Interpreters in Brussels

Federica Mamini asked us to promote her practice group in Brussels - of course we will! 

She says about this project:

Dear all, welcome to the Interpreters in Brussels group!! I am looking for some dedicated interpreting professionals to set up a practice group in order to keep up with simultaneous and consecutive interpreting exercises and get some peer feedback. Ideally, the language combinations would be Italian, English, Spanish, French and German. I believe this could be a good networking opportunity and it could indeed benefit our performance! So, if you are based in Brussels and interested in improving your interpreting techniques and sharing best practices, you are more than welcome to post your comments here! We will soon organise an opening meeting! I look forward to meeting you very soon!!


'I'm not suited for interpreting, I'm not skilled enough, I will never enter a booth again, I will stop immediately.'

That’s what Yonehara Mari told herself the first time she entered a booth and interpreted simultaneously between Russian and Japanese. She would grow to be one of the most famous interpreters in the history of Japan.

'Mari, you're struggling because you're tying to interpret every word. Just interpret what you understand', her mentor told her. She did as she was told and it worked out fine. According to Mari, this was a moment of enlightenment to her.

This really is the key to interpreting. Not to get too distracted by expressions, not sticking to words. 


Because words are nothing more than a means to express a feeling. A feeling or a thought, an uncertain something one wants to express. Yonehara uses the Japanese word “moyamoya”, which describes something like “a dim, indistinct feeling or a fuzzy, blurred mind (think of steam or smoke) with a feeling of unresolvedness”. In order to feel resolved, we, as humans, try to express our inner cloud of indistinct feelings by the means of sound, i.e. words. Words are encoded expressions of our inner fuzziness. Like a code which our fellow humans can decipher.

According to Yonehara, if in interpreting one is just focussing on the end product, the uttered words, one will never be able to interpret. Instead, we as interpreters, need to focus on the speaker’s moyamoya, grasp the speaker’s intention, decipher not just the meaning of, but the sense behind their words. We need to try not to adhere to their words, trying to interpret every single one of them, ending up in some sort of simultaneous machine translation. Just listen to their words and try to see through them, catch a sight of the real moyamoya behind them. Don’t listen - decipher the sound you hear. These are two different things. Once deciphered, choose a different encoding language and put the message out there. In your own words.

Yonehara’s perspective is very intriguing, not least because it resembles very much Seleskovich & Lederer’s “théorie du sense” of deverbalisation, which is very well known amongst Western interpreters.

There are three steps to the interpretation process:
1) merging elements of linguistic meaning with extra-linguistic knowledge to obtain sense;
2) deverbalizing that sense as it emerges;  and
3) spontaneously expressing this sense linguistically

[…] sense is not the same thing as the sum of the linguistic meanings of individual words and sentences: sense emerges as these units of linguistic meaning are merged with prior knowledge, and this merging process unfolds in actual communication. (Seleskovich, Lederer 1996: 79).

I do not know, whether Yonehara had ever heard of the “théorie du sense”, but her instincitve depiction of what interpreting feels like hits the nail on the head.

*As read in 米原万里著「愛の法則」pp. 181f

by J. Mermod

Das Gehirn mehrsprachiger Kinder bleibt länger flexibel -

Schon im ersten Lebensjahr prägt das sprachliche Umfeld das Gehirn von Kindern. Forscher untersuchen, inwiefern sich das langfristig auf die Sprachfertigkeit auswirkt.

Multilingual thesaurus by Cedefop (for free)

This publication, which is available online in pdf form free of charge, is a selection of 1207 terms and concepts which appear frequently in literature related to European vocational education and training (VET) research and policy. This tool forms the basis of the full-fledged online thesaurus Cedefop is currently preparing. Rather than having the full features of a thesaurus, the synopsis allows for a quick navigation by language, term and topic. Each term/concept is presented in 11 languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish. Topics covered include skills needs and shortages, lifelong learning, vocational education and training policy, assessment and certification of learning outcomes, recognition of certificates and diplomas, and vocational guidance.

Found via

Kommunikations-Ökonomie: Sprachbarrieren kosten Unternehmen Geld // Native language, spoken language, translation and trade

„Die Fähigkeit, direkt miteinander zu kommunizieren, ist im internationalen Handel ein entscheidender Faktor“, schreiben die zwei Ökonomen Jaques Mélitz (Heriot-Watt-Universität) und Farid Toubal (Universität Angers) in einer jetzt veröffentlichten Studie, für die sie die Auswirkungen von Sprachunterschieden auf den globalen Handel untersucht haben. (…)

Sprachgrenzen zu überwinden, sei für Unternehmen ein teures Wagnis, sind die Forscher daher überzeugt. Eine aktuelle Studie der privaten Londoner „Economist Intelligence Unit“ und des Sprachlernanbieters Education First bestätigt diese These: Fast die Hälfte der 572 befragten Manager aus internationalen Unternehmen gab dabei an, durch Kommunikationsprobleme mit ausländischen Geschäftspartnern bereits Geld verloren zu haben.

