Tuesday, October 03, 2006

When Babel Founded Babble: Lost in Translation

Ok, now I've got first-hand experience in the Babel babble mojo.

The past two weeks had me traversing between three major languages in my current life. This is one of those things that you can have more without getting fat, get charged for infidelity, or choking.

Besides the usual farce of the increasingly difficult Jap class, which you can read about if you scroll down a little, there was a bunch of translations I did for a certain newsletter where I kind of discovered that, with some practice, I might actually make a pretty decent travel writer (speculation...). All that is missing is the travel budget so that my travels can be funded, and someone who cares enough to print them so that this particular travel budget would materialize. Till then, I can only translate other people's travelling experiences and wish I was there. It's still fun, though.


Written translation is one thing. Verbal interpretation is a whole new world altogether. This is the mojo my first sentence was referring to...


For those who have little or no idea about the difference between translation and interpreting, written translation allows more time for research and rectification to get your facts right, though a certain degree of knowledge about the cultural context and linguistic mechanics (which to me are on an intuitive level, since I have never studied linguistics) are needed. Not so much to showoff my abilities. More like to confuse people so they would see that it's futile to argue.

Rule of the thumb in the world of translation: if it works, it works.

In the world of real-time interpretation, though, you'd have very little time to think through what you are going to say, and even less time to polish your sentence so that it sounds gramatically correct (add fake accents to up the irritation bar). You can't even close your eyes and pray that you get it right 'cos you'd have to look at the audience you are speaking to. An interpreter is basically a toilet bowl. You take the shit, and throw 'em to the sewage. I used to sit down and listen to interpreters, and over time, began to spend my time spotting mistakes in their translation. It all seemed so easy from the seated end. Take a sentence in, twirl the brain a bit, and pour it out in another language. Simple enough.

Until the day I tried doing it (interpreting, ahem...).

I was interpreting for a simple family update during service on Sunday, followed by an impromtu address by our church chairman for which I wasn't prepared but went ahead anyway. Through that crazy 20(?) minutes of jarring halts, bewilderment and humourous mistakes, a few laws to which I was previously unaware of suddenly surfaced .

Law #1: Experience counts. Frankly, this isn't something schools can fully teach, though there are courses for interpreters. The more dumb mistakes you make, the better your experience builds up. As an experienced interpreter friend puts it, you gotta be thick-skinned to do this, 'cos up to at least 30% of the time you'd be making mistakes. It is then that you hope your audience isn't smart enough to know the difference. And also to live with the bloopers after the fact.

Law #2: The length of sentences counts. I got stuck quite a few times intepreting the earlier part of the sentence only to forget what the latter half was, and had to make it up to stitch the whole line together.

Law#3: Grammatical accuracy doesn't count as much as precision in the content. As long as they get the idea and act accordingly, you're on the right path.

Law#4 : Entertainment value adds to the tolerance of grammatical imprecision. If you know you're gonna make a mistake, do it in a humorous way so that the audience would spend more time laughing and less time nitpicking.

Rule of the thumb in the world of interpreting: Bloopers abound. Don't take yourself too seriously, or you won't last long.


Blogger Cj said...

hey, ,keep it up, it ain't that 'siong'.. But if u only stand on the shallow end of family updates, u might not get much experience haha.. Get on the deep end and volunteer for first Sundays man.. :-)

11:24 PM, October 10, 2006  

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