Translators Use Multiple Cognitive Functions At the Same Time

Posted on December 11, 2014 · Posted in Translation Science

We’ve always known that interpreting and translating are incredibly difficult. Translators are able to balance multiple languages at the same time and come up with a solution immediately. In order for others to do this, they’d have to study the language for years and years.

But even taking our high opinion of translation into account, it looks as if we somehow underestimated it. New studies show that translating between multiple languages is almost impossibly difficult, yet it happens every day.

In particular, we’re talking about what neuroscientists are saying about interpretation. With new technology and sizable investments being made in neuroscience, we’re learning more about the human brain than ever. And that includes how it functions during interpretation.

Narly Golestani, Group Leader of the University of Geneva’s Brain and Language Lab, talked about bilginualism in a recent World Economic Forum blog. According to Golestani, several regions of the brain are active when someone translates text:

Language is one of the more complex human cognitive functions. There’s been a lot of work on bilingualism. Interpretation goes one step beyond that because the two languages are active simultaneously. And not just in one modality, because you have perception and production at the same time. So the brain regions involved go to an extremely high level, beyond language.

Languages have always been appreciated for their beauty. Whether listening to vowel sounds or appreciating well-thought out language structure, linguists see languages as a type of art.

Now, languages aren’t just being marveled at by linguists. Neuroscientists are starting to appreciate just how complex translation is. They see translation as an impossible combination of multiple cognitive functions.

We understand that translation sometimes seems like another job that just needs to get done. But every now and again it’s nice to stop and think about the complexity of the task.

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