Simultaneous interpreting course, day 4

I'm back from the fourth day of my intensive simultaneous interpreting course. Being halfway through the course, I'd thought I'd put down some thoughts while they're fresh.

Today, we had our first live day of simultaneous interpreting, with a guest speaker. The manuscript he gave us beforehand would take about 15 minutes to read, and he spoke for about 90, so we got some good practice at interpreting without a script.

The course has been a great learning experience so far. For one thing, it's shown me that I need to work on expressing myself in Japanese.

The techniques we're learning for simultaneous interpreting between Japanese and English have been illuminating. Japanese and English are very different structurally, and usually in order to translate a sentence, you need to look at the end.

Here's a contrived example, with the parts color-coded:

新しいバージョンは、Xがあって、Yがあって、前のバージョンより機能性が高くなりました。

You've got a topic, a bunch of "modifiers," or supporting information, and then the predicate. Normally, I'd translate that sentence something like the following, moving the predicate to the beginning, and turning the supporting information into one or more subsequent sentences:

The new version has improved capabilities over the previous one. It has X as well as Y.

This of course won't do with simultaneous interpretation. Especially considering that "X" and "Y" could be of arbitrary length (it's not uncommon for the topic and predicate to be far, far separated, even in spoken Japanese), if you waited until the end, you'd forget the sentence. Or even if you didn't forget it, while you were processing this sentence the next one would be flying by.

So they're teaching us techniques to kind of listen until you get a meaningful "chunk" of information, and discharge that while you listen to the next chunk. Here's an example from a passage where I can still remember how I interpreted it.

Japanese:

(1)バングラディッシュ チッタゴン大学(2)の経済学教授ムハマド ユヌス(3)と学生達が、ある村を調査している(4)最中に、素朴な竹製家具を作っている女性に出会いました。

My English interpretation:

(1)Chittagong University in Bangladesh (2)is where professor of economics Muhammad Yunus works. (3)He and his students were on a field trip to a village. (4)There, they encountered a woman who made simple bamboo furniture.

We always do a lot of preparation before each piece. In this case, the preparation included the Wikipedia pages on Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus, and the original English version of the article. Incidentally, the English version started, "During a field trip to a village, Muhammad Yunus…"

Tomorrow, we get to interpret for a mock trial, where a GI has been arrested for theft and assault. Very Okinawan topic!

4 comments to Simultaneous interpreting course, day 4

  • Gururaj

    Very, very interesting, Ryan. Would enjoy reading daily reports too. As a translator, I always wondered how interpreters train. Would welcome more of the “techniques” that you are picking up. Thanks.

  • Noo

    Excellent! I have always wondered how they trade off between the opposite structures of E/J, and how to start the conversion when still not knowing what the final verb will conjugate into. Very insightful – more please.

  • Jeffffry

    “You’ve got a topic, a bunch of “modifiers,” or supporting information, and then the predicate. Normally, I’d translate that sentence something like the following, moving the predicate to the beginning, and turning the supporting information into one or more subsequent sentences:”

    This is where people go wrong. As a simultaneous interpreter, you don’t have time to apply all these rules and methods.
    You need quick wits, a strong memory and excellent vocabulary. That’s it.
    If you don’t have these you can’t do simultaneous interpretation how ever much methodology and best practice you memorize.

    I would have interpreted the above as

    “The new version has X and Y, and performs better than the old one.”

    if you wait too long for a chunk of information you’ll lose the flow so you have to kind of shoe-horn it into English as you go along.
    In response to the above comment, it’s usually implicit from the context and tone what the final verb will conjugate into,
    suprisingly.

  • Xavier Novella

    Jeffry, you got it right there, but let me make a remark.( I don’t even know if you’ll read this, but anyway!)
    I’m studying translation at the university, and we’ve made just a tiny little introduction to interpretation, so I’m talking (almost) out of ignorance.

    I suppose you are a native speaker of English and/or Japanese, aren’t you? If not, I don’t understand how you are so daring to say one does not need methods and techniques! 🙁 I mean, one will always need some clues or guidelines to start interpreting, won’t them? There is nothing in common between German-English, Japanese-English and Spanish-English interpretion, but the fact of “translating”. These four languages have so different semantic structures, it’s impossible to follow the same train of thought, or walk the same mental path when you’re interpreting…isn’t it?

    Could you notice by yourself that “it’s usually implicit from the context and tone what the final verb will conjugate into” without any help? If yes, I think I need 10 millions of hours of practice more as I’d imagined! 😛

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