Today, September 24th, is the 68th annual U.N. General Assembly of the United Nations. World leaders are in New York and among the chiefs of state speaking today are Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff.

As an interpreter, I was truly happy to find this gem the transcript: “Delegates are being reminded to speak at a calm pace so that translators can do their work easily“. So, what’s the moral of the story? Interpreters need to keep up with a speaker’s pace, so that they render an interpretation that is credible, intelligent and well delivered. An enthusiastic speaker, rushing through a presentation, either because of time constraints or his or her own personality factors may do the audience a disservice if the interpreters cannot keep up.

AIIC, the Association internationale des interprètes de conférence, recommends about 100 words per minute. In synch with this recommendation is the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE),  which is recorded at an average of 120 words per minute. The Journal of Specialized Translation’s article Coping Strategies for Fast Delivery in Simultaneous Interpretation, by Changshuan Li, from Beijing Foreign Studies University also supports these numbers, saying that interpreters that need to cope with speeches faster than optimal speeds (between 100 and 120 English words per minute) need to come up with one of four strategies:

  1. the speaker is requested to slow down (interpreters may not even have access or the means to communicate with speakers)
  2. the interpreter speeds up (this is not sustainable in the long run)
  3. summarisation (interpreters may be forced to leave out information that is important to listeners, in the interest of time)
  4. termination of service

Dear presenters, we interpreters know that your message is as important as what is discussed at the United Nations Headquarters. Please help us do an excellent job, by submitting materials in advance, so we can understand and master terminology for the presentation and focus on a clean, reasonably paced delivery, so we can render your very important message. We, interpreters, thank you in advance and your audience will get your message across seamlessly!

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