Retour Interpreting: Introduction for Beginners

In your B, you’re only a guest. In your A, you’re at home.

All conference interpreters work into their native language (“A”). Some are able to work from their A into another language (active, “B”). This is called retour (French for “return”). Retour interpreting is usually provided into some widespread languages, e.g. English or French, from less widely spoken languages, e.g. Hungarian.


Interpreters with a retour have a very special responsibility. It is essential that they remain calm and clear, which is never easy under pressure, especially when working into a language that is not one’s mother tongue (although it may well be a language at near-native proficiency).
Retour is not infrequently the only direct interpretation from a rare language in a multilingual meeting. In other words, retour interpreters are the only ones that colleagues can take relay from and then interpret into their own mother tongue.

In retour, all the usual principles of quality interpreting apply but some are especially important:

– make sense, don’t say anything that is nonsense
– sound calm and confident
– try to speak in short simple sentences
– always finish your sentences
– begin your sentence only when you know the form it should take
– pronounce numbers and quote documents references clearly
– pronounce names clearly and slowly
– use idioms carefully, avoid obscure words
– start promptly and try to finish with the speaker
– indicate when speakers change
– where possible (and appropriate) briefly explain specific cultural references that an international audience – and your colleagues from other booths – might not understand
– enjoy the challenge!


Dig deeper:

AIIC’s Practical guide for professional conference interpreters (3.3-3.5)
A Few Thoughts on ‘B’ Languages by Chris Guichot de Fortis
Off mic with Phil Smith – relay race – for tips on how (not) to provide relay


Headphones image courtesy of digitalart/


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Monika Kokoszycka

Monika Kokoszycka

London-based freelance conference interpreter (Polish A, English B, German C), member of AIIC, accredited with the EU institutions. Member of the AIIC Advisory Board (for UK and Ireland). Formerly interpreter trainer at the University of Westminster (CIT/EMCI) and University of Warsaw. Member of AIIC’s VEGA network for new interpreters and interpreting students. Founder and editor of InterpreterSoapbox.

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