My First Practical SI Experience
Over a month ago, I had a chance to do simultaneous interpretation at a citizen science forum (公民科學發展與契機論壇). The speaker is an American biologist and information scientist, giving a 1.5-hour speech on the topic of “Partnering for science: Interdisciplinary Collaboration to Address the Global Issue of Invasive Species”. This experience allowed me to get a bitter taste of reality, about how much improvement I need to make and about the still existing misunderstandings surrounding interpretation services.
The first bitter taste is from the compromised working environment, resulting from the misunderstandings regarding the profession. As a student interpreter, I’m pampered by soundproof booths and high-quality audio recordings provided by the university and my instructors respectively. For this event, however, my partner and I were seated in the front row of the audience, right next to two loudspeakers. Instead of whispering our simultaneous interpretation into microphones, we had to shout over the loudspeakers so that the typist sitting next to us could hear, who would then type onto a projected screen for the audience to read. In the Q&A session, we were asked to type out the translation to the questions in the chat box to the speaker (who was online and couldn’t hear anything being said on site), while the interpretation of the speaker’s answers was conducted in the same way as in the keynote speech. Despite the fact that we voiced our concern over the quality of the interpretation beforehand, the organizer eventually decided to keep to their original approach, thinking that the situation wouldn’t be as bad as we described. The problem with this setup is that the audience would be lagging behind the speaker twice the usual EVS (ear-voice span)—one for us to listen and interpret, and the other for us or the typist to listen and type. Even though we tried to simplify the questions as much as possible so that we didn’t have to type for long, there were still awkward silences when we were typing and when the speaker was reading. Oftentimes, the typist had trouble understanding us or remembering what we’ve said, rendering sentences unfinished. When that happened, we would occasionally stop interpreting and help him finish the sentences.
The second taste of reality is from not being good enough myself. I am still learning how to allocate the appropriate amount of attention to understand the source speech while monitoring my output, so I wasn’t able to read the transcript while interpreting to see if it made sense. I was already struggling to produce a smooth output, and that was when and why I would stop and help the overburdened typist finish his sentences. I also tend to follow the speaker very closely, so my interpretation probably wasn’t concise, either, making it extra hard for the typist to keep up.
Having said the above, there was still a hint of sweetness. The speaker had done several consecutive interpretation work herself, so she was fully aware that some concepts might be hard to translate. She already made sure that the terms and phrases she would be using in the speech were friendly to interpreters. In the Q&A session, she occasionally came across some examples (such as farmers’ markets) that she wasn’t sure were translatable, and would ask for confirmation. Though she was reading from a script, the speed was moderate. Simply put, I couldn’t have asked for a better speaker!
As students, we are like the flowers in greenhouses, aware of but not faced directly with reality, so I am really glad to have this experience to get a taste of it: the frustrations of not having our suggestions adopted by the organizer, the disappointment in ourselves not being able to perform better, and the encouragement of having the speaker on our side. Since we can’t always expect speakers to be understanding, or the organizers to be cooperative, we can only train ourselves to be able to adapt to all kinds of situations and environments and do the best that we possibly could in that condition.