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What was the worst mistake you've ever made as an interpreter?
Thread poster: Creepydoll
Creepydoll
German to English
Nov 8, 2004

Hello!
I'm going to graduate from hugh school next year and I'm thinking about becoming an interpreter. I've thought much about different things and I know...it is a weird question and I don't know how it would be for you to admit it but what was the worst mistake you've ever done?
Would be glad to hear from you
Love
Elli

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-11-08 22:22]

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-11-08 22:22]


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
Surely, you jest! Nov 8, 2004

Elli, dear, you sweet innocent girl, don't you know that we interpreters don't make any mistakes?
I once heard that cooks cover up their mistakes with sauce, architects with a plant, and doctors with dirt (when they bury you). Well, interpreters cover up in many different ways. When we don't know a word, but we still know the meaning of the phrase, we re-phrase it, or use a synonym. Then we grab a dictionary, while we keep working, just in case the word comes up again.
Now, if you're talking about actually changing the meaning of something that was said...
As a court interpreter, we're taught that one needs to correct the record the second you realize that you've made a mistake. So you swallow hard, interrupt the hearing (or trial, or deposition) and do it. I'm lucky enough to say, I haven't made any big ones. Yet. Sometimes I get into what I call a "zombie mode", when I can interpret without really thinking, and I've been known to speak in the wrong language, much to my embarrassment. When I started working in this profession, I made all type of common mistakes, like not getting someone's name right, or messing up a date. Later, you learn that it's imperative to familiarize yourself with the case before you begin. If you're lucky, you'll get to read a police report, or a statement that will give you clues of potential problems ahead.
Let's continue with our Hall of Shame. Anyone else has advice for Ellie?


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:26
Member
German to English
+ ...
I turned down a job Nov 8, 2004

Many years ago, I was offered a conference interpreting gig, an entire week. I turned the job down because I was worried that the subject matter might be over my head.

Several days into this conference, I got a call from the agency owner who begged me to fill in for a day because another interpreter had gotten sick or dropped out or whatever. With some trepidation I said yes.

The job turned out to be a breeze and, in my not-so-humble opinion, I did a lot better than my colleague in the booth (who, I kid you not, translated the speakers' scripts — poorly, I might add — without paying attention to what the speakers were actually saying).

I could have interpreted an entire week instead of just one day and gotten a bunch of money for it.

(Probably not the kind of mistake you were thinking of, but hey, did you expect me to admit any actual weaknesses and immortalize them on the Internet for future generations? )

[Edited at 2004-11-08 23:39]


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Starting it Nov 9, 2004

It was just for fun, for free, for one hour, for some tourists.
I am German and I interpreted between English and French and it was hell on earth!


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Javier Herrera
Spanish
Be warned Nov 9, 2004

teju wrote:

and I've been known to speak in the wrong language, much to my embarrassment.



We have ALL made that mistake, if you become and interpreter you will make it some day as well. If you're fine with your interlocutor's cracking a laugh and your going pink, then you've nothing to worry about.

Another embarrasing -and extremely common- mistake you can make when interpreting in a booth is to forget to switch your microphone on when you start talking. When you realise, you'll have to start all over again and then catch on with the rest of the speech.

Now this wasn't my mistake, but Pearl Harbour was bombed through an interpreting error.

HTH

Javier Herrera

[Edited at 2004-11-09 09:11]


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Alejandra Villarroel  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 02:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
This happened to a local colleague here Nov 9, 2004

One of those funny stories spread by word of mouth...

Setting: Santiago, Chile around '94 ot '95... 1-week workshop, local poultry industry, EnglishSpanish

On the very last day after a great performance this colleague went through some weird digression (or mental collapse probably.) So despite the clear context and five days of hens, chickens, ducks and the entire range, he took turkey for Turkey... Yes, capital K!!!
[In case you don't speak Spanish, the animal is "pavo" and the country is "Turquía."]
The speaker had also *strayed* from the subject-matter to talk about his hobbies and preferred techniques to kill turkeys...
Well, this colleague was so *concentrated* that never paid attention to his desperate partner in the booth. Instead he closed his eyes, head down resting on his hands crossed.
Can you imagine the audience reaction??? It was their feedback that finally brought this colleague back to the real world... Fortunately it all went fine in the end and everybody had a really good laugh...

ALEJANDRA
I'll try to remember some mistakes of mine...


Creepydoll wrote:

Hello!
I'm going to graduate from hugh school next year and I'm thinking about becoming an interpreter. I've thought much about different things and I know...it is a weird question and I don't know how it would be for you to admit it but what was the worst mistake you've ever done?
Would be glad to hear from you
Love
Elli

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-11-08 22:22]

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2004-11-08 22:22]


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Nina Snoj
Slovenia
Spanish to Slovenian
+ ...
Still no mistakes... Nov 9, 2004

...because I am about to do my first simultaneous interpretation next week.It should be funny and interesting (I have been studying the material I was given for a whole week now) but I get "excited" just thinking about all the things that can go wrong...
If you want, I can let you know how it went.
Have a nice day.

