Interpreting is a process that allows for communication to occur between two or more people who do not share the same language.  This occurs in real time, either simultaneously or consecutively.  And even though it is possible to interpret in the simultaneous mode, it is not instantaneous; there is a gap of time whilst the interpreting process occurs.

An interpreter works rapidly between the two languages, first understanding what is said in the language of the speaker – called the source language.  The interpreter then removes the lexical items (the words or signs in the case of Auslan) of that language, but retaining the meaning.  Then, the interpreter rebuilds what has been said into the listener’s language – called the target language.

It is not just the lexical items (words and signs) that need to be deconstructed and reconstructed, it is also the grammar and syntax, as well.  Additionally, interpreters working between any two languages must consider cultural norms of the two language groups when they render their interpretation.

Obviously, this is a highly complex process that requires time and a good deal of cognitive activity on the part of the interpreter to make for a successful interpretation.

Interpreting is a demanding task that does not equate to the notion of a word-for-word (or word-for-sign), exact transfer of meaning.  It is an approximation of meaning between the two languages.  Interpreters will also refer to the interpreting process as language transfer.

Interpreters undergo specialist training in order to best manage the task of language transfer; additionally, interpreters continue to hone their skills through continuous professional development.  Simply knowing two or more languages does not mean an individual has the requisite skills to interpret.

In Australia, all interpreters are accredited by the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI).

Often confused with interpreting, translation is a different process of language transfer that is not done in real time as it involves taking a text in the source language and rendering it as a text in the target language.  Traditionally, this has been thought of as written text.  However, when one of the languages used is a sign language, then the video text is used.