It was the summer of 1919 shortly after the First World War.
In Paris, sat around the negotiating table were the 4 main world powers – the United Kingdom, Italy, France and the USA, represented respectively by Lloyd George, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, George Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson – as well as delegates from another 32 states.
These politicians spoke different languages and, in order to sign the peace treaty officially declaring an end to the war, they needed people who could help them break down communication barriers by simultaneously translating what was said.
And so, 100 years ago, conference interpreters were born, the first people to use the technique of simultaneous interpreting. This profession was officially recognised after a long journey, thanks partly to the hard work of the engineer Gordon Finlay from IBM, who developed the first interpretation system prototypes, and Anton Velleman, an interpreter from the League of Nations and founder of the School of Interpreting in Geneva (set up in 1941).
While conference interpreting began to spread slowly after the First World War, it was with the Nuremberg Trials (1945) and the Tokyo Trials (1946) that this technique really established itself because, alongside breaking down language barriers, it improved the communication and participation level of those present.
Simultaneous interpreting has become increasingly widespread ever since, not just in politics but also in economic, business, socio-cultural and scientific fields.
The first simultaneous interpreters supposedly learned the technique directly in the field, practising when they weren’t working. Then, after the Second World War, schools were set up that could train professionals with sound technical skills.
In fact, following in the footsteps of the University of Geneva (1941) were the schools of Vienna (1943), Mainz (Germersheim), Heidelberg, Munich and Georgetown, the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators (SSIT) in Milan (1951), the one at the University of Trieste (1953) and at the University of Bologna with its campus in Forlì (1989).
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