Archives for Interpreting - Page 2
Let’s imagine we’ve had a busy morning and are on our way to grab a cup of coffee together. With us is a colleague who speaks three European languages, including English, but is a native Russian speaker.
We’re doing what you do in narrow corridor: walking fast, talking, gesticulating and twisting around. Just in time, I spot a pool of liquid up ahead.
In a split second, and ever mindful that 28% of the 77,593 non-fatal workplace injuries reported in 2013/14 were slips and trips, I throw a warning over my shoulder to you and our Russian-speaking colleague.
OK, you’ve been there. You can picture the scene. Now, let’s run the soundtrack. But hold on a minute – which of the 17* ways of saying, ‘Careful, someone’s spilt their coffee, don’t slip!’ will I plump for?
One of the great strengths and delights of English is the sheer number of words in the language: every time I open my mouth or put pen to paper I’ve got a working vocabulary of around 35,000 words to choose from. And I’ll keep adding one new word a day until I’m well into middle age.
Non-native speakers living in the UK work hard to keep up. They add between two and three new English words to their working vocabulary every day. But, by any count, building up a good store of health and safety speak is going to take them some time.
Non-native speakers aren’t only up against it coming to grips with our mix of idiom, dialect and regional accent. We love our catchphrases culled from sport, pop, TV and film. And don’t forget to factor in trending slang, and even perhaps the odd workplace obscenity. It’s no wonder that making assumptions about the language we use to warn of danger is fraught with danger.
English is rich and can be very precise, but for the non-native speaker working in the UK, our colourful, colloquial, idiomatic language is often more like a trippy, slippery minefield of misunderstanding – in other words, it’s an accident just waiting to happen.
*You can probably think of even more.
We’re working with an increasing number of companies to translate their Health and Safety policies and procedures into the languages their workers speak and read fluently. Companies and HR managers employing us to translate everything from policy documents to induction packages and factsheets report strong business reasons for investing in quality translation services. We can also provide interpreters in over 100 languages so that you can communicate with staff and customers who speak languages other than English.
Don’t worry, we’re both qualified police interpreters, so it’s quite normal for the police to invite us down to the station for a few words. We don’t normally work together, but they needed both of us for this job; seven people held in custody on suspicion of false imprisonment. Though we knew what the term on the charge sheet meant, we did some research and found the legal definition of false imprisonment. We translated it and discussed it. We had all evening to prepare in our mother tongue for the sorts of issues and legal terms we’d need to translate quickly and accurately the next day.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)
We got to the police station at 9am. The sergeant said: ‘I hope you’re ready to spend the next 12 hours with us, it’s going to be a long one’. He was more than right. Police interpreters are used to working anti-social hours and long hours don’t scare me. It’s a good way to challenge your brain.
We’d known that it was never going to be a straightforward job, and unusually, we’d even had time to prepare. Then, just as I was interpreting the ‘rights’ for the first suspect, he was further arrested for rape. My job just got even more challenging. More circuits in my brain lit up. I remembered back to the Diploma of Police Interpreting course I took with Cintra. We had a lovely lady trainer – a police retired officer – who shared with us some of her experiences getting to know the victims of sex crimes – and the criminal perpetrators. She introduced us to words that didn’t need definitions.
Back to the sergeant: he asked me to help interpret for the doctor so he could take intimate samples from the alleged male offenders. Well, the interpreter’s job is to explain what’s going on, and the sergeant was happy I was a male.
The solicitors started arriving, so things got rolling. Each consultation was one and a half hours long. Then solicitors had to be changed as they discovered conflicts. Before I realised, six hours had gone past. Back in the waiting room on a short break, I could hear my stomach rumbling, but it wasn’t the right time for lunch. A couple of new solicitors arrived. We had to get things going. You can eat later, I told myself.
Two hours later another interpreter arrived. That was my lucky break – I snuck out for a juicy McDonalds. And I managed to get some chicken for my wife. It was hard to find each other between interviews and consultations. She didn’t really enjoy that meal, bless her.
Half an hour’s break and that BigMac recharged my batteries. Back at the interviews the detectives were meticulous. They were all ears as I interpreted their blunt questions and the suspect’s answers. All this while my wife and the other interpreters were in adjacent interview rooms. Like me, they were listening intently and choosing their words carefully. It went on and on, and then it was time for the very last interview.
You could say I was the last man standing, so lucky me, I got to interpret for the last interview. It was 1 o’clock in the morning when we entered the interview room. The solicitor had to put a lot of questions. One and a half hours later: conflict! With that last solicitor gone, the police had run out of legals to call on.
After two hours of phone calls, looking in vain for solicitors, the police officers finally reached a solution. They could get a legal representative at another police station, so we bundled into cars and managed a quick transfer. Well, even at 3 o’clock in the morning, it was a 50-minute drive. Good thing it took me closer to home. And now my wife had finished her shift, at least she was able to turn up the expensive ‘central heating’ and sleep in the car.
