The Impact of Interpreters & Translators on the World

At Interpreter Education Online, students are taught that when facilitating communication between speakers of different languages, the primary task of the interpreter is to remain a neutral party and repeat only what is said, without omitting or adding information. Likewise, a translator’s duty is to impartially convey meaning from one language into another. While it might seem that interpreters and translators lack influence, history has shown otherwise. Here are a few examples that illustrate how interpreters and translators have made an impact on a global and historic scale.

The Renaissance – Spanning from the 14th to the 17th century, this cultural and intellectual movement transformed the Western world. Starting in Italy, and then spreading to the rest of Europe, an influx of new artistic, social, philosophical, and scientific thought helped bring Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages. However, this flourishing of ideas would not have been possible without the translation of Greek and Latin texts and interpreting them for speakers of other languages.

 
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The European Discovery of the New World – In 1492, Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Bahamas changed the world forever. It helped establish trade routes between North America and Europe and ushered in a new age of voyage and discovery. Columbus brought Luis De Torres, an interpreter, with him during his first voyage. Unfortunately, De Torres’s proficiency in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Portuguese, and Spanish was of little use in communicating with the natives. As a result, at the end of his first voyage, Columbus brought back native Indians with him to Spain, where they were taught Spanish so they could be used as interpreters in subsequent trips. Thus, if it were not for these interpreters, Columbus’s voyage to the New World would have been fruitless.

 
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The Nuremberg Trials – From 1945 to 1946, an International Military Tribunal was conducted in the German city of Nuremberg to try leading Nazi war criminals. The trials were crucial because they established the precedent that individual leaders and administrators, not only countries, could be held accountable by the international community for actions that violated universal standards of conduct. Furthermore, the trials helped lay the foundation of the legal principals and procedures that serve as the basis for the modern international law. This event also marked the first time that simultaneous interpreting was used on the world stage. Thanks to the work of interpreters who overcame tremendous linguistic hurdles and technical obstacles, the international community was able to bring justice to the millions of victims of World War II.

 
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The Growth of the Internet – With information being available at the speed of light from virtually anywhere on the planet, the Internet has brought the world together like no other technological advancement before it. Nevertheless, this unification of humanity never would have occurred had the language barrier not been crossed. Until roughly the late 1990’s, the vast majority of content on the Web was in English. Now, web pages are available in hundreds of languages and Chinese will soon replace English as the most used language on the Internet. The spread and popularity of the internet is due to the diversity and number of languages that it is now available in. Through crowdsourcing, web localization, and the development of translation software, translators have helped the Internet become what it is today.

 
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Do you know of any other examples of interpreters and translators impacting the world? Share your comments with us on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages!

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