conference interpreter training, grad school, Interpreter Training, new interpreters, oral exam preparation

The Interpreter and the Salami

salami-technique.pngIn my grad school training, one of the techniques we learned was called “the salami”. If you ask an interpreter trainer about it, you might hear some why-do-we-call-it-salami-when-we-already-have-a-perfectly-good-name-for-it-which-is-segmentation grumbling. The salami technique, or the technique formerly known as segmentation, is tough to articulate.

Here I present to you some specific, language-neutral examples that bring the salami technique (including the rhetorical question) to life. I just interpreted at a big sales and marketing conference, and I jotted down some examples from the work I did, where I was able to keep my head above water even with difficult speakers by using some strategies I learned in my training as a conference interpreter. How did I interpret and take notes on my interpreting techniques at the same time? All that salami technique freed up some extra room in my noggin for note taking!

The rhetorical question: I love it. I probably overuse it, especially with fast speakers, or speakers who make me nervous because I’m not sure where they’re going. It saves energy, and makes my interpretation way easier to follow. Here’s what it looks like:

“But the reason I love this is…” turns into “Why do I love this?” Or if you’re really crunched for time and mental space, forget the rhetorical question and a simple, “I love it!” will do.

“The reason for that is…” turns into a simple, “Why?”

“We’ve done so much over the past few years in terms of…” turns into, “What have we done in the past few years? We’ve…”

The salami: Just like the rhetorical question, you’re taking a chunk of information as soon as possible and turning it into an individual sentence (or question), even if the speaker hasn’t finished his sentence yet. Here’s what it looks like:

“Another thing that we did was…” turns into “We did something else.”

“What I love about your story is that although it’s unique, it has so much in common with everyone else’s story” turns into “I love your story. It’s unique. But it has so much in common with everyone else’s story.” (The starting-a-sentence-with-although, however, in spite of-trap is a topic for another blog post).

“Before I get down to business, we’re going to bring out our next guest” turns into “I’m going to get down to business. But first we’ll bring out our next guest.”

Why is this useful? What’s wrong with just interpreting all of this as-is? Fundamentally, nothing. It doesn’t seem too complicated, right? Except when the speaker starts talking in circles with, “But the reason I love this is–And I love what Mike said about this before–Is that it’s so simple, I mean when we survey our clients, what they want is–And we all know that we’re here to focus on what the client wants…” You will be glad that you turned that first thing into a rhetorical question or a short sentence, and got it off your cognitive plate so that you’re not trying to follow the crazy ramblings of someone going off script, or someone following a really terrible script.

The whole thing can be salami’d like this: “Why do I love this? Mike already said it. It’s simple. We survey our clients. What do they want? We’re going to focus on just that.” You can see it’s also very useful for fast speakers. Since you’re just spitting out smaller chunks, you have more time to listen and understand where the speaker is going, and less possibilities to get lost and/or drown.

General trickiness, especially when working into your B language: Since finishing my training, I have worked exclusively into my B language when interpreting simultaneously, and I’ve learned to work with the present tense and verb infinitives whenever possible. Here’s what it looks like:

“We never would have met if it hadn’t been for this organization” turns into “We met because of this organization.”

“If your sales could skyrocket, your life would change,” turns into “Your sales skyrocket! Your life changes!”

“I don’t think I could tell your team anything that you haven’t already told them” turns into “You’ve already said it all to your team.”

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than this event” turns into “This event is the best way to celebrate.”

It’s intuitive that a good short-term memory is key for consecutive interpreting, but given these examples, you can see that we also engage it for simultaneous. The better your short-term memory, the longer your lag, and the more you can engage some of these techniques when the going gets tough. It’s a constant storing, maybe rearranging, and queueing up small bits of information that are then delivered to your dear listener’s ear.

Lest anyone think that having a good command of a few techniques is a magic bullet, none of that matters unless you’re rested, prepared, and have a good team. After finishing my two years of training, it took about a year of work to really get a handle on these techniques, and I’m still working on them. Do you use these techniques in the booth? What are your favorites?


You can get the textbook I used in grad school, and read a more academic approach to salami technique in Roderick Jones’ Conference Interpreting Explained here.


4 thoughts on “The Interpreter and the Salami”

  1. Great strategies and thank you for sharing your knowledge. I will consider incorporating your suggestions.

  2. Your suggestions are fabulous! Thank you very much for sharing. I struggle to use the salami technique into my A language which is Spanish. I have more success applying that technique when going into English, my B language.

  3. Thanks for the insight! I am actually a translator, but I am often faced with rambling commercial contents to translate and I, too, try to keep it as straight, dense, and “present” as possible. All hail the salami technique!

    1. Mary your comment is so interesting! I recently read an article about the use of the salami technique in translating subtitles. Once I thought about it, it made total sense.

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