Interrelation between public speaking and interpretation

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

Mechsheryakova Tatyana, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.

Gerald R. Ford

Public speaking has gained importance in the course of time due to the economic and social development of the world. The development predetermined increased number of job interviews, various types of meetings (business, interpersonal, public, etc.), product presentations, workshops and other types of purposeful interaction. It is now important to be able to express your thoughts professionally and to persuade people to act and think in a certain way. More and more leaders and people concerned with their future now realize value of good interpersonal communication skills. Therefore, communicative competence is one of the most essential traits a successful person needs to have in order to perform effectively.

Public speaking is very stressful activity. Many people experience so-called “stage fright”, or “glossophobia”, which is a common fear of public speaking. However, we should not confuse common nerves and anxiety with the phobia [1]. While public speaking is formidable and frightening process itself, dealing both with translation and speaking simultaneously is ever harder. The reason is that the interpreter has to stay calm and be able to process what was said, to find appropriate equivalents, combine the words into grammatically structured sentences and to enunciate the result with confidence and smile, as if it was easy and pleasant.

For this reason we believe it is necessary to teach students studying Interpretation Science and Foreign Languages to combine these types of activity to be more competitive and satisfy speakers and hearers. Lack of scientific resources is the main obstacle that prevents scholars from teaching students two disciplines in combination and even at the first stage of the entire educational process, when the curriculums are being drawn. However, a lot of attention had been given to the processes of interpretation and public speaking separately. Therefore, let us begin the journey of exploring and integration of these two processes.

“Public speaking is a process, an act and an art of making a speech before an audience” [2]. Every person at some point of his/her life faced inevitability of performing in public. Only to some people it was limited to simple sharing of information, while others had persuasion as their primary goal. It is not a secret today that giving a speech publicly is an assiduous and onerous work. Even brilliant speakers, not to mention the beginners, ask themselves the following question quite frequently: How to do it? Many techniques and methods were developed and suggested by famous speakers and scholars since ancient times. We can confidently use those rules developed in Ancient Greece today, as it did not lose its relevancy and value with ages. Let us observe how the tips and techniques of public speaking have been developing in the course of time.

The very first public speaking work, “Three Basic Parts of Persuasion”, was created by the Greek philosopher Aristotle over 2000 years ago. The parts mentioned in this creation are ethos (credibility or the speaker), logos (logic), and pathos (emotional appeal).

Next researchers of the matter were Romans, as they copied and modified rules developed by Ancient Greek. Marcus Tullis Cicero, who was a politician and philosopher using his public speaking abilities to gain power in a society and lead people, wrote the “De Oratore” treatise with “Five Canons of Rhetoric” explanation. He believed in five main steps constituting the process of successful public speaking: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery [2].

Later, in America, public speaking was a powerful tool of revolution and renovation. Intense speeches of persuasive colonial speakers forced American colonists to take action. Public speaking contributed greatly to end slavery in the United States when Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “Gettysburg Address” speech in 1863. Dale Carnegie was the first who taught public speaking in America in the XX century. There were a series of radio and television broadcasts with powerful and touching speeches. The most remembered one, which is still used as an example of oratory and human will, is “I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King [3].

Today, speeches are used for various reasons: to sell the product, to represent certain item or a person, to share findings of a particular research, and others. Most of the modern speeches consist of five basic elements, which can be expressed as “Who is saying What to Whom using what Medium, with what Effects?” [2] We believe that no component of this chain can be omitted if one wants to have the material represented successfully. Moreover, the question represented as a table or a figure should be used as somewhat a checklist when preparing for the speech.

There are three major types of speeches used in modern world: impromptu, manuscript, and extemporaneous speeches [2]. The first type is very common, as any person can be asked to share information or express opinion at the event or meeting. Usually, there is very little time available to prepare the speech. In such cases speakers rely on their ability to organize themselves and calm down, as well as on sufficient amount of information to present. Manuscript speeches are not that common and usually used at the political events when high officials have to give a speech on a very important issue, which can touch on interests of other officials and countries. Due to the seriousness of the events, this type of speeches is given special consideration. Very frequently speakers use manuscripts written by other people for them and read it word by word, avoiding periphrasis and omitting. The last type, extemporaneous, is the most common one. Confident and trained speakers only can succeed in such type of public speaking, as it involves unlabored use of information, easiness of expressing what one has to say, and flexibility.

But what is the biggest obstacle the speaker faces when it is time to mount the rostrum? Fear, and this fear is even bigger than fear of heights, spiders and even death, according to national surveys and research results [2]. What is the nature of the public speaking fear? Firstly, it is for fear of being rejected by so many people in the audience that makes us feel so nervous. Secondly, it is fear of embarrassing ourselves, if our nervousness interferes with the course of speech. It is necessary to overcome the stage fright, because sometimes one’s entire future and career depend on the particular performance. There are five ways suggested, which could help you fight with the fear and not to be a prey to it.

First of all, breathe deeply, because our breathing rate is directly connected to our emotional reaction. This is the fastest and the most reliable method to take emotions under control and regain confidence [2]. Secondly, focus on your message, not on physical aspects of your performance, i.e. shaky hands, butterflies, etc. Next, visualize your successful performance. The method has been proved to work for athletes, while recent researches showed it may be useful in the field of communication, public speaking, and education. Take 10-15 minutes every day prior to the day when you are giving a speech to relax and imagine yourself speaking confidently to the audience, smiling and moving across the stage. Also focus on facts, not fears, i.e. think of all the preparation that you have done to get the speech delivered well, rather on the fear of forgetting certain points or speaking too quiet. Finally, do not add complexity to your speech, although it may be tempting if you want to show everyone how smart you are. Focus on three main points and sort them out thoroughly instead. That will bring easiness to your performance and lose fear of complexity and you not being able to handle it [2].

