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Thread poster: Mila Bilenka
3rd person singular versus 1st person singular

Mila Bilenka  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:05
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
Jun 11, 2008

Hello everyone!

Has anyone of my colleagues had to use the 3rd person while interpreting, because one or both parties are not comfortable with interpreter’s using 1st person?

Thank you in advance.

[Edited at 2008-06-11 21:27]


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Heidi C  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
1st person or 3rd person Jun 11, 2008

When interpreting, you are the voice of the speaker, so you speak in the same person as the person speaking.

The interpreter will use the third person to refer to her/himself.

If you used the third person during the actual interpretation, it would become confusing: it would be reported speech and you would have to add "he/she said that", and when the speaker used the 3rd person, you would have to clarify this.

Imagine interpreting in the third person something like the following: (which could easily be the case!)

"I will tell you how he responded to them"

If a party feels "unconfortable", you should explain this fact and make them see that it is just a matter of getting used to it.


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Stefan Mikulin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:05
French to English
+ ...
1st person Jun 12, 2008

As a professional interpreter I was trained never to speak in the third person. This is to save confusion and, more importantly, a major part of our role a "facilitators", we are not present, we simply act as the voice of the interlocutors.

If you feel it necessary, you should explain at the start of the job that you will interpret EVERYTHING and you will interpret in the FIRST PERSON. This should not only make your clients more comfortable but also make you look more professional.


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Christina Courtright  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
Opportunity to educate Jun 12, 2008

If they object it is out of unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge. This is a good opportunity to educate (briefly) about our role as interpreters. Interpreting in the first person actually puts us more in the background and THEM more in the foreground, conversing with each other. I have never found anyone to object once they got used to the way we work, in fact I have had people afterwards state how fluid it all seemed once it got going.

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FarkasAndras
Local time: 14:05
English to Hungarian
+ ...
1st person all the way Jun 12, 2008

No need to complicate metter with constant reported speech, that's what everyone says.

I admit I've done it though... when I was interpreting for people that I knew had never worked with an interpreter and it'd be more natural for them that way, AND I knew it was going to be a one time thing, e.g. 10 minutes w/ someone we would not meet again.


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Gennady Lapardin  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 16:05
Italian to Russian
+ ...
Sometimes Jun 12, 2008

Sometimes, who hired you are "me", their counterpart are "they".

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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 05:05
English to Russian
+ ...
Educating them worked for me in legal settings, but not in medical Jun 12, 2008


Christina Courtright wrote:

If they object it is out of unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge. This is a good opportunity to educate (briefly) about our role as interpreters. Interpreting in the first person actually puts us more in the background and THEM more in the foreground, conversing with each other. I have never found anyone to object once they got used to the way we work, in fact I have had people afterwards state how fluid it all seemed once it got going.


I never had to educate attorneys - they know how to work with interpreters. On occasion, I had to educate insurance adjusters who investigate accidents. They very quickly get my point and start asking "So, where were you going when the accident happened", instead of "Where was he going when the accident happened?"

But doctors are a completely different story. It is very typical for a doctor to walk into an exam room and start asking: "Did he suffer a work accident? Where does he have pain? Are his symptoms getting better, worse, or staying the same?"

When I ask the doctor to talk directly to the patient, very rarely do I get his cooperation. Some doctors use "you" in a couple of questions, but then switch to "he". More frequently, though, the doctor gives me a look of bewilderment and irritation, as if trying to say "How dare the interpreter to interrupt me, Medical Doctor, and to tell me how to do my work?"

I wonder if my colleages have this problem and how they handle it.


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cinna e
Local time: 14:05
English to Italian
+ ...
3rd person vs 1st person Jun 13, 2008

I've never had this sort of problem...the customer was only interested in what was said by partecipants

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Mila Bilenka  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:05
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
To educate or not to educate? Jun 14, 2008

Thank you, Heidi, Stefanek, Christina, Farkas, Gennady, and Alexandra.

I absolutely agree that the interpreter is the speaker’s voice, and 1st person is appropriate and should be used. I don’t have problems with professional people - doctors, adjusters, lawyers, those who expect me to use the 1st person. But this is the case when at least one party is a professional who has been trained to conduct an interview through an interpreter.

What happens when both parties are “ordinary” people in the process of negotiations, and when you start your first phrase by saying “I”, they look at you bewildered and say “YOU?!” I know even if I explain and educate, they are not going to be comfortable with that. And it often happens that the parties are feeling nervous, or excited or emotional in other ways, so educating them does not seem to be appropriate at the moment. What do you think?

