Interpreting a Live Broadcast.

March 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

During the past few weeks we have watched many movie award shows on TV. We have also been bombarded with political debates and town hall meetings. All of these events have been on live TV, and many of them have been simultaneously interpreted into Spanish and some other languages.  As I was watching if my favorite movies and actors won anything, I remembered the times when I have simultaneously interpreted some of these events.  Immediately, two things came to mind; the enormity of interpreting the broadcast of a presidential debate, and the live broadcast “5-second delay” factor that we have in the United States because of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction during a Super Bowl half time show several years ago.  I will deal with the latter issue sometime in the future. For now I would like to talk about the former subject.

Interpreting political debates requires many skills that are not always necessary when we work doing other interpretation.  The candidates deal with questions on very different subjects, and their answers are somewhat spontaneous and sometimes unresponsive.  The interpreter needs to be ready for this type of work.  Reading about the issues, learning about the candidates’ background, views, and platform are needed parts of the interpreter’s preparation.  Besides political interpreting, a debate is also a media interpreting service.  As a media interpreter, you are required to work with technicians and radio or TV equipment, and you have to work with an awareness that many people are going to listen to your rendition, and that everything you say will be recorded and replayed over and over again.

I remember being at Mile-high Stadium in Denver, Colorado during the Democratic National Convention  interpreting President Obama’s acceptance speech live.  I remember the commotion, the crowd of “famous” politicians and broadcasters coming and going all over the broadcast center; and I remember the moment I stopped to think of what I was about to do: Interpret the nomination acceptance speech of the first African=American candidate from a major political party who had a very good chance of becoming President of the United States.    All of a sudden it hit me: There will be millions listening to my rendition, it will be broadcasted and replayed by Spanish language news organizations all over the world.  Wow!  Then, as I was getting a little uneasy about the historic significance of the task, I remembered something a dear colleague once told me about broadcast interpreting: Your rendition is to the microphone on the table in front of you. It is only you in that booth. I regained my confidence and composure and did the job.  I know that interpreting for a big crowd, or interpreting an important event, not only for a broadcast, but in the courtroom or a conference, can be very stressful and intimidating.  Please share with the rest of us your stories and how you overcame the pressure that goes with this type of interpreting.

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§ 6 Responses to Interpreting a Live Broadcast.

  • valeria says:

    To me the most difficult ones have been interpreting for the media, cameras can be very intimidating, and I actually remember that a teacher once told us that those scenarios are the best for practicing since you learn to manage stress better and be more loose. I still don’t know how many times I have to do it so I learn to manage stress better, but after all: isn’t it the rush one of the reasons why we love our jobs?

  • Leo Leal says:

    In 1996, out of the blue, I was called to assist in the interpretation of the first ever “Lessons in Leadership” teleconference. This was, remember, way before the ubiquity of web-enabled videoconferencing. Three of the times’ most prolific business authors shared the stage in Lexington, KY, for an estimated 20 Spanish speaking countries receiving the live feed via closed circuit video in movie theatres, plus Spain getting the delayed feed, plus the bonus of a live Q&A session the following (very) early morning. I wasn’t really intimidated by the task at hand, until an important HR officer at a gigantic multinational in Mexico told me who the three authors were: Stephen Covey, Peter Senge and, most of all, Tom Peters. Turns out, Peters is a drag racing speedster on stage, ranting and proclaiming the advocacy of lunatics in accounting and then jumping to praises of women in business at the flick of a second. Interpreting him turned me into someone very alert and tuned in the speakers, where most of the time my only contact with them was through a tiny monitor screen in some obscure backroom filled with miles of cables.
    I am grateful to say that my deal with the firm that produced the show lasted throughout the best of 11 years, having had the opportunity to deal live with the likes of Ken Blanchard, Rudolph Giuliani, Sir Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Martha Stewart, Jack Welch and many more, also inviting colleagues, new and unknown at times, to share the booth. Made many great friends, including Tom Peters, with whom I share a love for Australian wines and Major League Baseball.
    But back to the point of interpreting a live broadcast, it has its challenges; at time the audio feed didn’t get to the booth; at others the stench of horse urine from nearby stables in Kentucky made it, let’s say, uncomfortable — notwithstanding the fact the booth was makeshift because the original one didn’t make it to the venue from DC. And then, my greatest fear, listening to myself… ohhhh that ugly voice! Not really, my only interest is in listening to the speaker onstage, I don’t give a hoot about my voice… and it normally took the crew 5 minutes to fix the issue. If I can say one thing about the experience: I LOVED IT!