Den vollen Artikel lesen sie hier.

Further readings:

Mélitz, Jacques and Farid Toubal (2012). NATIVE LANGUAGE, SPOKEN LANGUAGE, TRANSLATION AND TRADE. Discussion Paper Series No. 8994. International Macroeconomics and International Trade and Regional Economics. CEPR: London.

We construct new series for common native language and common spoken language for 195 countries, which we use together with series for common official language and linguistic proximity in order to draw inferences about (1) the aggregate impact of all linguistic factors on bilateral trade, (2) whether the linguistic influences come from ethnicity and trust or ease of communication, and (3) in so far they come from ease of communication, to what extent translation and interpreters play a role. The results show that the impact of linguistic factors, all together, is at least twice as great as the usual dummy variable for common language, resting on official language, would say. In addition, ease of communication is far more important than ethnicity and trust. Further, so far as ease of communication is at work, translation and interpreters are extremely important. Finally, ethnicity and trust come into play largely because of immigrants and their influence is otherwise difficult to detect.

The Special Eurobarometer (386) survey on Europeans and their Languages was carried out in spring 2012.

The most widely spoken mother tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each).

The five most widely spoken foreign languages remain English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%).

For the first time, attitudes to the role of translation in health and safety, education, job seeking, information and leisure activities such as films and reading were also explored.

Previous Eurobarometer surveys on languages were carried out for the Commission in 2001 and 2005.”

Liaison Interpreting vs. Community Interpreting

by J. Mermod

In Session 16 of The Interpreting Journal Club (#IntJC) there was some confusion regarding the exact definition of Liaison Interpreting and in particular, it’s distinction from Community Interpreting (for some reason I always spell liaison wrong, so glad there’s autocorrect).

As you may know, the Journal Club takes place on Twitter, and is like an open chat forum with participants from all over the world, most of them interpreters themselves. The discussions are usually held in English. 

My mother tongue is German, and in German there is no specific term for Liaison Interpreting. I can only guess, but this is probably the same case in other languages too. First, I had to look up the meaning of “liaison”, which is obviously of French origin (and to me sounds terrible when pronounced English, but well…). Collins defines “liaison” as

  1. communication and contact between groups or units
  2. of or relating to liaison between groups or units ⇒ a liaison officer 
  3. a secretive or adulterous sexual relationship
  4. one who acts as an agent between parties; intermediary
  5. the relationship between military units necessary to ensure unity of purpose
  6. some weird phonological meaning
  7. any thickening for soups, sauces, etc, such as egg yolks or cream

Meaning seven is my personal favorite. What a wonderful image for the intermediary work of an interpreter!

Okay, now I know what liaison means. When having a look at the thesaurus entry it gets clear that liaison is just a fancier word for “intermediary”, “contact" or "go-between”.

So what about the definition of liaison interpreting? 

No, I did not mean brain fingerprinting. Its so ridiculous that the dictionary would suggest misinterpret! So mean!

But it doesn’t matter. The other day I came across the doctoral thesis of Kristina Mullamaa. She conducted an ethnographic study of liaison interprets in Estonia (read it here). She introduces the reader to the following book:

Adolfo Gentile, Uldis Ozolins and Mary Vasilakakos’ (1996) “Liaison Interpreting – a Handbook” analyses the role and tasks of liaison interpreters. They try to describe the role of interpreters by and for practitioners and suggest some principles of good practice. They also outline what they call the future “norms” in this domain of interpreting. According to the authors the book functions as “a pioneer” in its attempt to “make the work of liaison interpreters more under- standable both to those they work with and to the interpreters themselves” (ibid.: 4). (Mullamaa 2006:36)

Gentile et al provide the following definition for liaison interpreting:

Liaison interpreting is the name given to the genre of interpreting where the interpreting is performed in two language directions by the same person. […] Liaison interpreting is widely used where two or more interlocutors do not share a language and where the interpreter must be present in order to bridge the communication gap. Typically these are situations where the acquiring or giving of information is based on exchanges between interlocutors which produce a resolution of some problem or lead to a decision, a diagnosis or generally improved understanding between interlocutors. These interlocutors are ipso facto the clients of the interpreter (ibid.: 17–18).

As factors “which distinguish liaison interpreting from conference interpreting”, the following are given:

* the physical proximity of interpreter and clients;

* an information gap between the clients;

* a likely status differential between the clients;

* the necessity to interpret into both language directions;

* working as an individual and not as part of the team (ibid.: 18).

[…] The authors point to the cultural and social differences between the primary parties which interpreters should bear in mind both at the macro- and micro level of analysis. They also remind the reader about the potential differences between the clients’ “cultural inheritance, life experience and relative status”.

