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Off topic: Oops - interpretation into the wrong language
Thread poster: Robert M Maier

Robert M Maier
Local time: 20:26
English to German
+ ...
Feb 6, 2004

Hello,

for a prospective thesis in linguistics, I am collecting case stories of situations where interpreters, while on the job, "missed" the target language - i.e. produced output in another language than they should have.

Some examples to get you going, and show what I'm looking for:

Shopping in Amsterdam with international friends ( => language of communication: english), one of them sees a Dutch sign with lots of small print and asks me (NL German) what it meant. So I kind of switch my mind into interpretation mode, read it and translate for him fluently into... German. I realize my mistake only two or three sentences into the text.

Lectures in Linguistics at the Universiteit van Amsterdam are standardly accompanied by a sign translator, to interpret the English lecture for deaf members of the audience (if that is the appropriate term in this situation). One memorable day, there are two less-experienced sign interpreters. As it happens, there is a question from a signer. The interpreter struggles a bit over the sudden change of direction, watches the question and reproduces it in... her native Dutch. She doesn't even realize, until the speaker asks here to repeat it "in English, please." Of course, she is quite embarassed and, after the question, swaps duty with the other interpreter - who is thus warned; nonetheless, exctly the *same thing* happens to the second interpreter not even five minutes afterwards.

A friend reports a case where an interpreter, after a long day in the booth, started to paraphrase fluently from Spanish into Spanish (unfortunately, no further detail has come down on me).

And a bilingual (English-Danish) interpreter reported to me in a conversation that he has found himself in such situations, as well (although I was unable to retrieve any further detail, again).

Any similar stories, anyone? (Please include some information about your relation to each of the involved languages, as well.)

[Edited at 2004-02-06 20:02]


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Sandra Alboum  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:26
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not exactly while I was interpreting, but funny anyhow... Feb 6, 2004

When I was learning sign language at a university in Washington DC, the professor encouraged us to speak as we signed. So I opened my mouth and out came ... German.



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Robert M Maier
Local time: 20:26
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
So that would be...? Feb 6, 2004

Sandra Alboum wrote:

So I opened my mouth and out came ... German.




Oh, nice one anyway (: - so your native language would be...?


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Magda Dziadosz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 20:26
Member (2004)
English to Polish
+ ...
Embarrassing experience Feb 6, 2004

On a conference, while interpreting between English and Polish, I once started to interpret into English a French speaker – but he had his speech in English...I realised what I was doing after the first sentence and switched immediately, still it was so embarrassing, because the speaker had a very strong French accent.... I guess because of that in my mind he was recognised as “non-English”

Magda


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:26
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Interpreters? Or other functions? Feb 6, 2004

Are you investigating linguistic interference, or "interpreters on the job"? Because some of your examples may occur more frequently in other language service categories.

Conference Assistants, for example (who are often interpreter-trainees or interpretation students) have to attend to whole lines of individuals who speak different languages each. One of the screening requirements for a CA involves testing how far s/he is able to control the language(s) s/he is using. On a long day, after many high-pressure switches, it can happen (it has happened to me, at least) that you respond to a German question in French, or to a Spanish question in Italian (the latter is not so bad, but the former simply left the poor German gaping).

I had another problem in that I was initially trained in "one-way" interpretation, a concept that does not seem to sit well where I presently live (oh, here, interpreters HAVE to know everything! And being able to work two-way is practically a sine qua non, particularly since a great part of our services is required outside of the booth context.) Now, I'm a native English speaker, and my control over Spanish cannot guarantee the same degree of accuracy. So one day I found everybody gaping after the speaker had said "the President of the United States George Bush" -- I had "parroted", for all to hear, "el Presidente de los Estados Unidos Jorge Arbusto". But this was because everybody around me had been calling my German counterpart "Jorge" (Jürgen is very difficult for Spanish speakers to pronounce).


