Interview with Iraqi interpreter on NPR's This American Life
Thread poster: Michele Johnson

Michele Johnson  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:02
German to English
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Jun 20, 2007

I just listened to a fascinating interview from NPR's This American Life radio show:
Basim, an Iraqi national, worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. He talks with host Ira Glass about the time he had to purposely mistranslate in order to keep a situation from turning violent, as well as the day interpreters became the prime targets for insurgent assassins—even more prized than American soldiers. (22 minutes)

It's available for free podcast download at iTunes, or you can listen directly at the website:
by clicking on the icon at the left "Full Episode." It's the second story in the broadcast, so you might want to let it buffer up and then fast-forward to Minute 21:17.

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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:02
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This adds a whole new dimension to the role of "impartiality".. Jun 20, 2007

Many thanks for the link...

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Olga Dubeshka  Identity Verified
United States
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thanks Jun 20, 2007

The interview is priceless. There is no doubt many (translators ) would disagree with the methods
of the featured Iraqi interpreter . However, I just realized
that just as any of us, he was only human and acted as a human would.

I found his description of our profession as a "bridge"
between the two often hostile parties especially profound.
When he said that when all communications fail it will be the ones on the bridge to go down first , but that without that bridge any progress is doomed.

Something to think about.

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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
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Link to New Yorker article also about Iraqi interpreters Jun 21, 2007

Hi Michele,

Thank you very much for posting this. Here's a link to a related perspective.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:02
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Thanks Michele Jun 21, 2007

At the risk of sounding flippant, some interpreting assignments do leave you wondering who will pay the bill if the client blows up.

More seriously, however, the "bridging" mission does involve defusing difficult situations. At heart -- even at negotiations -- what people want is to conclude a deal and get somewhere, and the frustration of not being able to does the mission more harm than good.

Impartiality on the part of the mediator (let's not even call him/her translator or interpreter) is a true discipline in this profession indeed. While this kind of meta-thinking (with Jiminy Cricket perhaps cussing sotto voce) is not always called for, I hope we're never so narrow as to restrict the definition of "faithfulness" to the literal sense of the term.

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Interview with Iraqi interpreter on NPR's This American Life

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