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Interpreting and false friends
Thread poster: Williamson

Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:54
Flemish to English
+ ...
Nov 20, 2007

When interpreting for a high speed speaker, I tend to use false friends. I would like to know how others cope with that? Translators can always look up false friends, when you interpret, there is no time for that.

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Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Gah! Nov 20, 2007

I guess you just have to keep on studying those false friends on your down time so you don't get tripped up. I am sure some of them are repeated job after job, so the next time you could interpret one correctly and say to yourself "hah! you didn't catch me this time...."
I am sure this will get better for you over time - no matter how much experience we have, we can always get better, and the fact that you've recognized this means you can do something about it.

I'm not an interpreter, but I will say that from a translation standpoint our documents are immortalized on paper - so errors are that much more unforgiveable. Theoretically, as an interpreter you can walk away from it if your mistake is not too glaring and doesn't change the meaning of everything completely. (Unless it is recorded - yikes!!) Do you find this to be true?


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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:54
English to Polish
+ ...
Information? Nov 20, 2007

Consecutive? Simultaneous? Whispered?

I don't have a problem with false friends as such, but if circumstances only allow, I bring a crib sheet of problem terms - just like in school.

If I read you correctly, you do this unconsciously. Is there a pattern? Are there words you misinterpret more often than others?
Some mnemonic exercises?

Pawel Skalinski


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:54
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Can't you brief your speaker as to speed? Nov 20, 2007

What you're talking about is a defensive reflex action that latches onto the shortcut (usually the cognate) in a tight pinch. It can be avoided through an agreement with the speaker that will give you the split seconds needed for correction.

There are also ways of signalling the speaker that you can agree on, in and out of cabins. (But I do remember a colleague who was all for the invention of a button with contact right into the speaker's throat...)


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 20:54
French to English
+ ...
there but for...... Nov 20, 2007

Anyone who has ever been an interpreter knows that it is very easy to trip yourself up. I remember the time I had to translate "méthodologie" (dreadful word) from French into English and, for some reason, couldn't get my mouth round it. After two or three tries, I simply turned it into a joke and said "well, methods, to keep things simple". Earned me a good reaction and several funny exchanges during the coffee break....

However, that said, I would hope that a simultaneous interpreter worthy of his or her salt would not fall into the pitfalls created by "false friends" at all. For me, it is this sort of thing that distinguishes the seasoned professional from the greenhorn. OK, once you make a slip, you are inclined to repeat it ad infinitum out of nerves or stress. Notes on bits of paper may, indeed, help to get over this hurdle and back on track.

You should also remember that interpreters are not paid per word. Nobody is counting to see you return as many words as you receive. The whole point is to convey the message, to use similar expressions (especially if they are likely to be picked up and then pin-ponged back and forth). You are allowed to be concise, to take "short-cuts" (one word where the speaker used a dozen - if you have the appropriate word). Also remember that speakers tend to repeat themselves, which gives you good catching up time.

Last thought for the day: anyone who has real problems avoiding pitfalls and who finds speaker speed an issue may usefully ask him or herself whether simultaneous interpreting is really something he or she should be doing. Not everybody can handle it. Some people are far better at consecutive. The reverse may also be true. It takes all sorts to make a world.

My motto: practice makes perfect.

[Edited at 2007-11-20 13:03]


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erika rubinstein  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:54
Member (2011)
English to Russian
+ ...
Situation Nov 20, 2007

Are you talking about simoultaneous interpreting? Can you give us an example of such a situation?
Otherwise I dont understand, why you have to use the wrong translation, if you know, that it is wrong. What does it have to do with a speed?


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Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
So true Nov 20, 2007

Practice really does make perfect!

It's also great, as CMJ says, to be aware of what your talents are. I decided a good ten years ago that interpreting was not for me and that I am a natural translator.

I'm not putting myself down or anything but I think to interpret well you need to have really strong coordination between what you hear and think, and your speech. I am a bookish type and would hate to have to talk all day and be alert like that! Interpreters need to be very sharp and be able to think on their feet as they don't have much time for reflection on the job... I find that my mind is quite sharp if (I do say so myself!) but there is no guarantee that when I speak that will be reflected!! My talents come out much more in writing. I simply don't have the gift of the gab.

Another thing is that I've only personally met two or three people who do translation and interpreting and truly excel at both... what has been your experience?


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Christina Courtright  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:54
Spanish to English
+ ...
Gobs of practice Nov 20, 2007

Parrot is right - it's a defensive mechanism, so you have to work systematically to increase both speed and quality through proper practice. Not just any practice will do! It has to be purposely directed at your weak spots.

For me, I find it helpful to translate at home - committing words to writing seems to have a strengthening effect on my synapses and word retrieval. I have also extensively used the old-fashioned two-sided "flash cards" to study for my various interpreting exams. And then practicing with tapes/CDs, or just interpret along with the radio news when you drive or sit at home. Make notes of false cognates that give you trouble and grow your stack of flash cards for rote practice on the preferable versions.


