This paper challenges the generalized misperception that all it takes to be a good interpreter is to master both the source and target languages. Moreover, we also contradict the typical belief that all it takes for a simultaneous interpreter to become a consecutive interpreter is just to learn how to take smart notes.
By conducting a series of experiments with a sample of professional interpreters this work shows that the neural functions involved in high-performance consecutive interpreting are completely different from those required in professional simultaneous interpreting.
While we find that being proficient in both languages is indeed a necessary condition to score as a good interpreter of any kind; we find that high-performance simultaneous interpretation is strongly based on the ability of the interpreter to transfer and decode information in a lightning-fast and effective way between the network of brain areas that process source and target language, without necessarily having to activate the neural function related to listening comprehension of what is being interpreted. Moreover, after the experiment, some high-performance simultaneous interpreters did not even recall what they had said a few minutes earlier, despite their rendering being accurate and timely.
By contrast, high-performance in consecutive interpretation is closely related to the ability to assimilate listening comprehension to that of the transfer function between languages. Relying on their transcoding capacity -from mental representation to visualization and notation-, interpreters that exhibit superior listening comprehension while doing simultaneous interpreting are those who also show better performance in consecutive interpreting –when analyzing, summarizing, encoding, retrieving information and rendering.
In sum, for a skilled simultaneous interpreter, becoming a high-performance consecutive interpreter can be as hard as trying to write effectively with your left hand, being a right-handed person.
María Florencia Tebano earned her degree as Conference Interpreter (Estudio de Interpretación Lucille Barnes) and Technical and Literary Translator from Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires, Argentina). She joined the University of Pennsylvania in 2000 as a Lecturer in Foreign Languages, and served as Business Spanish Coordinator and Director of the Summer Immersion Program in Latin America for the MBA/MA at The Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies. In 2006, she returned to Buenos Aires, and have since then specialized in cross-cultural communication, the design of content-oriented courses and the coaching of interpreters in Consecutive Interpretation. She passionately alternates these responsibilities with assignments as an independent interpreter in both simultaneous and consecutive settings.
Her interests and fields of expertise include technical and literary translation, conference interpreting, techniques in consecutive interpretation, curricular development, Neuroscience, cross-cultural communication, business & economics, film and literature, Latin American studies and comparative analysis of English and Spanish Syntax, among others.