27 April 2022

Interpreting and gestures: what you need to know

Categoria: Interpreting

Interpreting is a way of translating a verbal message, but interpreters must also be able to translate nonverbal communication expressed through gestures, for example.

Our communication largely consists of nonverbal elements such as body movements, facial expressions and posture; the oral component only accounts for a minimal part. Gestures therefore play a crucial role in conveying and understanding a message.

This is true both when the interlocutors speak the same language and above all in multilingual communication. To effectively convey the message to an interlocutor who speaks a different language than the speaker’s, the interpreter must necessarily grasp the speaker’s gestures in order to reproduce them as effectively as possible on each occasion.

This is particularly relevant to a specific type of interpreting: consecutive interpreting.

Consecutive interpreting

Consecutive interpreting requires professionals to communicate through both the foreign language and related gestures.

In this type of oral translation, the interpreter works in a location that is visible to the speaker and the audience, allowing them to directly witness the speaker’s nonverbal communication methods, which they can then mirror using gestures toward the audience if deemed appropriate.

Since the use of gestures is normally aimed at supporting and reinforcing a verbal message, it becomes a valuable tool for interpreters to effectively convey the underlying communicative intent of the speaker’s words.

However, great care must be taken to avoid two major mistakes.

First, excessive gesticulation is not permitted. While it is legitimate to also attempt to convey the speaker’s nonverbal communication, it is essential that the interpreter not upstage the speaker. The interpreter must act with total discretion, without taking over.

Secondly, interpreters must always bear in mind that gestures assume different meanings depending on the specific culture. Consecutive interpreters must therefore be intimately familiar with the meaning of gestures in their working languages. This is what makes the difference between a professional interpreter, who knows how to behave in front of an audience, and an amateur, who might replicate gestures that are not appropriate for someone belonging to another culture.

To avoid risks and bad impressions, you should therefore hire professional interpreters, who can exploit gestures by adapting them to the culture of the audience.

Other types of translation

Gestures are crucial not only for consecutive interpreting, but also for other forms of interpreting.

Oral translation includes other techniques in addition to consecutive: simultaneous, liaison, whispered, and telephone or remote interpreting.

In simultaneous interpreting, interpreters perform their work inside a soundproof booth from where they can observe the speakers’ gestures and the audience’s reactions, while remaining invisible to the listener by means of earphones or headphones. Unable to use gestures, these professionals have to rely entirely on the only tool at their disposal: their voice. Purely through their tone of voice, they must be able to convey everything that the speaker expresses using words and gestures.

By contrast, liaison interpreting is very similar to consecutive interpreting, except for the number of interlocutors, which in this case is no more than three to four. Working alongside the speaker and listeners, the interpreter can use their own gestures to also convey nonverbal messages, always bearing in mind the considerations in the previous paragraph.

Whispered interpreting is another technique in which the interpreter sits beside the person who requires translation, whispering a translation of the speaker’s words into the listener’s ear with a slight time delay while the speaker is talking. In this circumstance, the professional should limit their gestures as much as possible and focus instead on conveying the speaker’s intentions with their voice.

Finally, there is telephone interpreting in which there is no visual contact at all. This interpreting technique is undoubtedly one of the most difficult to perform because, since the speaker’s nonverbal communication cannot be perceived visually, the interpreter must be able to detect the speaker’s nuances and communicative intent through voice alone.

Gestures are certainly a great advantage in interpreting, both for the interpreter providing the service and for the recipient.

At Way2Global, we provide every type of interpreting through our professional interpreters, who are capable of picking up every nuance of verbal and nonverbal communication and translate it in the most appropriate way based on the culture of the target audience.

Please feel free to contact us if you are looking for professional interpreting services.


Request Informations