“70.6 Billion World Citizens”: Investigating the difficulty of interpreting numbers


  • Francesca Maria Frittella Istituto Universitario di Mediazione Linguistica (Perugia), IT Johannes-Gutenberg University Mainz, DE


Simultaneous interpreting, numbers, experimental study, cognition, skill automaticity, interpreter training


Among all the difficulties inherent in interpreting, numbers stand out as a common and complex problem trigger. This experimental study contributes to research on the causes of errors in the passive simultaneous interpretation (SI) of numbers. Two groups of Italian Master’s degree students (one for English and one for German) were asked to interpret simultaneously a number-dense speech from their respective B language into their mother tongue, Italian. Note-taking was allowed during the test and both the study participants and their lecturers completed a questionnaire afterwards. Data analysis was conducted with statistical and qualitative methods, combining the cognitivist and contextualist approach. The objective was to ascertain whether one main variable may be held responsible for the high error rate related to interpreting numbers and the difficulty perceived by students in the task. The analysis quantifies the relative impact of different causes of difficulties on participants’ delivery of numbers. It stresses the crucial role of the subjective variable represented by interpreters’ skills. Didactic implications and directions for future research are discussed in the conclusion.