I’m Paula López Herrera

Conference interpreter, translator, language lover and with a zest for helping others.


I still remember the first class of one of the interpreting subjects of my degree; we were only six students, full of nerves and fears because it would be the first time that we faced simultaneous interpreting DE>ES. We had to introduce ourselves before we got into the subject, and I was discovered at that moment. What exactly do I mean by this? Before I give you the answer, let me introduce myself if you don’t already know who I am. I’m Paula, a conference interpreter and translator from German and English into Spanish, from Seville. So far, so good; I guess most of you already know this. The “new” fact, which many of you may not know, is that I ceceo (speech phenomenon consisting of pronouncing approximately the ‘z’ or ‘c’ sound instead of the ‘s’ sound). Ta-da! The beans have been spilt. There are few things more characteristic of a person than the way they speak.


Well, now that you know this, we can continue where we were going. As soon as the professor heard me, she told me that when interpreting, I needed to change my accent, “neutralise” it and use standard Spanish, i.e., differentiate the phonemes c, z and s. I didn’t refuse and I listened to her. I put aside my ceceo and pronounced each phoneme as neutrally as possible. To this day, when interpreting, I still maintain this habit, I transform myself, change my accent and put on the disguise of standard Spanish. Let’s not forget that many cognitive processes occur simultaneously in interpreting, and in my case, there is one more: I have to think twice about each word I am going to say before saying it to ensure that I pronounce it “correctly”.

I know I’m not the only interpreter in this situation because everyone wants conference interpreters to be perfectly understood while also looking and sounding professional. I have nothing to refute; the same goes for TV presenters and actors, who are also asked to use standard Spanish. But do we need to change our accent to be better understood? Do all accents have to be “neutralised”?


Most events are full of people who use a lingua franca to express themselves, and what does this mean? It means that they have accents, accents that we are more than used to because we live in an interconnected world. Why, if speakers and conference participants can have accents when they speak, why can’t we interpreters?

When I enter a booth, I “neutralize” my accent, and I go back to myself when I exit. Many times, after the event, I have spoken with conference attendees who were surprised when I told them that I was the interpreter.

Is it true that having an accent makes you less understandable? If the answer is yes, why aren’t all accents treated equally? Why are Canarians and Latinos able to sesear (speech phenomenon consisting of pronouncing approximately the ‘s’ sound instead of the ‘c’ or ‘z’ sound) when interpreting, but Andalusians can’t cecear?

I always end all the posts I write, but in this case, I’d like to know your opinion on the matter. Do you think that accents should be neutralised when interpreting? I’ll read you in the comments.

Are you looking for someone to interpret at your multilingual events? Take a look at my services.

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