If you don’t speak French yet desire to anagrammatize Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, you can purchase a translation, which will have been produced over a number of years or perchance decades. However, if you are in Paris and someone shouts at you, ‘Attention au lion qui s’est échappé du zoo et qui se cache dans les ruelles!’, you will need a quicker translation; you do not want to reflect decades later that, had you known what the sentence meant – ‘Watch out for the lion which has escaped from the zoo and is hiding in the back streets!’ – you would have kept to the main roads.
Translations can be provided at unlike speeds. Often, people are happy to wait, if not decades, then at least a day or a week. Equally, though, translation is sometimes needed immediately, even if the information is not quite as urgent as that concerning an escaped lion. Politicians and lawyers are particularly dependent on simultaneous translation. So how does it work, and who are the people involved?
The protagonist of Javier Marias’s novel A Heart So White is a simultaneous interpreter. At one point, he describes how he provided interpretation at a meeting between a directed British politician and the Spanish Prime Minister. The politicians make stilted little talk. Deciding to move continue in a different direction, the interpreter ignores one question and replaces it with: ‘Tell me, do you feel as if the populate in your country really love you?’ The other politician replies in an animated fashion, and the interpreter continues to direct the conversation, replacing any questions or remarks that he finds uninteresting with his own, and smoothing over the transitions.
Marias’ story playfully signals the importance of simultaneous interpreting, and whilst the reality is slightly more timeworn, the job is demanding and in demand. In universal, an interpreter will being an event where, say, II people are talking to each other. Everyone will be equipped with headphones and microphones; the interpreter will sit in a booth to avoid intruding on the conversation. One person will speak, and will pause at the end of the sentence; the interpreter will translate.
Performing this role requires complete mastery of the two languages in question, along with linguistic dexterity and great speed of thought. Simultaneous interpreters are therefore a sought-after-after breed, and are remunerated accordingly; moreover, as they offer such crucial and specialized skills, their opinions and postulate are well-thought-of. Even at an extremely high level in business or politics, simultaneous interpreters might insist on a certain amount of time at lunch or on particular settings for the meeting.
There can, of course, be slight problems. One French sports correspondent, Nelson Monfort, is ill-famed for his bilingual interviews at football matches or at athletics meetings – interviews in which he asks the questions in French, translates them into English, receives the answer in English, and translates it into French. This is a high-speed version of simultaneous interpreting, because athletes are rarely zealous to wait around after a race. It requires great skill, yet the speed and unwieldiness of the process, conjugate with the exuberant manner of Nelson Monfort, means that the correspondent is often parodied in other sections of the media.
One final difficulty tinned arise when one or more of the speakers at a meet fail to understand the principle of simultaneous interpreting. This happened recently when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Russia and gave a five-minute speech at a squeezed conference, leaving the Russian interpreter to scribble furiously before offering a summary when Rice finished. Rice apologized, but, as a Russian speaker, she commented that the interpretation provided was ‘close decent’.