Nina


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Anne Lee  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:26
Member (2003)
Dutch to English
+ ...
red face about greenwashing Nov 9, 2004

As a previous contributor said, forgetting to turn the microphone on is one error that is easily committed, particularly if you are interpreting in two different directions. But I remember being stumped by the word 'greenwashing' recently, (i.e. disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image) and translated it by the Dutch equivalent for 'whitewashing'because you just have to keep going and I thought the speaker might have made a mistake. I try to make a list of the latest buzz-words now, complete with translation, to be on my guard.

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Aleksandr Okunev
Local time: 08:26
English to Russian
A nice one Nov 9, 2004

A Rusian-Arabic translator in Baghdad in 1990 typed the amount of hardware maintenance cost 'normally', as the Arabic typewriter went on, from right to left. Cost the department about 100000 US dollars (military hardware). This was when all correspondence was switched to English and it was my turn to make mistakes. (Won't tell!)
Stay healthy
Aleksandr


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Pat Jenner
Local time: 05:26
German to English
+ ...
microphone Nov 9, 2004

It's obviously important to switch your microphone on when you're about to work. However, just as critical is to remember to make sure it's switched off when you want to moan with your partner about the speaker's shortcomings!

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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 06:26
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Brukarawaka, anyone? Nov 9, 2004

[quote]Creepydoll wrote:

From the Spanish Forum

Posted by Jack Doughty on Jun 19, 2002

To emphasize the point about making this string international, here is a story that was posted in the Spanish forum on May 28th by Francis Icaza. It\'s mostly in English and the Spanish parts should not be too difficult to follow.



Two interpreters are in the booth, at a hotel in Miami, for a Human Resources conference. The speaker, Mr. Tomodashi from Tokyo, is at the podium. He has sent a message before his arrival advising the organisers that he will address the conference in English and that no Japanese interpreters will be necessary; that his English version need only be translated into Spanish for the Latin-Americans in the audience.



His subject: Relationships between workers from different castes in Japan.



He smiles, clears his throat, takes a sip of water and speaks:



\"Sank you werymoch. Ai mos provai you wi\' a detaiurld (detailed) espranation of urelashoship betooeen brukarawaka and wacarawaka in Japan.\"



In the booth, the interpreter who has the microphone considers this first phrase and begins to interpret:



\"Muchísimas gracias. Debo proveerles una explicación detallada sobre la relación entre los…\" (aqui hace silencio y se pregunta: ¿Qué carajo es un brukarawaka y, ya que me lo estoy preguntado, que mierda es un wacarawaka!!!???) No hay tiempo para decifrar lo que pudiera ser. Su colega en la cabina ofrece sólo aquella mirada de labio inferior caído, hombros encogidos y palmas hacia el cielo, que dice \"A mi que me registren!!!\"



The speaker continues and is by now describing the daily, practical difficulties that HR managers in his country face when it comes to brukarawakas and wacarawakas…



The interpreter has to make a decision, time is of the essence and his/her short term memory is being tasked to its limit as he/she stores the information the speaker has uttered since the appearance of the brukarawaka/wacarawaka brick wall. In fact, the speaker has not stopped speaking and is hurrying on with his dissertation.



Numbers, names of cities and governmental agencies roll off his tongue like bowling balls thrown by professionals at the world bowling championship trials. He has Power Point slides by the dozen, but none that would help the interpreters decipher his meaning of these two fateful words. He barrels along, not at a clip, not at a considerable speed, but with abandon. A suicidal helter skelter, headlong rush towards self-immolation by verb conjugation. For all else, his presentation is complete, informative and well researched. He is very good and very fast.



\"You mus unastan, brukarawaka urive this pa\' Tokyo (points to the right). Wacarawaka urive this pa´ Tokyo… (points to the left). Brukarawaka haf much purobrem wi´ Porice an wacarawaka, wer… no so much purobrem wi´ Porice bot much domesic wiorence…\"



At this point, the interpreter has decided, by default, that the brukarawakas and the wacarawakas are two ethnic groups in Japan who, to this date, were unknown to this interpreter. There can be no other explanation. Light! Illumination! Of course… O.K. Let\'s get to work, thinks the interpreter: The interpreter releases the cough cut button and issues this rendition:



Deben comprender que los brukarawaka viven en esta parte de Tokyo y los wacarawaka viven en aquella parte de Tokyo. Los brukarawaka tienen muchos problemas con las autoridades de policia y los wacarawaka, no tanto problemas con la policia, sino más bien problemas de violencia doméstica…\"



The interpreter continues using this rendition for brukarawakas and wakarawakas throughout the speaker\'s address almost to its conclusion, but then, from another conference room at the same venue, a colleague stops by to say a quick hello to his friends. He stands behind the booth and listens to the rendition above. Brukarawaka, wacarawaka, Kobe, Hokkaido… He suddenly realises that his colleagues have mis-heard the speaker, that they been confused by a strong accent, and he quickly whispers a correction:



\"No, no!!!\" he whispers urgently, \"Not brukarawakas and wacarawakas… It\'s Blue Collar Workers and White Collar Workers!!!\".



