The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

On the Other Side of the Fence

Posted by thearrow on May 16, 2008

Back in the 1990s, my organization worked in Romania as a USAID contractor. I worked with a few of these contractors as a freelance translator (although never with my org.), then moved on to communications with another contractor in my last job before leaving. Back then, in the pre-Internet-as-we-know-it era, I thought that kind of technical assistance was all my organization was doing. So it never ceases to amuse me that, not only most of its work is on domestic U.S. policies, but my job focuses entirely on them :). While quite technical itself, it’s been a great chance for me to understand the U.S. public policy landscape, which at times makes me scared :). Let me tell you: They called this country the Wild West for a reason. It still is the Wild West from so many points of view it’s incredible. But more about that another time.

While 99 percent domestic, there is a tiny international component to my work: arranging meetings for foreign visitors. The part that makes me nervous is saying a few words about my organization and the speakers. My poor public speaking skills are in great need of a brush up :). Leaving that aside though, these encounters put me on the other side of yet another fence: working with an interpreter. I was one myself for many years and I absolutely loved it so my heart always sends special vibes to the interpreters. I know it’s not easy to find the right words on the spot. But I never realized that it’s not easy to adjust your speech in working with an interpreter either 🙂 . It’s hard to follow your train of thought while someone else is talking. You have to do that AND carefully choose your own words, which isn’t easy, since we use a lot of redundant words when speaking. So, when in tandem with an interpreter, you have to speak as clearly as if you’re writing, if you will. For some reason, it was never hard for me to do that as an interpreter but it’s a bit challenging on the other side.  After I finished my somewhat stumbled spiel, I watched in awe how the first speaker delivered a flawless presentation, in seamless sync with the interpreter. And it was all just a naturally flowing, relaxed conversation. Yes, he has some decades of speaking experience more than I do, but you could see he also has a lot of experience in working with interpreters. Once you’ve worked with all kinds of speakers, you know a pro when you see one.

Funny how I’ve come full circle in a way, without necessarily intending to.

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2 Responses to “On the Other Side of the Fence”

  1. alexedi said

    that’s precisely what i find the most frustrating in my job as a translator/interpreter. the guys i sometimes interpret for are completely ignorant of how to have a meeting with foreigners (i mean the romanian party, which is the client; the expats have the experience and ultimately the decency you were talking about). sometimes you just wish you could say ‘shut up already!!!’ but of course you can’t 🙂

  2. thearrow said

    Oh, I hear you. I think it ultimately boils down to consideration for the other person (or decency) more than to experience, but most Romanians usually have a hard time putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. I snapped at a few people when hearing the uninspired “now translate” right after they finished whatever they had to say :). Not cool, but I just couldn’t take it any more. The only thing you can do is grind your teeth and try to manage the conversation as best you can :).

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