I love to write about interpreting, intercultural communication, Latin America & the UK.

The Interpreting Advent Calendar

Regent Street at Christmas

I have been posting this series of quotes on Twitter and LinkedIn for the last month looking to both share some interesting quotes about the work of diplomatic interpreters I have come across in my readings and to share some of the photos I have taken of the gorgeous London Christmas lights.

As the end of the year approaches, it is time to reflect, take walks in the crisp, cold weather, and enjoy the feeling of being almost in fantasy land, surrounded by christmasy smells, twinkling lights, and carols playing in the background.

London does look like the movies this time of the year; so do all Christmas markets around Europe. This is my fifth cold-weather Christmas and I have to say I have not grown tired of it – not even close!

Day 1

“Translating is like walking on a rope lying on the ground, interpreting is like walking on a rope suspended ten feet in the air.” Viktor Sukhodrev, Russian diplomatic interpreter

Day 2

“Interpreters play a vital but overlooked part in diplomacy. The best ones are able to translate not only words but also points of emphasis and tone and are careful to ensure that idiomatic expressions are not misunderstood.” Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, USA

Day 3

“Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.” ~John Roos

Day 4

“Audi alteram partem” or “Hear the other side” ~Anonymous

Day 5

The success or failure of these private meetings did not just rest on the shoulders of the two principal interlocutors. They rested in large measure on the analytical abilities, intellectual acumen, communication skills, and emotional stability of the only two people the leaders could fully understand—their professional interpreters. ~Harry Obst, former White House interpreter

Day 6

Without interpretation and translation no meeting between world leaders is possible, no international agreement or treaty can be signed, and no business deal concluded if the parties involved speaker different languages. ~Igor Korchilov

Day 7

The ability to express ideas clearly, and above all great familiarity with the different cultures is a must… good voice projection and especially modulation are assets which seem to acquire even more weight… because whispered interpretation is commonly required. ~Maria Rosaria Buri

Day 8

They appear in the shadow of the mighty… the interpreters. They have been around forever or, at least, ever since different languages and cultures have met. The discretion that goes with their job makes interpreters very inconspicuous people. But behind the cloak of professional neutrality, one can discover characters who dedicate themselves to their craft with the utmost passion. ~David Bernet & Christian Beetz, filmmakers

Day 9

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. ~Nelson Mandela

Day 10

Interpreting is a skill or, to be more exact, a combination of skills that one can explain and understand quite quickly, but which take far longer to master in practice. In practice, and through practice! ~Andrew Gillies

Day 11

Such disclosures of sensitive secrets are for the leaders themselves to make in their own memoirs, should they choose to do so. ~Igor Korchilov

Day 12

In challenging situations, accurate interpretation is no less sophisticated, complex, and intellectually demanding than brain surgery. The professional interpreter is required to carry more general knowledge into each job than architects and engineers need in the daily exercise of their profession. It requires the analytical skills of trial lawyers and their acting ability in the courtroom. It also requires a great deal of creativity. ~Harry Obst

Day 13

Translating terms from one language to another is one thing, but the ideal for the interpreter is to thoroughly understand a given subject so that they can speak fluently and idiomatically about it in their active language(s). No-one can be an expert in every domain but that doesn’t excuse us from not trying. ~Andrew Gillies

Day 14

What interpreters need is what in Russian is called perevoploscheniye, or the ability to put oneself in the speaker’s shoes, to become his doppelganger, as it were, to catch the essence of his message and not simply repeat what he is saying in another language. ~Igor Korchilov

Day 15

In diplomatic settings, the typical triad of communication/interpretation becomes apparent. The interpreter is actually the critical link for communication, crossing cultural barriers and overcoming lexical hurdles. ~Maria Rosaria Buri

Day 16

A diplomatic interpreter is not just selected from an interpreters’ association directory on line. They are trusted, vetted, and tested professionals recognized for their skill and field of expertise. ~Tony Rosado

Day 17

It is important for interpreters to be able to see the speakers in order to be able to read their gestures and other body language, tell who is speaking, watch the passing around of documents, and see what places are pointed to on wall maps, projected slides, or charts. ~Harry Obst

Day 18

With very few exceptions, interpreters have only one source to consult: the knowledge stored in their heads. Their knowledge about the subject at hand, and the range of terminology in their working languages residing in their brain, will make or break them. That is why all professional interpreters are such curious people with so many interests, always trying to keep up with the latest developments in the most important fields. You will rarely have a boring conversation with an experienced interpreter. ~Harry Obst

Day 19

It might be easy to think that speaking both languages is enough; however, it is not. In order for both parties in a meeting to understand each other without any breaks in their communication, the interpreter assisting them must become invisible in his or her visibility; the interpreter should only be visible in his or her performance. This is achievable through practice, of course, but also – and fundamentally – through proper training. ~Alejandra Jorge

Day 20

Few people, especially in the United States of America, have a good understanding of what a professional interpreter is and what that person does. Even journalists still confuse interpreters with translators, unaware that interpretation and translation are two different professions, requiring distinctly different methods of training and execution of the work. ~Harry Obst

Day 21

Diplomacy needs all the words it can get its hands on ~The West Wing TV Show

Day 22

By contrast, the interpreter is under intense time pressure. He must find an instant solution for analysis of the meaning and for the formulation in the other language. As a result, written translations done by professionals will always be more accurate than spoken translations done by professional interpreters. The translator’s product is for the ages, the interpreter’s for the moment. ~Harry Obst

Day 23

Diplomatic interpreting is a very specialized field. It requires the same skills needed to interpret in other fields, plus other technical, cultural, ethical and diplomatic knowledge and abilities, and self-confidence, courage, stress control, and refraining from showing personal emotions and opinions. ~Tony Rosado

Day 24

A trained professional consecutive interpreter can store a passage of five to ten sentences, and even more, in his memory and notes. He can bring back all of those sentences in one piece in the other language without leaving out anything or, if he has a bad day, with a bare minimum of omissions or inaccuracies. The amateur cannot do that and will usually beg the speaker to do just one sentence at a time. Hearing only one sentence at a time robs the interpreter of all the clues available in the next sentence or two. ~Harry Obst

Day 25

Properly trained and qualified interpreters are the best ally a client can have; they are a consultant who not only solves linguistic matters but also ethical, situational, and even emotional ones. Professional interpreters are much more than just a bilingual person; they are an assurance of quality towards the success of your event. ~Alejandra Jorge

Everybody smiles in the same language. ~George Carlin

Photo by MCL – The gorgeous Christmas lights in Regent Street never disappoint.

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