'Neutrality' in Interpreting
In this week's column, professional conference interpreter & member of the Insitute of Translation & Interpreting, Alexander Gansmeier, gives an insider's view of neutrality in interpreting.
When Alexander Gansmeier, a professional conference interpreter, was working at a European Works Council conference he discovered a colleague from another language team was giving a flat word-for-word interpretation of exchanges between the Head of HR and the trade union rep. ‘Everyone knew they were at logger heads and were usually nasty to each other. The delegation from this other language was surprised by what they heard – a pleasant exchange indicating agreement had been reached.’
Had they missed any steps in the process? What they heard was, ‘That’s amazing, brilliant, perfectly fine’. What the German delegation heard from Alex was a snide but accurate reflection of the message, ‘Thaaat’s ammmaaazing. Brilllliant. Perrrfectly fine’. Neutrality is a controversial professional issue according to Alex who sits on the Board of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting: ‘Do I say what the speaker says? Or what they mean?’
According to Alex professional interpreters must be brilliant in both languages, but also should have done research, preparing for specialist terms likely to be used at say a molecular biology conference. Normally one interpreter can only maintain concentration in 30 minute bursts, so two interpreters sit together in the booth. ‘When not “on” you should support your partner, writing down numbers and names, for example.’
The professional interpreter needs to perform many tasks simultaneously: listen, process, speak, work the relay equipment, read notes from your partner, look at PowerPoint slides, look at speakers to see if they are telling a joke. Sensory overload is an issue: ‘In the heat of the job you get an adrenaline high which helps your performance. Post conference those who were jabbering away in the booths at top speed are exhausted and ‘literally at a loss for words’, which is surely a rarity among interpreters.
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 9 January 2015
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