In 2004, Jean-Paul Nerriere coined the term Globish, a combination of the words Global and English, to describe the English spoken around the world by non-native English speakers.
For us, interpreters, the existence of Globish means that we are often interpreting from Globish into our mother tongues (i.e. Globish > Spanish) instead of from English into our mother tongues (i.e. English > Spanish).
So what? Well, the thing about Globish is that it retains traces of its speakers’ own mother tongues and, therefore, we need to work through these traces to properly decodify what they are saying.
These traces are often found in speakers’ pronunciation, their use of syntax (that is, how they phrase sentences), and their body language.
Take the trace often left behind by Italian pronunciation. When speaking in English, Italians often aspirate the sound /h/ in ‘hello’, ‘happy’, and such. It may seem easy to spot and filter out but I remember interpreting at a medical conference in Glasgow a few years ago when the keynote speaker for the day – an Italian scientist who, by the way, had refused to share her presentation with us (but that is a Note for another day) – started showing some charts and talking about what at first sounded like ‘I levels’ to my boothmate and I.
We frantically searched for any ‘I levels’ related to gene editing for a few seconds before realising that she was actually saying ‘high levels’ and that her Italian accent was playing tricks on her English pronunciation.
The same happens outside the interpreting booth and to regular people (non-interpreters) using English as a common language. What is truly amazing and never ceases to blow my mind is how we can always manage to see past the traces and find a way to get our messages across.
As for understanding one another… Well, that is a whole different story.