Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the art of interpretation, or an inside look at the unique experience of pell-mell concentration

Yesterday I travelled to a major city to interpret for an international meeting. I was thinking as I sat in the train of what I might tell you about my job. Many of you have asked, and so...

Primarily, I am a written translator bringing French into a living and, I hope, vivid English. I also edit, revise and correct other people's work. But I love translating the most - and I'm rather passionate about it if you must know. ;)

On occasion I will interpret...and yesterday was one of those stressful, sweat-it-out kind of days. Carmi, I honestly could have used some of your wordsmithe flair as I fumbled and bumbled through a meeting that would have knocked you off your feet!

In the room... an Italian who speaks a brand of English-Italiano-French that is a world unto itself. May I just say that the key to translating is understanding what in tarnation your speaker is trying to say in the first place! Ahem. There were participants from France, Russia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland...and the list goes on. Target languages? French and English.

In this world, you sit in a booth with earphones on your head and speak into a microphone. When someone speaks English, you press the FRE button and deliver French; when they speak French, you press the ENG button and spew forth English. And I do mean spew forth because there are times when your mouth is moving and you don't know what is going to come out; and you are surprised to find that words do, indeed, come out on a kind of autopilot setting, though your mind is two or three sentences ahead, listening.

Every now and then there is a pause in the discussion (these are desperately few and far between) when you press the MUTE button and flash a wild look at your colleague, mouthing the words "What in the world was he trying to say?"

There is the unexpected moment when your colleague translates into the microphone with a very pristine French accent for all to hear ... "The speaker just said shit." ;)

And then the words... "rather than an automated process, we are targeting natural persons".

Natural persons? MUTE button to the rescue and a bout of suppressed laughter.

You've got to be sure you master the button-pressing and language-switching simultaneously; yes, that's tricky. And then there are the times when the Italian switches mid-sentence from English into French and you don't even notice. You just keep translating, French into French, until it strikes you like a lightening bolt and you wonder, as you continue to speak, when the switch actually occurred!

The most rewarding of all (and perhaps the most surprising) is when, at the coffee break, they thank you for a job so well done. Inside you are wondering how they understood any of it, outside you are maintaining a collected calm. (Thought I may as well give you the inside scoop for once!)

As the train barrels homeward, so late that practically no one else is riding, your brain rests inside your skull like a poached egg and you are glad for the long ride home to sit in ... ah.... silence.

Glad to be back!


Judy said...

What a fascinating job you have. When I was a child, sometimes our church services were in the Finnish language, so another minister would translate the sermon into English. As a child that was the hardest thing for me to sit through ;) As an adult when a Finnish minister would come to America and speak for us, I was amazed at how someone could translate words that were spoken without a breath barely taken by the speaker...No pauses for them :)

Anonymous said...

an interesting text about your daily and sometimes funny, I liked !! :)


Joe said...

Interesting job. Sounds a little stressful but interesting.

Diane AZ said...

Thank you for sharing a peek behind the scenes of your fascinating job. Even trying to imagine speaking in one language while listening to another is mind blowing for me. I have trouble with just one language sometimes. :)

Out on the prairie said...

Amazing how you maintain composure. I admire those who master more than a few languages. I have been through that train station and there were a lot of commuters on the train, and one silly tourist.

One tour I took was in German and English, and the tour guide and driver were speaking to each other in Spainish.I'm glad you enjoyed the video,it was fun to watch a second time for me.

Changes in the wind said...

Thank you for sharing about your job. My daughter interprets for the deaf and so I have a great understanding of the job you have. I love the part that you said "you have to figure out what your client is trying to say" because that indeed is the point in all the muddle.

texwisgirl said...

Wow! My brain has turned to mush just thinking about how you must work at hearing, interpreting, speaking, button-pushing - all without over-thinking or stammering. Wow! I'm envisioning Nicole Kidman translating for the U.N. in that movie... No pressure!!! :) All eyes/ears on you! :) You're amazing!

Nancy said...

That is so cool! What an interesting and challenging job. It must be very rewarding.

I always wished I could speak another language. I don't suppose redneck counts? haha!

Ola said...

Hard job but also making satisfaction, I guess?

Pam said...

I am extremely impressed with all that you do, Allison. It has to be a stressful job, I don't know how you are able to stay calm.. I would freak out!

I certainly hope that you are proud of yourself and your accomplishments, my friend.. I am!

Hugs and smiles across the miles :)

Meg said...

Wow, what a crazy and exciting job you have! My brain would be fried too. I have a hard enough time speaking English - and it's the only language I speak! LOL!

Naturedigital said...

Must be really some job.

Anonymous said...

Very nice story, on the art of interpretation!
Well written, and very funny to read:))
I think i would hit that MUTE button constantly! :))

Mom and Dad White said...

You do have a gift in Languages Allison. Sounds like a very busy day. Thanks for sharing.

Dawn said...

I cannot even imagine doing something like that!!
What a gift you have. That must be so interesting:)))))))
Do your kids know all the languages you do?;)

You must treasure silence for sure.
And you must LOVE running after work like that....time to breathe:)

Hugs to you today,

Allison said...

A couple of things... I don't know all those languages! I speak English and French, very rusty Spanish and my own horrible version of Swiss German!

Next time you're in that station, Steve, I hope you'll look us up!

Texwisgirl... I never said I didn't stammer! :D

Nancy... in my book, Redneck definately counts. Woohoo!

Mom, thanks for commenting! :)

And Dawn.. I'm on my way out the door to run right this minute!

Country Mouse Studio said...

Amazing and I'm so impressed by anyone who can speak different languages, I couldn't take the stress of your job but I enjoyed learning about it.