If you love languages then being a conference interpreter is richly rewarding in and of itself. On top of diving into your passion in an exhilarating way, you also get a side benefit, which is one of the things that convinced me to take up this career. It was described in a book, maybe it was the one by Jean François Rozan, using this question: would you like to be invited to hear the world's greatest experts discussing every imaginable subject and be paid for it? Yes! was my answer. I've always had great curiosity about a broad variety of subjects. That was one reason I had so much difficulty choosing one career to the exclusion of others that also interested me. Journalism also seemed a way to continue indulging my curiosity. But interpreting added the intense use of languages to the mix. I was sold.
Last week I was at a conference in Florencia, Caquetá, Colombia: the Governors' Climate and Forest Working Group. It was started in 2008 by a group of states and provinces, what they call sub-national or jurisdictional level. The states involved contain 50% of the world's tropical forests. They are attempting to preserve forests partly to stop climate change but also to respect indigenous peoples, who are quite involved in the process. You can read about it here. I flew from San Francisco, California, to Bogotá, Colombia, then caught a small regional flight to the departamento of Caquetá, whose governor hosted the other governors for the annual meeting in his capital city, Florencia. Apart from learning so much and satisfying my curiosity, when the cause is a noble one like here, it's all the more gratifying. And then there's the fun of travel!
Mar 21, 2016 (old post that I had to paste as a new one)
Friday I arrived at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before the others, of course. The protocol guy was next and then the French MP with his entourage. Here is where my (heroic) deceased father, Charles E. Violet, had spent his entire career as the nuclear physicist who oversaw the first ever underground nuclear blast, putting an end to atmospheric tests by the US. Talks, that I interpreted into French, on the latest that the nations best scientists had discovered on shale gas and fracking, additive manufacturing, and underground batteries came one after the other. I felt that all my past, and maybe Dad's, came to my rescue. Names of chemicals, people, gadgets and elements whizzed through me. "Through" truly because to interpret, you must understand. Finally one stumped me: "sandstone." Silly, isn't it? (In the context, it was "grès".) Finally came the tour through the worlds largest and most powerful laser, the National Ignition Facility. It covers the size of three football fields and is several stories deep. 192 beams of light wind through it being boosted and redirected until they all flash for a few billionths of a second on a target the size of a "pepper corn" ("grain de poivre") and produce more power than all the electricity produced in the United States. The idea is one day to produce controlled fusion, something Dad used to work on. He was there, and I hope he was proud of me.
Two numbers: 50 and 36. 50,000 interpreters left behind, one being killed every 36 hours according to the UNHCR. I started my talk at the Monterey Forum last Sunday with these words. (see button below to view). The title was The Political, Physical and Psychological Risks Faced by Interpreters and Translators. Twenty-five minutes long, it touches upon just some aspects of these things drawing on my experience as an interpreter/translator in United Nations peacekeeping and work at the International Criminal Court, The Hague. My main point is that in conflict areas linguists are pulled into the work out of necessity and then left to fend for themselves. If your country is in conflict it's likely that your studies and work are disrupted irreparably. If you speak the language of the invading force, they may see fit to hire you as an interpreter/translator, which may become your only means of livelihood available. First you face all the difficulties of performing with little or no training. You are included and often an integral and essential component of the force. To site this webpage http://termcoord.eu/2015/01/interpreters-war-zones: "Interpreters in war zones, as commented by some officials of the US Army, are more valuable and useful than guns. 'Having an interpreter means having hundreds of potential helpers and hundreds of weapons, while having a weapon means having only a weapon,' to repeat their words." Then when they don't need you anymore, you may be targeted as the one who helped the invader. The dangers of being seen as siding with the opposite site are very real for linguists. Secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (SPTSD) and damage to hearing are also briefly mentioned with some advice for prevention and treatment. In the talk, and here also, I appeal to people everywhere to sign a petition asking the United Nations to pass a resolution asking states to acknowledge that linguists are being targeted and killed in the context outlined above and to take action to stop it and provide protection to linguists in conflict zones.
Danica Seleskovitch is probably the most famous name in interpreting. Every year AIIC, the only worldwide association of conference interpreters, discerns the Danica Seleskovitch Prize. My feelings about her have wavered down through the decades. Every week during the school year from the autumn of 1983 to the spring of 1986 I would enter into the dreaded Salle 7 of ESIT (Ecole Supérieure d'Interprètes et de Traducteurs) for her class. It's hard to imagine if you are from the American higher education system, but I have always said that you could have me interpret on stage for the world's highest leaders. Fine. It would be less terrifying than to be called upon by Seleskovitch. Yet, those are the words of a young student way too impressed by the aura of that place. The truth is that she, along with all the other instructors there who had themselves learned so much from her, taught me to be an interpreter. Her Interpretive Theory of Translation is all about understanding the meaning of an utterance in the source language, making it yours, and saying it as you normally would, without interference from the source language form. Throughout my career this theoretical understanding has been the bedrock of those millions of split-second decisions that go into producing the target language message. Check out the video about her below.
This speaker is addressing a group of polyglots (speakers of several languages) who are not interpreters. She raises some excellent questions and brings some very smart answers. I might not agree totally with all of her remarks but she clearly has good training and experience. The advice on jokes is something I heard for the first time at Ecole Supérieure d'Interprètes et de Traducteurs, Paris, around 1984! Truly, there's a lot of good advice in this video relating to common situations.
I was watching YouTube videos in preparation for a course I will teach and I ran across this one. It's all about learning a language. Lydia Machová has really nailed ten crucial points. If you like languages, or especially if you want to learn foreign languages but find it tedious, please give a listen to what she has to say.
As I got ready to write this post I checked the AIIC site and I learned something. Let me tell you what it is when I get there.
Conference interpreters have three types of working languages. (You may have other languages which are not strong enough to work in.)
A is your mother tongue. Simple enough.
B is a language that is not your mother tongue but that you master. I say "master" to mean deep knowledge, many years experience and proficiency in speaking nearly as good as in your mother tongue. "Fluent," by the way, is actually a pretty low standard. It means that you are not halting in your speech and communicate well, the way I see it. I was fluent in French about five years before I ever stepped into an interpreting booth, for example. That might be a good rule of thumb. If you are fluent in a language, with five years of work you might be doing simultaneous interpreting into it. Anyway, You interpret from A into B usually starting out in consecutive and possibly moving on to simultaneous also.
C is a language that you understand nearly as well as a native speaker (for whom that language is a mother tongue) but when you speak your speed, vocabulary and ease of expression are just not sufficient as an "active" language. Active languages are the ones you speak, so A and B.
Here is what surprised me on the AIIC site. I had been told by my instructors at ESIT (Ecole Supérieure d'Interprètes et de Traducteurs, Paris) that working from C into B, at least in simultaneous, was too difficult, and sort of taboo, because one is managing two foreign languages (neither is one's mother tongue). But on the AIIC site we read, "an interpreter can work into this language [B} from one or several of their other working languages, but may prefer to do so in only one mode of interpretation, either consecutive or simultaneous (often in 'consecutive' because it's not so fast). It is also considered an active language for the interpreter." So AIIC has taken the position that it is not best practice but rather an interpreter's preference not to work from C to B.
Check out the AIIC text on this using the botton below.
AIIC Training: Effective and efficient text preparation for simultaneous interpreting with text. Click button below to check it out.