What's it like to work as an interpreter?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An article here is a pretty interesting read, especially for those that have just started studying a language and at present have little more than a vague idea that they want to get into interpretation/translation later on. Some of these things hold true in translation but certainly not all, especially the much higher pressure in interpreting what people are saying on the spot. As a supporter of Occidental I'm mostly only interested in translation (translations remain forever, can be copied/pasted/printed out on paper) and so the only interpretation I've ever done is between friends that don't speak the same language.

Some interesting parts:

“There were times when it was kind of embarrassing because you would be interpreting for some language and the person speaking would be hurling all kinds of insults at your country,” he said. “You’re not supposed to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you can’t say that, that’s not true.’ You would have to say what he was saying, period. You have to go along; you are his voice.”
Jackson recalled a funny time when he was caught off-guard — for a moment — translating for an English professor to a Spanish-speaking crowd about business and management.

“He was lecturing in English and I’m interpreting in Spanish and everything was going on fine, until the Englishman said: ‘And that chaps, would be trying to teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs.’ I thought, ‘What is he talking about? I had never heard of that expression,’ and since this is simultaneously, I didn’t have time to ask him, ‘What do you mean?’”

Jackson felt the professor must mean something similar to the adage of “trying to teach an old dog new tricks,” yet he knew it was an adage the audience wouldn’t comprehend.

Realizing his Spaniard crowd was 99 percent Catholic, Jackson translated the Englishman’s words by saying: “Gentlemen, that would be like trying to teach the pope how to say Mass.”

The crowd understood. Once the conference was over, the interpreter asked the professor, “What’s this about grandma and eggs?”

“Back in the old days, before they had false teeth, old grandmothers were toothless,” Jackson was told. “They had to eat bland foods and they became real experts in sucking eggs.”
Bad professor! That's not how you're supposed to talk when your remarks are being interpreted instantaneously. I'm of the opinion that there should be a bit of instruction beforehand in these conferences telling people to avoid weird colloquialisms like that. That means no "get out of Dodge", no "in two shakes of a lamb's tail".

This is yet another example of the advantages an IAL provides: people thinking in a second language generally use much less of these colloquialisms than they would in their mother tongue. Get out of Dodge becomes "fugir rapidmen" and "in two shakes of a lamb's tail" means "in un moment".

Of course, with increasing usage there will naturally be the development of idiomatic expressions over time, but these will be created as the language grows by an increasingly large base of users, so it will be a more collaborative approach than simply learning the stock of colloquial expressions that have been formed in a natural language over however many centuries. I also expect that expressions that are pretty obvious on their own ("playing with fire" or "a snowball's chance in hell" for example) will move into the new language without a hitch. Something like "when pigs fly" is hard to say.


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