(via Mullamaa 2006:37)

In their definition, Gentile et al include community-level settings like the visit to a doctor in the portfolio of a Liaison Interpreter. In my understanding, this is rather the working environment of a Community Interpreter. They also treat Conference Interpreting as if there was only Simultaneous Interpreting, thus the physical proximity. The information gap is nothing peculiar to LI settings, the same goes for working into both languages and working by oneself - in my opinion this is no clear distinction to any other form of interpreting.

In the discussion in the Interpreting Journal Club two more explanations were mentioned: one by Global Connects and one by a US-based conference interpreter. The latter emphasizes that in Liaison Interpreting the interpreter works into his B and that there is just one interpreter working with just two languages. As we know, working into one’s B is common practice in Europe for Conference Interpreters as well (at least in Germany). Working alone with two parties isn’t something exclusive to Liaison in general. This can also be occur in a conference setting and it certainly common in Community Interpreting. As for the explanation given by Global Connects, it is more clear-cut, since it focuses on Group Liaison Interpreting. In their wording, the Liaison Interpreting setting is “a type of consecutive face-to-face interpreting used where a small group of people requires an interpreter”. In their emphasis the distinction to a Conference Interpreting setting lies in the fact that the participants (clients) want to (or have to) walk around and therefore Simultaneous Interpreting (SI) is no option. They also mention that groups are generally rather small, so Liaison Interpreting is preferable - but in my opinion, this can also be the case in a conference setting where you do SI or whispering for one delegate or so. But in general I like the idea of Liaison Interpreting being highly flexible, also in terms of moving from one place to another.

So what about Community Interpreting? Margareta Bowen quoted a definition in an article she wrote for the AIIC Bulletin:

"The community interpreter has a very different role and responsibilities from a commercial or conference interpreter. She is responsible for enabling professional and client, with very different backgrounds and perceptions and in an unequal relationship of power and knowledge, to communicate to their mutual satisfaction." (via Bowen 2000)

If I get this right, the definition itself is from 1984, but allegedly still applies today. Maybe it is just me, but this definition is far from satisfactory. It’s really vague. And it is defining something by saying what it isn’t - lexicographers would go mad looking at it. Then there’s this one by “The Critical Link: Interpreters in the Community” (1995):

Community Interpreting enables people who are not fluent speakers of the official language(s) of the country to communicate with the providers of public services so as to facilitate full and equal access to legal, health, education, government, and social services (via Pöchhacker 2000: 37)

So Community Interpreters exclusively work in hospitals? This is getting weirder and weirder… Let’s take a look at a third definition (a real one this time):

1) Community interpreters primarily serve to ensure access to public services, and are therefore likely to work in institutional settings;

2) they are more apt to be interpreting dialogue-like interactions than speeches;

3) they routinely interpret into and out of both or all of their working languages;

4) the presence of the community interpreter is much more noticeable in the communication process than is that of the conference interpreter;

5) a great many languages, many of them minority languages that are not the language of government in any country, are interpreted at the community level, unlike the limited number of languages of international diplomacy and commerce handled by conference and escort interpreters; and

6) community interpreters are often viewed as advocates or “cultural brokers" who go beyond the traditional neutral role of the interpreter.

(taken from Roberts, Roda. “Community Interpreting Today and Tomorrow,” in Peter Krawutschke, ed. Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association. Medford, NJ: Learned Information, 1994, pp. 127-138) (via Mikkelson 2004)

Now this is a satisfying definition. I have nothing more to add. Except maybe:

Other terms have been used to describe this activity. In the United Kingdom, for example, “public service interpreting" is the preferred term; while in Canada, "cultural interpreting" is often used. Other designations include "dialogue interpreting" and "ad hoc interpreting.” “Community interpreting” seems to be the term most widely accepted in the literature, however (ibid).

In his 2008 publication in the book “Crossing borders in Community Interpreting” Pöchhacker writes about interpreting as mediation, where he elaborates on the German word “Sprachmittler” (“language mediator”) and its deviation “Sprach- und Kulturmittler” (“language and culture mediator”). Even though the German word sound rather uncool and old-fashioned, it is actually much more appropriate for describing what an interpreter does - it’s not just translating words from A to B, no, it is transmitting an information from one language into another and simultaneously mediating culturally between two parties

By accepting this definition as a basis for all types of interpreting (conference, community, liaison, court, sign language etc.), the distinction between them can be achieved by emphasizing each type’s important, distinctive features: intrasocial vs. international; degree of status differential; degree of prestige; being practically invisible vs. being a third party; working environment; specialization; and so on. But the cultural mediation and linguistic transmittance (also both ways) itself is nothing exclusive to Liaison or Community Interpreting, but is just as much a central part of every Conference Interpreter’s daily work. 


Lionel Dersot writes on his experience as a Liaison Interpreter: read here.

Further reading: Mikkelson, Holly (2010). “Interpreting is Interpreting – Or Is IT?”. AIIC Bulletin, Winter 2010.

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