AskDefine | Define interpret

Dictionary Definition



1 make sense of; assign a meaning to; "What message do you see in this letter?"; "How do you interpret his behavior?" [syn: construe, see]
2 give an interpretation or explanation to
3 give an interpretation or rendition of; "The pianist rendered the Beethoven sonata beautifully" [syn: render]
4 create an image or likeness of; "The painter represented his wife as a young girl" [syn: represent]
5 restate (words) from one language into another language; "I have to translate when my in-laws from Austria visit the U.S."; "Can you interpret the speech of the visiting dignitaries?"; "She rendered the French poem into English"; "He translates for the U.N." [syn: translate, render]
6 make sense of a language; "She understands French"; "Can you read Greek?" [syn: understand, read, translate]

User Contributed Dictionary



From interpréter, interpretari, past participle interpretatus, from interpre interpreter, agent, negotiator; inter between + (probably) the root of pretium price.


  • (UK) /ɪnˈtɜːpɹɪt/, /In"t3:prIt/
  • (US) /ɪnˈtɝpɹɪt/, /In"t3`prIt/


  1. To explain or tell the meaning of; to expound; to translate orally into intelligible or familiar language or terms; to decipher; to define; -- applied esp. to language, but also to dreams, signs, conduct, mysteries, etc.; as, to interpret the Hebrew language to an Englishman; to interpret an Indian speech.
    "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." Matt. i. 23.
    "And Pharaoh told them his dreams; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh." Gen. xli. 8.
  2. To apprehend and represent by means of art; to show by illustrative representation; as, an actor interprets the character of Hamlet; a musician interprets a sonata; an artist interprets a landscape.
  3. To act as an interpreter.


To explain or tell the meaning of
  • Czech: vyložit
  • Dutch: verklaren
  • Finnish: tulkita
  • Russian: объяснять , объяснить ; толковать , истолковать
To apprehend and represent by means of art
  • Finnish: tulkita
  • Russian: интерпретировать
To act as an interpreter
  • Dutch: vertalen
  • Finnish: tulkata
  • Russian: переводить , перевести


  • 1913}}



Extensive Definition

Language interpreting or interpretation is the intellectual activity of facilitating oral and sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between two or more users of different languages. Functionally, interpreting and interpretation are the descriptive words for the activity. In professional practice interpreting denotes the act of facilitating communication from one language form into its equivalent, or approximate equivalent, in another language form. Interpretation denotes the actual product of this work, that is, the message as thus rendered into speech, sign language, writing, non-manual signals, or other language form. This important distinction is observed to avoid confusion.
Functionally, an interpreter is a person who converts a source language to a target language. The interpreter's function is conveying every semantic element (tone and register) and every intention and feeling of the message that the source-language speaker is directing to the target-language listeners.

Interpretation versus translation

Despite being used interchangeably, interpretation and translation are not synonymous, but refer, respectively, to the spoken and written transference of meaning between two languages. Interpreting occurs in real time, in the presence--physical, televised, or telephonic--of the parties for whom the interpreter renders an interpretation. Translation is the transference of meaning from text to text (written, recorded, sign), with the translator having time and access to resources (dictionaries, glossaries, etc.) to produce a faithful, true, and accurate document or verbal artifact.
A very common, layman's misconception of interpretation is that it is rendered verbatim, that is, as a word-for-word syntactic translation of an utterance. That is impractical, because a literal, verbatim interpretation of a source-language message would be unintelligible to the target-language listener. For example, the Spanish phrase: Está de viaje, rendered verbatim to English translates as: Is of voyage (senseless in English), yet its faithful, true, and accurate denotational and connotational interpretations in context are: ‘He/She/You is/are travelling’ or ‘He/She/You is/are out of town’. That is, the overall meaning, tone, and style in the target language are what matter, rather than the source-language syntax.
Interpretation is also held to a different standard of accuracy than translation. Translators have time to consider and revise each word and sentence before delivering their product to the client. While interpreters try to achieve total accuracy at all times, details of the original (source) speech can be omitted from the interpretation into the target language, especially if the source speaker talks very quickly, or recites long lists of figures without a pause.
Speakers at interpreted meetings can ensure better communication of their message into other languages by slowing their delivery slightly and by adding a pause of one or two seconds at the end of each paragraph.

