tying up the utterances in the languages which have different structure during the simultaneous translation, when the context is extremely limited and there is lack of time for translation;

- A difficult linguistic task of speech compression which helps to compensate the translation into the language which has long words and verbose rhetoric.

These factors work in the ideal case when the reporter speaks in a usual speed in a clear literal language, when his pronunciation is standard and he understands that he is being translated and he is interested in that the audience to understand him. But this happens rarely.

The simultaneous interpreter must always be ready morally and professionally that

the reporter will speak very fast or will read the text of his speech;

the reporter’s pronunciation will be indistinct or nonstandard;

the reporter will use nonstandard abbreviations in his speech, which weren’t entered beforehand, or professional jargon words or expressions.

All these difficulties may undoubtedly present at consecutive translation but there always exist a feed-back with the reporter. The interpreter may ask again, ask to repeat and there is always a contact of the interpreter with the audience where is surely someone who knows the language and subject of the speech and he will always prompt and correct benevolently, as a rule, if the translation is well in general./18/


While listening to the speaker the interpreter takes notes of the message he or she receives, while the utterance is being received. It means that perception and comprehension are concurrant with note-taking.

The interpreter’s notes are an ideographic system of encoding the message. They are word- and symbol-based, their syntax is simple, their word order is direct and grammatical functions are expressed by fixed positions of the elements of the utterance, while positions themselves are vertically organized.

This brief description of the system of interpreter’s notes makes one realize that to take notes one has to translate the original utterance into another code. This code is in fact very close to what has been previously described as the internal semantic code of the Recipient. And the fact that the interpreter’s notes are something only the interpreter who has made them can read, or decode, proves the point.

So in order to be able to listen, comprehend and take down a processed and transformed version of the original utterance the interpreter has to run ahead of the utterance being received and anticipate its morpho-phonemic, syntactical and semantic structure.

If we now take our model of the interpretation process we shall see that it represents a two-phase process of consecutive interpreting in which the phases are separated from each other, the first phase being completed when the semantic representation is achieved in the form of notes, and the second phase being started when this semantic representation is utilized for programming and producing the message in the TL (target language).

No such border-line can be drawn for simultaneous interpreting. If we attempt a graphic representation of the process of simultaneous interpreting for one utterance, we shall see that the processes of speech perception and speech generation concur and run parallel to each other.

The language in which an interpreter has to take notes is the source language. Note-taking is a help for short-term memory. It reflects basic thoughts of the source text. The system of note-taking is based at widely spread abbreviations and individual own symbols.

Symbols and abbreviations used in note-taking must meet the following requirements:

- they should be understandable, easy to write and to decode;

- to be universal and easy to remember;

- they should mean definite notion, symbol, sense, which appears clearly and monosemantically both in linguistic and extra linguistic context;

- to be recognizable at the given moment of speaking and translating.

In order to read and interpret the notes easily you should place them downward in diagonal way. The first level is subject group, the second level is predicative, the third level is Direct Object and the fourth level is Indirect Object.


Object (Indirect)