I realised I was at that stage, past sleep, where I could go on and on. Just as well, because this final interview was very long and the questions from the detectives seemed like they would peel the skin off this man they had arrested on suspicion of rape.
Finally finished at 7am. I was not so much relieved as frustrated when I left the police station – 22 hours after walking in.
That’s it. That’s the end of my story. I can’t tell you why it was frustrating, or give you more details. I’m a police interpreter and the work I do is highly confidential.
Our interpreter blogger, Cristian, is originally from Romania and is a qualified interpreter with a Diploma in Police Interpreting.
Photo credit: Geoffrey Lebrec/freeimages.com
She says that the Foreign Office is launching the Diplomatic Academy, essentially a finishing school for diplomats, to help them through these social and cultural minefields and make them the best in the world.
Of course, it’s not just diplomats who need this sort of knowledge – it’s everyone in business who wants to export their products to other countries or has a multicultural workforce. As Jenni puts it:
‘How many of us know that Finnish acquaintances should never be hugged or kissed; that two or three-minute pauses in conversation are common and should not be interrupted, and that a careless British phrase such as “We should have lunch” will be taken as a solemn invitation when all we mean is: “I like you but I may well never see you again”?
‘Or that the Dutch get down to frank business negotiations immediately and will proceed fast once consensus is reached, whereas the Portuguese expect several discursive meetings before any clear results? That the French would prefer you to blow your nose in private, that Americans expect brief questions and answers in social situations and get uncomfortable if anyone holds the floor for a long time; that you should not show anger or attempt to tell jokes in Singapore? That Turks will be deeply offended if the sole of your shoe faces them? Or that in some Asian cultures, by advancing on anybody with your arm outstretched, insisting on eye contact and saying: “Hello, I’m Bill”, (or Jane), you might be offending on three fronts at once?’
Our Go Global product includes notes on culture for each language you want your documents translated into – and of course, we can translate documents and provide interpreting for your workforce too.
You can read the full article here (paywall)
Tess Wright Chief Executive
image credit: Henkster www.free.images.com
The last question was about whether it is necessary or desirable for the Welsh government to spend time and significant amounts of money on translating information into Welsh, providing interpreters and teaching Welsh in schools, when it is spoken by only a small proportion of people living in Wales.
The questioner was booed when he asked the question, and the panel unanimously (perhaps running scared) said that it was both necessary and desirable (although a substantial part of the audience later disagreed when they voted on it).
I had a look for some information on this, and found an article on the BBC website –http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11304255 It’s from 2010, but still interesting reading.
The Foundation for Endangered Languages held a conference in Camarthen, West Wales, appropriately enough to discuss the facts that although there are over 6000 languages spoken worldwide, up to 1000 of these are only spoken by a handful of people – and 25 languages are lost every year.
Samuel Johnson said ‘language is the dress of thought’ – if you lose the language, you lose the knowledge it expresses, and also individualism and identity.
Others say this is nonsense – it’s about cultural change, how do we ever progress if we have a romantic desire to cling on to the past, to things that were once useful but are now irrelevant. We should focus on teaching people useful languages like Chinese Mandarin, Spanish and English.
I can’t make up my mind on this. Part of me loves the idea that we don’t just do things because of their usefulness, and I think the past matters – not just romantically, but because of what we can learn from it. The other part thinks that when resources are limited and need is great, we should spend money where it will do most good – and if the language hadn’t progressed, we would still be speaking Anglo Saxon, or Middle English – which were surely of their time and not relevant for now (much as I love Chaucer!)
What do you think? Do add your comments below.
Tess Wright, Chief Executive
image credit: Pontus Edenberg / www.edenberg.com
I was listening to Midweek on Radio 4 last week and was fascinated by a guy called Benny Lewis, who says he couldn’t speak any foreign languages when he left school but now speaks ten, including Mandarin, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian!
I don’t think he means he can speak them well enough to do interpreting or translation, but enough to hold a conversation with the people in whichever country he is in that goes beyond ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘where are the toilets?’
Enough to give him an impression of the language and culture – by joining in – that is much richer than the superficial impression most visitors would receive if they can’t understand the language.
He does it by total immersion – going to live in whichever country whose language he wants to learn and refusing to speak English. One of his main techniques seems to be don’t make excuses such as ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘I’m too old’ or ‘they’ll think I’m an idiot’ – these rang a bell with me!
He’s just been made National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year on the back of all his learning trips.
You can hear the programme via the Radio 4 website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03y13zd
and you can visit the website of the man himself at http://www.fluentin3months.com/about/
So what do you think – is it possible to learn a language well enough in three months to do more than get by as a visitor? And is it just the British who are scared of looking stupid when they try and speak other languages?
Look forward to your comments below.
Tess Wright, Chief Executive