Can You Ignore Your Own Voice?

We listen to our own voice when we talk – it helps us monitor what we're saying. But simultaneous interpreters have to translate one language into another in real time, so they learn to ignore themselves.


In the 1990s Franco Fabbro and colleagues at the University of Trieste in Italy asked students to recite the days of the week and the months of the year in reverse order while listening to themselves through headphones. First they heard themselves with no delay. Then they repeated the exercise with delayed feedback of 150, 200 and 250 milliseconds. Half the students were untrained in translation and made errors. The other half of the group were in their third or fourth year at the university's School of Translators and Interpreters, and these students suffered no significant disruption.

We asked the Mosaic team, Geoff Watts and interpreter Anne Miles to test this out by re-creating a classic experiment.

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under Creative Commons license.



Welcome to any conference call with more than 5 participants across multiple geographies.

I dare you to deal with sounds of eating, coughing, talking to others not on the call, and....hhhhh....and...hhhh....and.....HEAVY.....BREATHING.

Overcome all of that, and your own voice - however delayed - will be a welcome respite from the rest of the cacophony.