The Talent Principle as a Start Point

Language interpreting is the intellectual activity of facilitating oral and sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between two or more users of different languages ( The formula one uses to convey language A into language B varies, as different professionals use different methods. If we take for example a mathematical problem, one can reach the correct result by using different formulas, calculations, etc. Unless specifically imposed, one can use various calculations in order to reach the result. The ways of reaching that result are less important as long as the result is correct and valid and one cannot affirm that one mathematician is better than the other just because he used a specific formula.

Dr Peter Kornakov, in his article, Five Principles and Five Skills for Training Interpreters, published in June 2000 talks about ways of teaching young debutants the complicated ways of simultaneous interpreting (SI). He bases this article on Steven Pearl’s (1995) article "Lacuna, myth and shibboleth in teaching simultaneous interpreting" arguing that just criticism without positive programme or guidelines for training is not good enough. He furthermore comments of Pearl’s affirmations according to which there is a lack of experienced interpreters working as experienced instructors simply because not all good interpreters can work successfully as good instructors not only for financial reasons but also because they lack the talent, the analytical ingredient and perhaps the interest. Thereafter, he continues to speak about his successful training techniques and his career.

None of his arguments mentioned in his article stand to contradict Pearl’s statement. He talks about his successful career both as an interpreter and instructor. This does not mean that other should do the same nor the fact that what he did is correct or as a matter of fact, incorrect. His arguments are not necessarily relevant or ideal because he talks about only his experience and unfortunately these are not “the way”. Although his techniques may be relevant and may indeed help many interpreters, this does not prove that Pearl’s statement is false. Many interpreters are simply not teaching, not necessarily because it is not rewarding, or because they are not analytical enough, but because they are not interested in such a career. Furthermore, what seems to be the success formula for one interpreter can be a disaster for another. A successful interpreter that indeed decides to teach and uses his/hers experience to guide the young professional must use more than his experience. He must take into consideration other interpreter’s experience and teach the summary of it, rather than taking his success formula and imposing it.

Let’s take, for example, the first principle in which he combines visual memory with non-visual. This may be very much practical for somebody who enjoys having a good sight, but can this be applied to somebody who cannot see? In my professional career I have met a few dedicated professional interpreters that have lost their sight and they have proven to be much more precise than the professionals with full vision. They relay more correct information and are much more astute than the interpreters that are not sightless. But how they achieved this high level? Since they were not able to follow the first principle that Dr Kornakov mentions. They cannot perform sight translation and they cannot use non-verbal language.

The article takes each principle and provides adequate examples of training by offering different levels of difficulty. All the principles detailed including self-confidence, concentration and real-life are indeed helpful but not necessarily decisive in the training of a good interpreter.

He furthermore talks about intuition as a bridge between brain hemispheres. Pearl (1995) has successfully demonstrated in his article why intuition has worked against the interpreter. He logically explained that intuition can create problems with the end result especially when the interpreter has little knowledge on the subject he/she is interpreting. He also explained how important some details (that the interpreter may not foresee or thinks are irrelevant) are to the end user, especially when the end user is very familiar that particular terminology.

The article also talks about concentration and correctly identifies through the thoughts of Granovskaya (1997:52) the fact that nobody can divide attention between 2 independent actions that at their turn require a maximum level of concentration. This affirmation is in tandem with Pearl’s thoughts according to which all human processes are exposed to errors and biases. Shadowing and other concentration and memory exercises can possibly improve the target language message but cannot offer 100% efficiency. Both Pearl and Granovskaya portray the flaws of SI.

Most of the flaws (errors) also mentioned by Peal are due to the in­terpreter’s misunderstanding of the original sender and are caused by the original speakers: delegates mumble, hit the microphone, turn their heads, speak dialect, use slang, quote figures in incomprehensible ways, and, without warning, use prepared manuscripts, thus shifting delivery into a written mode without informing anybody, least of all the inter­preters. (Dollerup, 2000).

Towards the end of the article he discusses his answer: to teach future interpreters techniques of interpreting. Although his answer is indeed valid, he continues to talk about skills rather than techniques. All techniques enumerated are indeed intriguing and a true memory and concentration exercise, however they fail to explain how they can be transformed in actual techniques and are specifically designed for young professionals with no disabilities.

Many of these principles are not relevant to the real-life situations of interpreting. Let’s take for example a SI job on pollution where a surprise guest comes and talks about the impacts of certain chemical substances and gives out a few formulas. This not only takes the interpreter by surprise but also the potential “dictionary” needed is well hidden in the subconscious. In this situation the interpreter will most definitely face the “lacuna” problem. No exercise can prepare the interpreter for this. It is only the actual practice that can indeed help but not save. The competence of a professional interpreter can thus be defined as the competence to process texts within the scope of a bi- or multilingual communication situation with the aim of interlingual mediation. It is also the capability of acting and performing in a situation characterised by externally determined constraints, such as the pressure of time, lack of semantic autonomy and the potential interference between closely connected processes of production and comprehension (Kalina, 2000).

Kornakov speaks about his own experience mainly as a trainer. Pearl speaks from his own and his colleagues experience. Pearl’s “discoveries” come wrapped in a very angry package whereas Kornakov’s discoveries are biased as they are based on academic literature and personal experience. Pearl manages to open up the actual problems that interpreters face in real situations whereas Karnakov only speaks about the training process but fails to talk about ways to overcome the real interpreting problems that are far more complex than the limitations of memory and concentration.


The combination of various personalised exercises makes practice more efficient.

Being a professional bilingual or being truly interested in becoming a good interpreter does not necessarily mean that one can be a good SI interpreter. All the above mentioned principles and exercises can potentially (but not necessarily) complement a professional who actually has a natural-born talent. Like any other profession, hard work and dedication can sometimes be not sufficient.

Self-teaching has a great impact on performance as it forces self-analysis, self-knowledge and last but not least, gives the great power of knowing one’s limits. It goes without saying that this is not enough and that supervised teaching is needed to avoid bias.

Perhaps the lack of a explicit conclusion in Kornakov’s article indicates the fact that there is no formula as such in delivery a professional target message and that many interpreters can use various self-tailored techniques.


Dollerup, Cay. 2000. ““Relay” and “support” translations”. In Translation in Context, Chesterman, Andrew, Natividad Gallardo San Salvador and Yves Gambier (eds.). 17-26. [174]

Kalina, Sylvia (2000). “Interpreting Competences as a Basis and a Goal for Teaching”. The Interpreters’ Newsletter,10, 3-32

Pearl, Stephen (1999) The Other Three Eights and the Four F's. Finiteness, Fallibility, Freedom of Speech and Fair Competition in the simultaneous interpretation environment. The Interpreter's Newsletter n°9. 3-28.

Pearl, Stephen. ”Lacuna, myth and shibboleth in the teaching of simultaneous interpreting”. 1995. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology.

NOTES ON CULTURAL MEDIATION, Francesco Straniero Sergio, SSLMIT, University of Trieste (1998)

Written by Andreea Bostan, MSc, S.A.C Cert, M.C.I.L, RPSI
Romanian translator