Modes of interpreting

Interpretation is rendered in two modes: simultaneous and consecutive. In simultaneous interpreting (SI), the interpreter immediately speaks the message in the target-language whilst listening to it in the source language. In consecutive interpreting (CI), the interpreter renders the source-language message after the source-language speaker pauses.
Consecutive interpretation rendered as 'short CI' and 'long CI'. In short CI, the interpreter relies on memory; each message segment being brief enough to memorise. In long CI, the interpreter takes notes of the message to aid rendering long passages. These informal divisions are established with the client before the interpretation is effected, depending upon the subject, its complexity, and the purpose of the interpretation.
On occasion, document sight translation is required of the interpreter, usually in consecutive interpretation work. Sight translation combines interpretation and translation; the interpreter must read aloud the source-language document to the target-language as if it were written in the target language. Sight translation occurs usually, but not exclusively, in judicial and medical work.
Relay interpretation occurs when several languages are the target-language. A source-language interpreter renders the message to a language common to every interpreter, who then renders the message to his or her specific target-language. For example, a Japanese source message first is rendered to English, then it is rendered to the other target-languages.

Simultaneous interpreting

In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter renders the message in the target-language as quickly as he or she can formulate it from the source language, while the source-language speaker continuously speaks; sitting in a sound-proof booth, the SI interpreter speaks into a microphone, while clearly seeing and hearing the source-language speaker via earphones. The simultaneous interpretation is rendered to the target-language listeners via their earphones. Moreover, SI is the common mode used by sign language interpreters. NOTE: Laymen often incorrectly describe SI and the SI interpreter as 'simultaneous translation' and as the 'simultaneous translator', ignoring the definite distinction between interpretation and translation.

Whispered interpreting

In whispered interpreting (chuchotage, in French), the interpreter sits or stands next to the small target-language audience whilst whispering a simultaneous interpretation of the matter to hand; this method requires no equipment. Chuchotage is used in circumstances where the majority of a group speaks the source language, and a minority (ideally no more than three persons) do not speak it.

Consecutive interpreting

In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter speaks after the source-language speaker has finished speaking. The speech is divided into segments, and CI interpreter sits or stands beside the source-language speaker, listening and taking notes as the speaker progresses through the message. When the speaker pauses or finishes speaking, the interpreter then renders the entire message in the target language.
Consecutively-interpreted speeches, or segments of them, tend to be short. Fifty years ago, the CI interpreter would render speeches of 20 or 30 minutes, today, 10 or 15 minutes is considered long. Often, the source-language speaker is unaware that he or she may speak at length before the CI interpretation is rendered, and might stop after each sentence to await its target-language rendering. Often, the interpreter asks the speaker to pause after each sentence; sentence-by-sentence interpreting requires less memorisation, yet, its disadvantage is in the interpreter's not having heard the entire speech or its gist, therefore making more difficult establishing the accurate register by not knowing the exact vocabulary and terms to use. This method is usual in rendering speeches, depositions, recorded statements, court witness testimony, and medical and job interviews.
Consecutive interpreting allows for the source-language message's full meaning to be understood before the interpreter renders it to the target language. This affords a truer, accurate, and accessible interpretation than does simultaneous interpretation.

Liaison interpreting

Liaison interpreting involves relaying what is spoken to one, between two, or among many people. This can be done after a short speech, or consecutively, sentence-by-sentence, or as chuchotage (whispering); aside from note taken then, no equipment is used.

Types of interpreting

Conference interpreting

Conference interpreting is the interpretation of a conference, either simultaneously or consecutively, although the advent of multi-lingual meetings has consequently reduced the consecutive interpretation in the last 20 years.
Conference interpretation is divided between two markets: the institutional and private. International institutions (EU, UN, EPO, et cetera), holding multi-lingual meetings, often favour interpreting several foreign languages to the interpreters' mother tongues. Local private markets tend to bi-lingual meetings (the local language plus another) and the interpreters work both into and out of their mother tongues; the markets are not mutually exclusive. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) is the only world-wide association of conference interpreters. Founded in 1953, it assembles more than 2,800 professional conference interpreters in more than 90 countries.