  • Carla Koch says:

    Very interesting reading the post and subsequent comments.
    I have been working as an accredited French/English interpreter in Vancouver, Canada for the past 25 years. Although I have a BA in translation (English, Spanish, French) I only work into English in French in our bilingual country.

    I too have been faced with major changes in the industry: web-casting, teleconferencing, etc.

    I agree that the hardest job to do is media broadcasting for political events or major speeches broadcast around the world.
    I had the honour of being asked to work at the Vancouver Olympics and that was an experience of a life time;. However, the most stressful occasion was the press conferences in the framework of the New Democratic Party in Vancouver. Being off on the convention floor and interpreting “blind” without knowing who was going to be grilled by the media, nor what the “special announcement” was going to be…It took a lot to stay grounded and keep a composed voice as it went out in English and French over the airways all over Canada.

    We do love the rush but it is still very daunting. I love my profession.

  • I have been a translator and interpreter in Indonesian, Malay and English since 1997.

    In May 2005, I was the live-to-air interpreter for the Channel Nine (Australia) live broadcast of the court session in which Australian Schapelle Corby was sentenced for importing cannabis into Indonesia. The nation stopped to watch. It was the most difficult job I’d ever done, went on for several hours, as one judge rattled off, at machine gun pace, the prosecution argument, then another judge rattled off the defense argument, and finally the president judge rattled off the verdict. It was impossible to keep up and so I resorted to summarizing what they were saying, culminating in “Guilty… 20 years.” It was those words, in my voice, that were repeated hundreds of times that night and in the following days on news broadcasts. I would NEVER do it again but it was a highlight of my interpreting career.

    I might add that, almost as difficult, but much more fun, was my time as a court interpreter in East Timor in 2000 during the UN transitional administration. Court proceedings were conducted in at least 4 languages: English, Indonesian, Portuguese and Tetum. Often other local dialects featured as well. It was exhilarating and daunting at the same time, tragic yet often comical, because the judges were Tetum, Indonesian and Portuguese speakers, the prosecutors were English and Portuguese speakers and the defendants usually didn’t understand any of those languages. I learned a lot of Portuguese during those court sessions and once, when there was no Portuguese interpreter available (because the court never remembered to book an interpreter, but grabbed us like a hat off a hook at the last minute!), I realised that what the judge had said in Indonesian was not what the interpreter had said in Portuguese. I gave one of the judges a discreet ‘time out’ signal and he said “I think Cathy wants to tell us something.” The President Judge called me up to the bench. I told him what I thought he had said and what I thought I had heard the interpreter say and, sure enough, the interpreter — who was actually the President’s secretary, who had been ‘shanghaied’ to ‘interpret’ in the court — had got it wrong. The judge repeated what he had said earlier, the ‘interpreter’ had another ‘go’ at it, and all was well in the end. Just one more day in the ET courts; every day was a variation on the same theme.

    I would NEVER interpret for an Australian politician. Their strategy to hold the floor is to not end their sentences, but to use ‘and’, ‘so’, ‘therefore’ etc in series so no one can get a words in edgeways. Their speech is gobbledy-gook, circuitous and best left to speak for itself. Unintelligible in the language in which it is spoken, it would be even more so in translation!

  • Tolken says:

    I agree with Carla. We love the rush, whether we know that our voice is being broadcast or only listened to by two people in a room. The adrenaline kick is what we live for, isn’t it.

    I was once doing consecutive in a live broad cast, that was daunting, but the situation that was the most difficult was in a court room when the defense lawyer started (without ground) challenging my interpretation.

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