There is nothing to be done for the gaffe. It\'s too late! The damage is done by now. All that is left is for the interpreter to let the audience know that a mistake has been made and that they should be advised that brukarawaka and wacarawaka should be understood to mean Blue Collar workers and White Collar workers. But, alas, the interpreter chooses the least appropriate moment to apologise to the audience for the error. The correction is made as the honourable speaker is leaving the stage and walking towards the steps. The listeners hear the interpreter say:



\"Con el permiso de los asistentes, solicitamos nos disculpen por un error cometido y en lugar de brukarawakas y wacarawakas, sepan que el caballero se refería a trabajadores manuales u obreros, conocidos como trabajadores de cuello azul y a trabajadores de cuello blanco. Ofrecemos nuestras más sinceras disculpas, gracias.\"



The audience, having sat through the presentation with the gravest of expressions on their collective faces, as if understanding what they were hearing through their recievers, for the last 30 minutes. \"…the brukarawakas this and the wacarawakas that,…\" á la \"Emperor´s New Clothes\", realise the fools they have been and, all at the exact same time, burst into a loud, conference room-wide guaffaw. They\'re rolling in the aisles, laughing primarily at themselves. They slap their thighs, they wipe tears from their eyes and look at each other and laugh even louder than before.



The speaker cannot understand. 150 HR managers after having quietly sat through his dissertation, some even taking notes, all suddenly find his presentation so hilarious. He is irate and confused at the same time. His breeding does not allow expressions of outrage. Still wearing the lapel microphone, he asks the next speaker approaching the stage for an explanation. \"Why dey uraf? Wha\' so fonny??\". No answer but the drooping lower lip, the shrugged shoulders and the palms to the sky. There is nothing to be done.


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 06:26
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
rofl! Nov 9, 2004

andycw wrote:

Posted by Jack Doughty on Jun 19, 2002

To emphasize the point about making this string international, here is a story that was posted in the Spanish forum on May 28th by Francis Icaza. It\'s mostly in English and the Spanish parts should not be too difficult to follow.



That's priceless!!!!! rofl


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Alejandra Villarroel  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 02:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
About microphones ON!!! Nov 9, 2004

There was... this speaker wearing a tie clip mic in a training session for a bunch of computer guys. Mornings were like being back to school, but afternoons were about 80% hands-on following a few directions from the trainer (meaning loooooong pauses for us the interpreters.)
In one of those breakes he went to the bathroom with his mic completely on all the time, while the audio in the room was still on for everyone to listen...


Pat Jenner wrote:

It's obviously important to switch your microphone on when you're about to work. However, just as critical is to remember to make sure it's switched off when you want to moan with your partner about the speaker's shortcomings!


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Piotr Bienkowski  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 06:26
Member (2005)
English to Polish
+ ...
Have a good night's rest or you'll weld concrete Nov 9, 2004

During my in-house period as a translator and interpreter there was one guy in the translation department that often went to parties at night.

One morning, after a night of fun, he was given an interpreting assignment. They were talking about concrete wells, but he heard "concrete welds" and translated accordingly. Sadly, this mistake cost him his job.

After that, "welded concrete" became a synonym of a poorly done job in the translation department.

Piotr


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:26
English to Spanish
+ ...
Laughing out loud! Nov 9, 2004

Brukarawaka, anyone?

Thank you Andi for having me rolling on the floor with laughter.

This reminds me of an interpreters conference that I attended a few years ago. At the end of a Spanish specific session, we were all encouraged to share interesting things that had happened to us through the years while working. This lady stood up, and told us that while she was interpreting at a hospital, this man kept talking about his "pachingao", "mi pachingao esto, mi pachingao lo otro" Not knowing what it was, the interpreter repeated the word phonetically, hoping the meaning would be clear to her eventually. What could it be? The brand name of something? A curse word he wasn't familiar with? What??? A few minutes into his discourse, the patient made it clear, he was referrering to his "patient gown"!!!!
When my colleagues tell me stories about needing a crystal ball to decipher all the Spanglish they hear, I always tell them the pachingao story.


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