How creativity saved the interpretation.

November 21, 2014 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Today I will talk about two topics you are all very familiar with: Creativity and quick thinking. Two necessary elements in every interpreter’s repertoire that are used to solve problems and avoid catastrophes in the complex business of communication among those who do not speak or understand the same language. An individual must possess a series of characteristics to be a professional interpreter; among them: the ability to take a concept or idea in one language, understand it and process it, and then render it into another language with the appropriate cultural context necessary for the listener to comprehend the message without any effort, therefore freeing him to concentrate on the content of the message the orator is delivering in the foreign language. This multitasking requires of a quick and agile mind. The interpreter cannot be slow in thinking, processing, or delivering the message. It is impossible.

Just as important as a quick mind is the capacity and resolve to act when needed, and in the interpreting world where many times we encounter a reality where some of the cultural concepts of the parties are at odds, the interpreter needs to resort to his creativity and sense of improvisation.

I am sure that you all have had your chance to apply these two skills during your professional career. In my case there have been too many instances when my interpreting partner or I have acted with great speed and creativity to avoid a problem; this made it difficult to decide which one I should use for this post. After a long rewind of some memorable experiences, I picked an instance where creativity and quick thinking were enhanced by the interpreters’ teamwork.

Sometime ago I was working the Spanish booth at a conference in a European country. I cannot remember the exact topic, but it had to do with the environment. There were delegates from many countries and there were interpreters with many language combinations. During the fourth day of the event the morning session was uneventful. My booth partner and I finished our shift in the Spanish booth and went to get some lunch. That afternoon the second speaker was from an English-speaking country where people have a very distinctive accent and way of talking. In the speaker’s particular case the accent was very heavy and it took a few minutes to get used to his speech. Some thirty minutes into the presentation, right after I had handed the microphone to my partner, I heard a knock on the door of the booth. It was one of the Italian booth interpreters. She looked frazzled and frustrated when she told me that her booth was having a very hard time understanding the speaker, and from the questions she asked me about the speech, it became apparent that they were really missing a good portion of the presentation. These interpreters were fairly new, I had never seen either one of them before, but from my observations during the first three days of the conference I could see that they were good, dedicated, and professional. I immediately empathized with them as I recalled the many occasions in the past when a speaker with a heavy accent, weak voice, or bad public speaking habits had made me suffer throughout a rendition. It was clear that they were not going to understand much more during the rest of the presentation that still had about two hours to go; it was also obvious that we needed to do something about it.

After some brainstorming with the Italian interpreter, while our respective colleagues worked in the booth, (the second Italian interpreter no-doubt sweating bullets throughout the speech) certain things became apparent: The two colleagues in the Italian booth were professionally trained interpreters with great command of the booth, and with excellent delivery skills. It was also very noticeable that they both spoke Spanish very well. After these facts were spelled out, we both concluded that the solution to the “heavy accent” issue was a relay interpreting rendition. We decided that the Spanish booth would take the feed from the floor in English, interpret the source in that very heavy accent into Spanish, and then the Italian booth would pick up the feed from our booth in Spanish and deliver it into their target language, in this case: Italian. Because of the teamwork, camaraderie, and will to help on the part of all four interpreters, and due to the experience and skill of the Spanish booth, and the great command of the booth and pleasant delivery of the Italian booth, we were able to deliver our service to both: the Spanish and Italian speakers seamlessly. This would have never happened without the interpreters’ professional minds working very fast to find a solution, and without the creativity of the interpreters that made it possible to switch gears in the middle of a very important event already in progress. Once again I proved to myself (and others) that professionalism and formation count. They are important tools that a real interpreter needs to use when the situation demands it. Without professionalism there is no sense of camaraderie, and without that perception that we are all colleagues, the two booths would have never worked together and solved the situation. I would love to hear some of your stories where creativity, a quick mind, or the sense of camaraderie among professional colleagues helped you to overcome a professional obstacle.

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§ 6 Responses to How creativity saved the interpretation.

  • Jaye Stover says:

    Beautiful. I love it!

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Hello again, Tony,

    What a great and appropriate article!

    I too have had relay interpretation experiences in various occasions, both in Immigration court and in my labor/unemployment-related hearings. It takes a second or two to get into the rhythm but once in it, it goes rather nicely and it’s most definitely a life saver.

    I cannot count the amount of times in which I’ve had to resort to my fifteen-plus years in advertising creative and conceptual thinking to solve a seemingly insurmountable situation during interpretation sessions. I had no idea that those early years in advertising and graphic design would end up being the precursor —and the salvation— to my existing profession.

    In a way, advertising plays an almost parallel role to that of interpretation because you have to transfer the meaning of an object into the psyche of the reader in order to propel him/her into becoming a consumer. In order to accomplish that, we must rely on a creative manner to describe the product, so that when observed by the viewers, would want to make them buy it.

    I suppose that to a certain extent, interpretation follows a comparable pattern: We as interpreters must hear, comprehend, interpret and then speak the message in such a way that by using different words, we can get across the same meaning to those who are listening to our interpretation. This is especially true in court interpretation.

    Due to that, I’ve become a voracious reader of just about any possible subject, because I never know what someone will be saying at that podium/witness chair and I simply want to be ready for them.

    André Csihás, FCCI

  • this is a great article, you have inspired me to try this with my students. we’ll have a “day at the improv” (improvise) and challenge the students to come up with something quick and creative to solve the problem at hand. maria

  • marzolian says:

    Was it Scottish?

  • Donald Rutherford says:

    I was born in Britain, English is my mother tongue and I often have difficulty understanding English speakers.

  • […] If you want to know why just speaking another language is not quite the same as being an interpreter, here is a very interesting and well-written explanation. […]

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