Interpreting – what exactly is it and how is it done? Part 3

Never change a winning team!

Consecutive or simultaneous – the job of the interpreter is, obviously, to convey what is said in one language into another language, as accurately as possible, without in any way acting as an “editor” or a “filter”. That is, if the speaker is rather upset, angry, agitated – whichever – and uses strong language and the odd equally strong swear-word, it is not up to the interpreter to “modify” this in any way, but to use the same sort of language a native of the interpreter’s country would have used under the same circumstances as those of the speaker. It is, after all, the speaker – and not the interpreter – who is swearing!

But a good interpreter may well help a bad speaker: very early on in my career I was very impressed by – and learned a lot from – a female colleague. The speaker spoke in a flat, monotonous voice with no variation of pitch, no life, no pauses – just a steady, boring drone, likely to send the entire audience to sleep in no time at all. My colleague lifted that speech from Level 1 to at least Level 8 by emphasising words the speaker probably intended to emphasise – but didn’t. Where he said, for example, in a flat drone: “This is something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against”, my colleague rendered a “This something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against!” – with an audible exclamation mark at the end.

In discussions there are, of course, no documents, other than possibly the document being discussed. And over 40 years’ experience has taught me that Thomas Nielsen’s Laws do very much apply. Thomas Nielsen was the head of the DanishTUC in the 70s, and possibly 80s, and he formulated his two Laws as follows:

No. 1: “Someone having something to say, giving a positive contribution to a discussion, needs about 8 to 10 minutes to say it. Someone having nothing to say or contribute, but wants their name in the Minutes of the meeting, needs at least 15 minutes, and someone who does not even know what the discussion is about needs about 25 minutes”.

No. 2: “The duration of a meeting is directly dependent on the ratio between the participants’ lung volume and brain volume: the larger the former, the longer the meeting will last.”

If you organise multilingual meetings on a regular basis, and you have found interpreters you, i.e. all the delegates/listeners, are happy with – stick to that team! No matter where in the world the meetings might be held. Time and time again companies or organisers feel it is too expensive to fly the same team of interpreters all over the place – and hire some locally because it costs less. Only to discover that the local interpreters – who are probably as excellent as any – are unfamiliar with that specific terminology, the delegates’ way of expressing themselves, and not having interpreted at the previous meetings of that group, do not know the whole background of what they are talking about. The result is that some delegates get very little or no benefit from the meeting – calling it a “waste of time”.

By using the same team of interpreters for all your meetings, the interpreters and delegates get to know each other – both becoming familiar with each others’ way of speaking, the specific terminology and subjects, to the benefit of both parties.

Guest blogger: Tore Fauske

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