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Kill Your Darlings, No. 6

Untying the Tongue: The Elusive Art of Interpreting

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I’m in the early stages of preparing for the interpreting exam of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters. If rumour has it right, the pass rate is 11 per cent, which makes me more than a little nervous. Stuck to the wall above my desk are images of St Jerome, patron saint of translators, and of La Malinche, the Nahua woman from the Mexican Gulf Coast who acted as Hernán Cortés’ interpreter during the conquest of the Aztec Empire. I look to them – to La Malinche, in particular – at the times when I’m struck speechless; when, after listening to a speech and taking notes, my concentration suddenly disperses, or when I am at a loss as to which path to take, which connection to forge between languages.

It excites me, interpreting. Translation does too, but the immediacy of interpreting – the sweaty palms; the requisite flamboyant, rapid inventiveness; the deep concentration that only comes with the simultaneous performing of so many tasks – sets it apart from its written sibling. The threat of failure, of being suddenly overwhelmed, always hovers near.


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