I shall first outline a few fundamental definitions. Interpreting is the conversion of one language to another during oral conversations, enabling the parties involved to understand one another when the parties do not speak the same language. Translating is the conversion of one language to another and is used for the written word. As an example, in the practice of law, interpreters are required for intake of new clients, depositions and trials when such individual’s mother tongue is not English. So too, in the legal field, myriads of documents, such as pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, contracts, divorce decrees, immigration support documents, etc., must be translated so the parties and the decision-making bodies will understand the submitted documents.
However, in general parlance, we often use the two words interchangeably. “Please interpret these words for me.” Or, “I do not understand what you said. Would you translate it for me”?
The focus then in this article is to explain the use of both words, interpreting and translating, between two or more people, in small and large groups, in everyday life, in order for there to be a full understanding between the parties.
It is a given, we, human beings, live, work and play by communicating with the oral and written word in everything we do. Indeed, once our words are uttered, written and transmitted, they cannot be taken back. There will be an impact on the receiver. Moreover, what we meant, or intended to have said/written, and the meaning we wanted to have conveyed, may not be the same meaning as the recipient gives them when they hear or read the words. What then follows is a misunderstanding between those who spoke or wrote the words and those who received the words. Conflict, anger, even rage can occur.
At this juncture then, I should re-title this article, “The Art of Communication”. How we speak to one another, how we write to one another, can and often does create misunderstandings and disagreements. How we receive, interpret, translate, or perceive the spoken or written words, is a complicated function of the human brain and our own personal psyche.
To understand what happens in the communicative process, we should break things down to some fundamentals.
In speech, which is oral communication, we deal not only with the words being spoken, but in the context in which spoken, the mood of the speaker and the listener. Now let us add the various elements of gestures. We shall refer to such as body language, including, but not limited to, facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures, apparent interest or non-interest. Any one of these body languages could countermand the words being spoken, the words being heard and negate what the speaker is really trying to say.
If not face to face, but by phone, we still hear the words spoken, the intended meaning, the significance of which each party interprets as they wish. What was said, how it was said, along with the personal traits of each party involved, determines the outcome of the conversation. Who we are, how we think, governs how we interpret other people’s message to us.
A few examples: friends, couples, groups of people, talking to one another, can end up in a warm, loving situation, or in a total misunderstanding of the conversation. Such consequences could determine the relationships from that point forward. People may not speak to one another for years because of something one said to the other. The intended meaning was taken the wrong way and not in the way it was offered. Maybe even taken out of context.
In political rhetoric, the speaker is trying to promote why they are a candidate for a certain office. Those listening will believe what is being said, while others will not.
The same is true with the written word. Each word is interpreted one way by the writer, and possibly another way by the reader. Letters, emails, written with the best of intentions, can end up causing stress to the reader, for no other reason than the use of a word taken wrongly or not understood by the reader.
So then, what is ‘The Art of Communication and how does one acquire it?
First, know that communication is an Art. We must learn it. We must know that others may hear or see what we have said or written in a different way than what we planned. We must learn the personalities and the uniqueness of the persons with whom we are communicating. We must be sensitive to how we speak to others. If we speak to our loved ones, make them feel loved. If we are speaking to our children, make them feel loved and cared for, yet know they did wrong. When to our friends, be civil, respectful and know they may not understand what you are saying the way you would have wanted. Be aware of your facial and body expressions. Transmit good and sincere vibes. Listen more than you speak. Let others speak to you. Listen to them and convey you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.
Whoever we are, whatever our professions maybe, we all must communicate with others. We need to develop the skills to get our message across. We must gather what we want to say, how we should say it and make sure that others hear/read what we intended.
In summary then, we are not born with the art of communication. We have to acquire it, use it, develop it, perfect it. We must know the full ramifications of our spoken and written words in all that we do. Anticipate that the listener/reader may interpret/translate in a way different than we thought. Once we realize this mission, our world will be a better one for us all.