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Stephanie Diaz
English to Spanish
don't quit interpreting yet :) Nov 20, 2007

Before you quit interpreting altogether, it is interesting to know that what you mention is a phenomenon that could be called an error in anticipation.
Neurolinguistic research has shown that interpreters have their languages very close to each other and tend to form subsets that contain elements from the two languages. These subsets have not only lexical elements (words) but also syntactical elements (grammar, word order). That is why interpreters of "similar" languages (like Romance languages) find it difficult to avoid using false friends or even similar grammatical structures (they overcome this difficulty with practice as many have mentioned above). They have to consciously avoid doing it.

The problem usually arises in a situation of attention overload, which is, in an interpretation situation, exactly what you mention: fast speakers, long turns, heavy accents, etc.
When overloaded, interpreters have to choose what they are going to pay attention to since their resources are limited. When processing load is high, the brain tends to choose anything close to the target language in the subsets it has formed. Since attention resources are overloaded, control is also weak or for a few seconds, nonexistent, so there goes out the false friend, wrong term, or similar grammatical structure.

So there is no need to quit interpreting or wonder if you are a good interpreter or not, since ALL interpreters (as human beings) are subject to very much the same cognitive processes when interpreting. The thing is how to make your attention resources work for you. When working with fast speakers, take shorter turns with your partner; if you notice that you fall with a recurrent word, write it down and post it before you in the booth (this has worked for me, not only for false friends but also for difficult terms); prepare glossaries or lists of words in advance that help you anticipate, by making the right conections, the right term; and avoid, by practicing very hard, the use of non-grammatical structures in your target language(s).


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:54
English to Spanish
+ ...
Practice Nov 20, 2007

I agree that practice makes perfect. It takes a long while to make the proper connections in your brain for interpreting, and they have to be there, because you often have no time to think.

I can think of no better answer but to pick up on your mistakes and train yourself to correct them automatically. Awareness is the first step, and you have already gone that far.

Speed of speakers is also a problem. I have also felt like inventing a mechanism I could attach to the speaker's neck so I could push a button and it would throttle them. One solution we did come to one time was to station assistants in the front row with a sign saying "speak slowly".

Some were incorrigible, so you just have to learn to summarize.


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 20:54
French to English
+ ...
a good mechanism Nov 20, 2007

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can speak fast and I mean FAST.
So rapid speakers in simultaneous were never a problem for me. However, some of my colleagues in other booths were not as relaxed about it as I was. So I would go and see the speakers, delegates, chairman and ask them to speak slowly. I would add that if they wanted to speak fast, I would match them word for word and the two of us would have a great time competing with each other. However, I would add, what about those following in English (or whatever), who are not English mother tongue ? They will miss huge chunks. Is that what you really want ? Think of them, I would say.

It usually worked a treat - they didn't care a monkey's chunter about the interpreters (we were paid to work and work we should) but they cared that their audience might not understand.

In my experience, an interpreter who asks speakers to slow down is treated like an incompetent. Subterfuge is the better way....

[Edited at 2007-11-20 16:44]


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 14:54
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Very important Nov 20, 2007

Henry Hinds wrote:


I can think of no better answer but to pick up on your mistakes and train yourself to correct them automatically. Awareness is the first step, and you have already gone that far.



I work as an interpreter for the Immigration and Refugee Board, where people's futures (and in some cases lives) often depend on my ability to stomp on my own ego, and stop proceedings to say "I'd like to correct X", if I have a sudden flash as to context, or nuance.
I have a whole spiel I give people before we go on the record, including telling them "please try to pause after every few thoughts, so I can interpret effectively".

One more thought- some lawyers seem to think that if we take notes (short notations for dates, etc.) that it reflects badly on the interpreter's supposedly super-human memory and ability. Quite infuriating, considering the piles of paper THEY drag in, and still often forget their client's names...


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 14:54
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
LOL Nov 20, 2007

Juliana Starkman wrote:
some lawyers seem to think that if we take notes (short notations for dates, etc.) that it reflects badly on the interpreter's supposedly super-human memory and ability. Quite infuriating, considering the piles of paper THEY drag in, and still often forget their client's names...


...and indeed their court dates!

Nancy


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:54
French to English
+ ...
OT :) Nov 20, 2007

CMJ_Trans wrote:

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can speak fast and I mean FAST.


I will certainly attest to that !!!


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:54
Flemish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Simply the best???? Nov 21, 2007

An example : How would you interpret for example "reconversion (French)" into English?
The list of French-English "false friends" is long and "nobody ever makes a mistake", hence my question. The answer of some was once again a shining example of "Look how good I am and look how lousy the others are". However, practise makes perfect.
The chances of making such errors are smaller if the working-languages do not belong to the same language family f.e.: Japenese English.
-
Often the audience does not care as long as you get the message across, people who train and select interpreters do.


[Edited at 2007-11-21 11:26]


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