This can’t be fun…

Giving people bad news is never fun – but I can’t imagine how much it’s got to suck for a translator/interpreter to have to deliver news like this to someone:

A translator who sat beside Miguel Bartolo at his two-day trial informed him he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 24-year-old woman.


Granted, it’s not like the guy got the death penalty or something but I imagine this kind of stuff happens every day – especially in the legal or medical fields. It’s got to be draining, even though they aren’t your words I can’t see how you could ever disassociate yourself with the content. You still have to speak to the person, and chances are it’s your eyes they’ll be looking in when the news registers with them.

Add to that trying to push those thoughts out of your head while you’re trying to process what’s being said and how to interpret it for the person you’re speaking to in the most sensitive way possible.

I’d love to here from folks with experience – do you just tune out the emotion and get as literal as possible or do you need to internalize it a bit in order to deliver the news?

Awkward Moments in Interpretation

I came across this article this morning in my feed reader about the trial of Floyd Landis and his 2006 victory in the Tour de France, which has now been tarnished with his alleged testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Because the testing was all done in France many of the lab technicians etc. who are involved in the case speak only French, so it has been necessary to have a courtroom interpreter.

From everything I know, it’s pretty safe to say Interpretation is a tough job on a good day. So, I can’t imagine just how tough it gets interpreting live in front of a courtroom where your slightest slip-up can have a big impact on someone’s life if the mistake isn’t caught. In this case bonus difficulty points are awarded for interpreting medical testimony.

Unfortunately in this case, all didn’t go as well as one would hope:

A significant part of the morning was wasted, though, when the testimony given by Belgium-born Mongongu was frequently interrupted because of an unclear translation of her replies in French.

At one point, her translator incorrectly interpreted Mongongu as saying it took one-and-a-half hours instead of one-and-a-half days to prepare an ‘A’ sample for IRMS (carbon-isotope ratio testing) analysis.

Landis’s attorney Maurice Suh intervened, asking whether there might be a better way to proceed. Lead arbitrator Patrice Brunet, who speaks fluent French, then called for a 90-minute recess so that a replacement translator could be summoned.

Yikes – I can imagine that after the first mistake it’s only something that gets worse too. Interpretation takes a lot of focus and concentration as you try and listen in one language, translate it in your head and speak the translation in the other language, so I’m guessing the added distraction of “Oh god, I hope I don’t screw up again” cycling through your head doesn’t help.

Awkward indeed.