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IrinaGM  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:26
English to Georgian
+ ...
I can't stop laughing when I think of this... Feb 6, 2004

Once, while on a job, I was so wrapped up in interpreting everything the instructors said that I did not even think twice when I translated what one instructor told another instructor when both of them spoke English All I have to say is... I guess it was a long day for me

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Robert M Maier
Local time: 20:26
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Multilinguals, yes - but still preferrably interpreters Feb 6, 2004

Parrot wrote:

Are you investigating linguistic interference, or \"interpreters on the job\"? Because some of your examples may occur more frequently in other language service categories.


Right. In principle, these things may show up in just about any multilingual situation, you\'re right there. But I\'m asking for interpreters\' experiences because
(a) the more I can figure out about the contextual conditions of such situations, the better my chances to go out and actually *record* some of them,
(b) some roughly relevant work has already been done in interpretation studies, and
(c) interpreters are professional multilinguals, thus attributed with the highest level of multilingual skills, and *yet* it happens - certainly not due to \"insufficient learning\" or whatever (remember I have to convince academic linguists, who don\'t know all that much about multilingualism - despite the Selinker and Baumgartner-Cohen article about Multiple Language Acquisition, at http://www.nyu.edu/education/teachlearn/faculty/lselinker/)


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Robert M Maier
Local time: 20:26
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Great! Feb 6, 2004

Jorge Arbusto! Make my day!



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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:26
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
They don't call me Parrot for nothing Feb 6, 2004

The nickname came from my mentor

The article on multilingual acquisition was highly interesting (you have to put a space between the end-parenthesis and the link in order to make it clickable, or click on the link but take out the parenthesis when the 404 error appears).

Still, it's worth remembering Steiner's observation (After Babel, Ch. 3) that linguists don't necessarily suffer the same problems as translators and interpreters; i.e., they can be highly theoretical and predominantly monolingual.


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 11:26
English to French
+ ...
you can' t turn it off! Feb 6, 2004

After a long day in a booth (mainly French into English) I have a tendency to reply in English to anyone who speaks French to me, and vice versa. Can be interesting in a crowded subway! It can take a while to go back to monolingual mode, same language in and out.
Sarah


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:26
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Does wrong interpretation (right language, but interfered) qualify? Feb 7, 2004

This is a classic from our friend Francis Icaza:

http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/new&ViewTopic&post=18248#18248


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Johanna Timm, PhD  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:26
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
The paraphrasing trap Feb 7, 2004

I fell into the paraphrasing trap!
I was interpreting (consecutive )G-E during a deposition at a lawyer's office in a custody case for a German speaking father. In-between some sentences the lawyer slipped me a letter from the Youth Authorities that included the assessment written by a psychologist and asked me to quickly provide a translation for the client. It was highly scientific lingo and I promptly proceeded to---paraphrase in plain English to the German client what the letter said...blush...deep deep red...


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:56
English to Tamil
+ ...
My experience Feb 7, 2004

I was interpreting for a French visitor. In the midst of the conversation the visitor suddenly said something in English. To my horror I heard my voice translating that into French for the benefit of my Indian client. The poor fellow was just perplexed.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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sviaggio  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
Interpreting "out of" the wrong language Feb 8, 2004

Hi. May I start by introducing myself: Sergio Viaggio, born in Argentina, a UN interpreter for almos 30 years now and since 1991 Chief of the Interpretation Section, United Nations Office at Vienna.

It is not very usual to have a meeting presided over by a delegate actually speaking Spanish (even the representatives of Spain herself are kwnown to defect to English!). So it can take us, Spanish interpreters, by surprise whenver Spanish is spoken from the Chair. This has led to several instances in which the Spanish interpreter starts interpreting Spanish into Spanish, more often than not improving upon the original.

sergio


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Pablo Cañamares  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 21:26
Russian to Spanish
+ ...
Que horror! he pasado por eso! Feb 9, 2004

La única vez que he hecho simultanea, aparte de las clases, yo estaba encargado de interpretar, además de las respuestas, las preguntas del público a la ponente.
Tanto cambio hizo mella, y en una ocasión mi compañero de cabina me dio un codazo a las costillas para indicarme que estaba repitiendo las frases de la ponente, en inglés, para el público.


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