Next let us explore what oral translation is. Interpretation is the facilitation of oral or sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between two, or among more, speakers who are not speaking, or signing, the same language [4]. Interpretation emerged long before written language was created, as people of different languages, sign systems, and dialects had to communicate somehow. Only after the advent of written language, translation originated. Theory and practice of translation first were discussed in the antique world. Ancient Greeks distinguished between metaphrase (literal translation) and paraphrase. This distinguishing was further developed into the definition of the translation itself by English poet and translator John Dryden: “Translation is the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, “counterparts”, or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language [4].

The first interpreters only relied on their mastery of languages, memory capacity, and broad background, as they were not specifically trained for entering this profession. There are several legendary interpreters known in the history, who serviced high officials: Jean Herbert, Andre Kaminker, and Prince Constantin Andronikof. With development of the society and international community, setting up of international organizations in particular, there was a growing need for a much larger number of trained interpreters with excellent knowledge, what is more important.

There are two types of interpretation usually mentioned when it is classified: Consecutive and Simultaneous. The first one represents oral translation of the speech during the speaker’s pauses. It is used in the business field, at the meetings and public events. The second one is when the speech is being translated during the discourse without any pauses. This type is used at the multilingual official events. It saves a lot of time, since the speaker does not have to make pauses. Simultaneous interpretation is certainly the most difficult one, and those who can perform this type are highly appreciated. Furthermore, scholars and practicing interpreters also distinguish relay (when interpretation between two languages is conducted with the help of the third language), retour (when interpreting from your mother tongue into a foreign language), pivot (using a single language as a relay), cheval (an interpreter working alternatively in two booths in the same meeting), sign language (simultaneous interpreting into sign language), and others [5].

Interpreters operate the following concepts when describing how many languages and to what extent one can speak: language regime and active/passive languages. An active language is the one the interpreters speak that hearers can listen to. A passive language, on the contrary, is the one the interpreters understand that is spoken by the speakers. For example, when during the official meeting 12 nations participate in hearings, it means there are 12 passive and 12 active languages, i.e. all the official languages are interpreted into all the official languages. Such regime is called complete and symmetric. When interpretation is provided from less than the full number of official languages, the regime is called reduced. In an asymmetric regime, the interpreter can speak more languages than he/she can listen to. For instance, when it is said, that a meeting has an 8-4 regime, it means that delegates may speak 8 official languages, while interpretation is only provided into 4 languages [6].

Both translation and interpretation are quite wanted professions nowadays, due to globalization and international communication development. Hence, high quality professional education in this field is required and theoretical basis has to be set. In reality, little attention is given to the theory of interpretation as a subject when the Interpretation Studies are taught in higher education institutions. One can see that there are all sorts of disciplines related to the translation, with rules, suggestions, guidance, practice, etc. However, when it is time to learn oral translation, students only receive limited knowledge on the subject-matter and a lot of practice. We agree, that a constant, never-ending practice is essential for successful speaking, not only interpretation, however, having learnt some principles, instructions, and tips on how to do interpretation would play a significant role in developing required skills in students.

As described above, both public speaking and interpretation are crucial types of activities in modern world. The ongoing development of those makes proper education required and essential. But how do these activities correlate?

First of all, high grade conference interpretation is impossible without adequate training. Say, the interpreter speaks fluent target language with the correct equivalents to idioms and different stylistic devices. However, when it is needed to perform consecutive interpretation in the official meeting or a conference, the interpreter might be so nervous and anxious, his speech would be of a low quality with mediocre use of lexical devices, wording, etc. Thus, great knowledge and excellent interpretation skills may be hidden by the “stage fright”.

On the other hand, good public speaking skills may sometimes save situation and help in delivering interpretation. When a person is aware of necessity to keep the tone confident and positive, of using clichés and wording choice which is usually used at the similar events, knowing this may help conceal the gaps of the content understanding, if the interpreter lacks specific knowledge, for example, greetings, professional field vocabulary, etc.

Taking into consideration everything aforementioned, it may be concluded that public speaking and interpretation are interrelated. Public speaking skills determine the quality of interpretation when performed publicly and its essence in whole. Oratory can be considered as a tool for improving and perfection of the text produced during the process of translation. Not being confident speaker yourself can disserve all the efforts for making good quality translation.

The fact that there is little useful and relevant information given to students makes the necessity to scrutinize the point of integrating public speaking into the interpretation science is of a key importance and actuality. Only by combining these two disciplines can we achieve required level of preparation of future interpreters. On the other hand, neglecting the importance of using both skills can bring harm to the interpreter’s competence and efficacy. We believe that new discipline has to be designed and included into the curriculum of higher education institution. A thorough research of the students’ needs, wants, and lacks, as well as environment has to be conducted in order to include all the required information in the course to make it of the most use. We can be assured that after studying this course successfully in combination with general progress on other courses required for the Interpretation Science major, the graduate will be a professional who is ready to go out to the world and perform excellently to honor his/ her Alma Mater.


1. Fritscher, Lisa (2011). Glossophobia. Retrieved February 03, 2013.

2. Nikitina, Arina (2011). Successful public speaking. Denmark: Ventus Publishing ApS.

3. Kichura, Venice (2012). Public Speaking History. Retrieved January 30, 2013 from http://www. ehow. com/

4. Kaparek, Christopher (1983). The Translator’s Endless Toil. Poland: The Polish Review, 83.

5. European Comission, SCIC (2013). What is Conference Interpreting? Ec. europa. eu. Retrieved January 15, 2013 from

6. European Comission, SCIC (2012). What is Conference Interpreting? Language Regime. Retrieved January 15, 2013 from http:// ec.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

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