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August 23, 2017

Sub-Saharan Africa: Guide to Interpretation and Translation

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Interpreters and translators are able to relay the content, meaning, nuances and cultural distinctiveness carried in language along with the intended message and personality of the speaker. The easier it looks and sounds the more professional, precise and hardworking the language practitioner. Interpreters specialise in oral and translators in written communication.


Qualifications in translation and interpreting range from certificates and diplomas to undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Marilyn Sarah Aich is a French-English sworn translator and a qualified and accredited professional interpreter, with a (BA) honours degree from the University of the Witwatersrand. She is a member of the South African Translators’ Institute.

“As an interpreter you are not just interpreting a language, you are also a bridge between cultures and people of diverse horizons. This is a highly specialised field,” Sarah explains. She says the various modes of interpreting are used in different situations, so one may have a literal word-by-word interpretation taking place (consecutive interpreting), as used for a judge, lawyer or defendant in court that includes every sigh, mumble and hesitation. “It is not our job to judge what’s being said but to be loyal to the way someone speaks and the way he or she wants to say things,” she adds.

Sarah says translation works slightly differently: “The client’s brief might indicate that the translator should adopt the language register for an appropriate situation, whether for adults or children or less educated readers,” she explains.

Romaine Veeran from Onsite Insight Conferencing Solutions says the formal simultaneous interpretation course produces highly skilled, qualified and professional people. “Many interpreters hold different academic qualifications prior to qualifying as an interpreter,” she explains.

Industry Requirements

Romaine says each event or conference in South Africa differs in its need for interpreters and translators. “The demand for interpreters arises when delegates from other countries are attending and may not necessarily speak English. Local language interpreters are required when people are invited from the rural areas and may prefer engaging in an ethnic language,” she explains.

“French is always in demand in South Africa, however, it really depends on the nature of each event. Local languages will be requested by the national government departments and each language will be required per province,” Romaine notes.

Sarah Aich, conference interpreter, and Romaine Veeran, conference interpreting solutions provider, are highly experienced in their respective fields of work, having worked on major international events. They describe the necessary information and equipment required to do the best possible job:

  • Programme of events including plenary and breakaway sessions requiring interpretation.
  • Brief on kind of interpreting required (consecutive or simultaneous), setting and number of people.
  • A meeting with the person in charge of the event as well as the company, government department or NGO holding the event, workshop or meeting.
  • Copies of presentations, speeches and documents pertaining to the conference or a previous conference on the same subject to research professional jargon and acronyms.
  • List of delegates for correct pronunciation of names plus professional and personal details.
  • Sufficient headsets and receivers for all delegates, not only non-English speaking delegates, especially for question-and-answer sessions.
  • Separate booths for each language, with two, three or four interpreters per language depending on the level of effort required.

Professional Bodies

Translating and interpreting services are unregulated in South Africa, resulting in a lot of imposters, warns Sarah. Two recognised and respected professional bodies include the South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) and the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC). Practitioners should belong to at least one of them and preferably have a university degree in interpreting.


Interpreters and translators may be among the services offered by distributors of interpreting equipment and related audio visual equipment. Congress Rental is a specialist supplier of conferencing equipment for rental or sale across Africa, and also has a pool of expert freelance interpreters and translators. The company offers PCOs, venue management, conference coordinators and professional organisations with a one-stop-shop when it comes to technical, management and staff requirements for big and small events.

Raquel Lambert from Congress Rental has a thorough understanding of what interpreters need to perform at maximum efficiency. She says interpreters work in pairs as the job requires intense concentration, with each person alternating every 30 or so minutes. The conditions in which they work affect their performance, so booths need to be sound-proof for silence and concentration, with air conditioning or fans and good lighting and sound equipment.

As a Bosch supplier, just some of their specialist equipment includes DCN multimedia system that integrates audio, video and meeting content with internet access in one single system; Dicentus wireless conference system; CCS1000 D digital discussion system; and infra red interpretation system receivers.


Sarah says interpreters are usually paid by the day and the daily rate per interpreter varies per place: in Gauteng it is from around R4 500 to R10 000 due to different language combinations, supply and demand, qualifications and affiliations. Her professional currency is her ability to interpret across a range of subjects, and she says interpreters build up glossaries of terminology, phrases and acronyms for specific industries.

Rates for interpretation differ per language, notes Romaine. “Each package is customised per event and foreign language interpreters command a higher rate than local language interpreters. Also, the fewer foreign language interpreters available in the country, the higher their rate is.” Other factors include the number of languages required, number of delegates, duration of the event and whether translators for written documents are also required.

“In this industry many of these requests are made in the eleventh hour, almost an afterthought, which is sad as it’s the main medium to ensure maximum participation amongst delegates,” Romaine says.

Speciality Fields

  • Simultaneous interpreting takes place at the same time as the speaker is speaking, with no interruption to the speaker or pauses required. It is suited to large conferences and involves interpreters sitting in a sound-proof booth and their message relayed to the audience via headset. Sign language interpreting for the deaf is simultaneous interpreting.
  • Whispered interpreting takes place when only one to three delegates require interpretation, with the interpreter sitting behind the delegates whispering the interpreted message.
  • Consecutive interpreting is where the speaker stops at regular intervals so that the message may be interpreted with greater accuracy.
  • Liaison interpreting is also called community or dialogue interpreting and is a form of consecutive interpreting.

(Source: South African Translators’ Institute)

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