Legal and court interpreting

Legal, court, or judicial interpreting, occurs in courts of justice, administrative tribunals, and wherever a legal proceeding is held (i.e. a conference room for a deposition or the locale for taking a sworn statement). Legal interpreting can be the consecutive interpretation of witnesses' testimony for example, or the simultaneous interpretation of entire proceedings, by electronic means, for one person, or all of the people attending.
The right to a competent interpreter for anyone who does not understand the language of the court(especially for the accused in a criminal trial)is usually considered a fundamental rule of justice. Therefore, this right is often guaranteed in national constitutions, declarations of rights, fundamental laws establishing the justice system or by precedents set by the highest courts.
Depending upon the regulations and standards adhered to per state and venue, court interpreters usually work alone when interpreting consecutively, or as a team, when interpreting simultaneously. In addition to practical mastery of the source and target languages, thorough knowledge of law and legal and court procedures is required of court interpreters. They often are required to have formal authorisation from the State to work in the Courts—and then are called sworn interpreters. In many jurisdictions, the interpretation is considered an essential part of the evidence. Incompetent interpretation, or simply failure to swear in the interpreter, can lead to a mistrial.

Focus group (marketing) interpreting

In focus group interpreting, an interpreter sits in a sound proof booth or in an observer's room with the clients. There is usually a one-way mirror between the interpreter and the focus group participants, wherein the interpreter can observe the participants, but they only see their own reflection. The interpreter hears the conversation in the original language through headphones and simultaneously interprets into the target language for the clients. Since there are usually anywhere between 2 to 12 (or more) participants in any given focus group, experienced interpreters will not only interpret the phrases and meanings but will also mimic intonation, speech patterns, tone, laughs, and emotions.

Escort interpreting

In escort interpreting, an interpreter accompanies a person or a delegation on a tour, on a visit, or to a meeting or interview. An interpreter in this role is called an escort interpreter or an escorting interpreter. This is liaison interpreting.

Public service interpreting

Also known as community interpreting, is the type of interpreting occurring in fields such as legal, health, and local government, social, housing, environmental health, education, and welfare services. In community interpreting, factors exist which determine and affect language and communication production, such as speech's emotional content, hostile or polarized social surroundings, its created stress, the power relationships among participants, and the interpreter's degree of responsibility—in many cases more than extreme; in some cases, even the life of the other person depends upon the interpreter's work.

Medical interpreting

Medical interpreting is a subset of public service interpreting, consisting of communication, among medical personnel and the patient and his or her family, facilitated by an interpreter, usually formally certified and qualified to provide such interpretation services. In some situations medical employees who are multilingual may participate part-time as members of internal language banks. The medical interpreter must have a strong knowledge of medicine, common medical procedures, the patient interview, the medical examination processes, and the daily workings of the hospital or clinic were he or she works, in order to effectively serve both the patient and the medical personnel. Moreover, and very important, medical interpreters often are cultural liaisons for people (regardless of language) who are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable in hospital, clinical, or medical settings.

Sign language interpreting

When a hearing person speaks, an interpreter will render the speaker's meaning into the sign language used by the deaf party. When a deaf person signs, an interpreter will render the meaning expressed in the signs into the spoken language for the hearing party, which is sometimes referred to as voice interpreting or voicing. This may be performed either as simultaneous or consecutive interpreting. Skilled sign language interpreters will position themselves in a room or space that allows them both to be seen by deaf participants and heard by hearing participants clearly and to see and hear participants clearly. In some circumstances, an interpreter may interpret from one sign language into an alternate sign language.
Deaf people also work as interpreters. They team with hearing counterparts to provide interpretation for deaf individuals who may not share the standard sign language used in that country. In other cases the hearing interpreted sign may be too pidgin to be understood clearly, and the Deaf interpreter might interpret it into a more clear translation. They also relay information from one form of language to another - for example, when a person is signing visually, the deaf interpreter could be hired to copy those signs into a deaf-blind person's hand plus include visual information.