[Edited at 2008-06-14 15:28]


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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 05:05
English to Russian
+ ...
Doctors in Canada vs. doctors in USA Jun 14, 2008

Mila:

It seems to me that doctors in Canada are trained how to work with the interpreters - very unlike doctors in USA! At least you don't have my problem... (sigh)

Regarding the situation you describe: "you start your first phrase by saying “I”, they look at you bewildered and say “YOU?!”, I really don't know what to say, as I never experienced this particular situation. Even uneducated American doctors don't do it to me when I (stubbornly!) interpret all patient's responses using "I". In your situation, I would simply tell them - very politely, but very firmly - that this is how we professionals do our job, and that it is this way for their own benefit.

Hopefully, we get more responses and more personal experiences from fellow interpreters, as I find this is a very important subject.


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Outis
Local time: 05:05
Japanese to English
+ ...
2nd person Jun 14, 2008

I find that all it takes is a little force of personality on the interpreter's part to speak in the first person.

It takes more client education to get them to address the other party in the second person. The client shouldn't be saying, "Ask him if he likes baseball." Instead, he should be directly saying , "Do you like baseball?"

I tend to interject another force of personality and say, "Please do not be afraid to address Mr. ___ in the second person."


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~Ania~  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
Member (2008)
Polish to English
+ ...
Hi Mila Jun 16, 2008

Hi Mila,

I know exactly where you are coming from. I was also trained to use the 1st person and most people have no problem with that - the interpreter, after all, is just a "mouthpiece" not a whole person, as my tutor charmingly put it.

I always use the 1st person because that is the correct way, but if necessary, will ask the client"Have you used an interpreter before?" and if the answer is a "no" explain what I do and how I do it.
I have in the past had a situation where the client was looking at me as if I was responsible for what was coming out of my mouth (ie. the content) whereas I was ONLY the interpeter, the person responsible for the content was the person he was interviewing. This is wrong and should be pointed out to the client AT THE TIME it is happening.
As my tutor put it, when you interpret you bring with you tools of the trade, in much the same way a plumber would do when called to a job.
People should let you get on with the job at hand, but if they cannot understand what it is you are supposed to be doing you should produce your toolbox and explain what the tools are for. They cannot take your toolbox away as then you would not be able to do your job properly. Hope this makes sense!
In other words, you wouldn't expect to go to a doctor's office and tell the doctor how to do their job, would you? In the same way, you are a professional and you adhere to a certain code of conduct.


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Mila Bilenka  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:05
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Jun 16, 2008

Hi Anna,

Absolutely, I could not put it better, and I am sure everyone will agree: we should not conform and adapt to an uneducated approach; we must adhere to the professional code of conduct. And yes, we should educate. (I enjoyed the two charming metaphors about “not a whole person” and "a toolbox").

Thank you, Anna, thank you, everyone!


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~Ania~  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:05
Member (2008)
Polish to English
+ ...
Hi Mila Jun 17, 2008

I'm pleased you liked them I think it helps to get into perspective what our job is really about. Although the client is always right, s/he cannot ask us to do something which would be a breach of our code of conduct. If the client specifically wants you to use the 3rd person that is fine, but you should stress that it is not how professionals do it, and it may make your job harder, as instead of straight interpreting you will have to paraphrase and "dress it up" in quotes. In fact, the end result may be a less accurate interpretation. You would never be asked to use the 3rd person in court, for example.

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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 05:05
English to Russian
+ ...
I give up on American doctors! Jul 19, 2008

It happened three times in one week... more than enough for me!

I'm interpreting in a medical office. The doctor walks in and tells me: "OK, explain to him [the patient] that I'll be talking to you, and you'll be telling him what I said". (I'm not making this up!!!)

So, I make my attempt to educate the doctor, and say: "Doctor, please address the patient directly". The doctor looks at me in bewilderment and asks: "You mean he speaks English?"

I persist and explain that no, the patient doesn't speak English, but this is the way the interpreters work. The doctor seems to understand and says OK. Then, he looks at the patient and says: "Is he married?" "How much does he weigh?" "When did he have an accident?"

The other two appointments this week were along the same lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give up!

(Maybe I should move to Canada, as Mila says doctors there behave quite differently...)


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3rd person singular versus 1st person singular







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