First, let’s get a couple things out of the way.
Number one: the difference between translation and interpretation. Translation is changing text from one language to another, whereas interpretation is changing a person’s spoken words in real-time so that others can be part of the conversation even without know the speaker’s language.
Number two: body language is a gestural language that we use for more than half of our daily communication. A person could say one thing, but through tone and body language it could be understood differently than the original intention.
The very nature of body language doesn’t allow much room for translation, but body language is integral in how we interpret, despite technology causing us to drift away from actually speaking to one another.
To be an interpreter, at least according to some interpreters, is to be like a receiver and transmitter. The conversation should flow smoothly, as if the two parties are actually speaking without an interpreter, but it doesn’t always work out that way; especially when talking about controversial issues. Body language can be difficult to hide, so an interpreter must be professional and conscious of their otherwise subconscious body language.
Then there’s the one wishing to have their words interpreted. When a controversial issue arises, how can they act? Whether they agree or disagree with what the other party has said, it’s silly not to think that their body language wouldn’t be interpreted, regardless of what the interpreter says.
So what is an interpreter to do? Moreover, what is the person being interpreted to do when in that situation?
To figure that out, let’s talk a little bit more about body language. Why is it difficult to hide?
Body language, like all else that makes us human, or what makes animals, animals, is evolution. Through millions of years of evolution, humans, being social creatures and without speech, developed body language.
To create and understand body language, our brains developed the limbic system. This helps us to notice threats, danger, and emotions, which in turn helped to create body language.
So when a person experiences physical or emotional discomfort or distress, body language exposes this. It’s more difficult to hide this than speech because speech was developed much later in the evolutionary process. It’s almost like a visual telepathy, subconsciously concocted, that exposes the inner-workings of our minds, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to hide.
Body language can be artificially created and manipulated, though, which means that trust can be created where it’s not deserved. It can also mask the effect that body language has over us on a subconscious level. When we recognize the cues we’re giving off (i.e. hunched shoulders, darting eyes or turned feet), we can better determine the best way to communicate.
Body language isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that can be good for a number of reasons, namely having a voice when yours is mute. Recognizing how you’re being perceived, even without speaking, can help drive you down the road to success as an interpreter.