Media interpreting

By its very nature, media interpreting has to be conducted in the simultaneous mode. It is provided particularly for live television coverages such as press conferences, live or taped interviews with political figures, musicians, artists, sportsmen or people from the business circle. In this type of interpreting, the interpreter has to sit in a sound-proof booth where ideally he/she can see the speakers on a monitor ant the set. All equipment should be checked before recording begins. In particular, satellite connections have to be double-checked to ensure that the interpreter's voice is not sent back and the interpreter gets to hear only one channel at a time. In the case of interviews recorded outside the studio and some current affairs programme, the interpreter interprets what he or she hears on a TV monitor. Background noise can be a serious problem. The interpreter working for the media has to sound as slick an confident as a television presenter.
Media interpreting has gained more visibility and presence especially after the Gulf War. Television channels have begun to hire staff simultaneous interpreters. The interpreter renders the press conferences, telephone beepers, interviews and similar live coverage for the viewers. It is more stressful than other types of interpreting as the interpreter has to deal with a wide range of technical problems coupled with the control room's hassle and wrangling during live coverage.

Where interpreters work

The majority of professional full-time conference interpreters work for international organisations like the United Nations, the European Union, or the African Union.
The world's largest employer of interpreters is currently the European Commission, which employs hundreds of staff and freelance interpreters working into the official languages of the European Union. The European Union's other institutions (the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice) have smaller interpreting services.
The United Nations employs interpreters at almost all its sites throughout the world. Because it has only six official languages, however, it is a smaller employer than the European Union.
Interpreters may also work as freelance operators in their local, regional and national communities, or may take on contract work under an interpreting business or service. They would typically take on work as described above.
The U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan employ hundreds of interpreters to assist with its communications with the local populations.


  • Bertone, Laura: The Hidden Side of Babel: Unveiling Cognition, Intelligence and Sense. 2006, ISBN-10 987-21049-1-3 Evolucion, Organización intercultural
  • Chuzhakin, Andrei: "Applied Theory of Interpretation and Note-Taking", "Mir Perevoda 1 to 7", Ustny Perevod, Posledovatelny Perevod, Ace Perevoda 2007, Mir Perevoda.
  • Gillies, Andrew: Note-taking for Consecutive Interpreting. 2005, ISBN 1-900650-82-7
  • Jones, Roderick: Conference Interpreting Explained. 1998, ISBN 1-900650-57-6
  • Rozan, Jean-François: La Prise de Notes en Interprétation Consécutive. 1956, ISBN 2-8257-0053-3
  • Seleskovitch, Danica: L'interprète dans les conférences internationales. 1968, Cahiers Champollion
  • Taylor-Bouladon, Valerie: Conference Interpreting — Principles and Practice. 2007, 2nd Edition ISBN 1-4196-6069-1. Available from Amazon.


interpret in Arabic: ترجمة فورية
interpret in Czech: Tlumočení
interpret in German: Dolmetschen
interpret in Spanish: Interpretación
interpret in Esperanto: Interpretado (tradukado)
interpret in French: Interprétation (traduction)
interpret in Korean: 통역사
interpret in Italian: Interprete (lingua)
interpret in Hebrew: מתורגמן
interpret in Dutch: Tolk (beroep)
interpret in Japanese: 通訳
interpret in Norwegian: Tolk
interpret in Norwegian Nynorsk: Tolk
interpret in Polish: Interpretacja
interpret in Albanian: Përkthyesi
interpret in Simple English: Interpreter
interpret in Slovenian: Tolmačenje
interpret in Swedish: Tolk
interpret in Yiddish: איבערטייטשן
interpret in Chinese: 口譯

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accompany, annotate, answer, bottom, chord, clarify, clear up, comment, commentate, concertize, construe, crack, debug, decipher, decode, define, delineate, depict, describe, diagnose, disentangle, divine, do, dope, dope out, elucidate, execute, exemplify, explain, explicate, expound, fathom, figure out, find out, find the answer, find the solution, get, get right, gloss, guess, guess right, have it, hit it, illuminate, illustrate, image, limn, make music, make out, open the lock, paraphrase, perform, picture, play, play by ear, plumb, portray, psych, psych out, puzzle out, ravel, ravel out, read, read into, render, resolve, riddle, simplify, solve, sort out, spell out, symphonize, take, take it that, take to mean, translate, understand, understand by, undo, unlock, unravel, unriddle, unscramble, untangle, untwist, unweave, work, work out
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