Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lost in Translation - The Price of a Word

What could cost taxpayers in New South Wales tens of thousands of dollars? New taxes? Construction projects? None of the above— the bill is tagged to the alleged mistranslation of the Indonesian word “push” after it caused a criminal trial to be aborted.

The problem arose when a juror who spoke Indonesian wrote a note to the judge about “some discrepancies in the translation” of the questions tasked to an accused Indonesian smuggler. The juror cited two examples:

1. The phrase “did you stop anyone moving” was allegedly mistranslated as “did you push anyone”.

2. The word “push” was allegedly used versus the word “deny”.

The juror’s allegations were aimed at the second interpreter used for the case after the first one was criticized by the smuggler’s lawyer.

Ultimately, Judge Freeman agreed that the case had to be aborted as the juror who made the allegations shared his observations with rest of the jury.

“In a sense, that juror has become like a witness in the trial … Now that is a situation which we can't allow to exist, because at the end of the trial I have to be in a position where I say to you that the evidence upon which you reach your decision is that which comes from the witness box,” the judge said.

*Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Friday, November 18, 2011

Top 5 Interpreter Mistakes

We all make them— and we are quick to gloss over them. We are talking about the “m” word: “mistakes.” Interpretation mistakes, however, are difficult to gloss over when communication can be a one-way street. Once something is spoken... it’s out there to be heard! Today, we have listed the top 5 common interpretation mistakes as a frontline defense for both new and experienced interpreters!

1. Hot & Cold Potato – We all read the hilarious (or appalling) headlines of celebrities and politicians with a hot mic. Most interpreters though have the opposite problem— having the microphone ON. The solution is a simple one: be sure the microphone is on and ready to go. Although, the parallel is also true: be wary of hot mics!

2. Bonjour! Como estas? – Another common problem for interpreters: realizing you were speaking in the wrong language; this especially holds true for interpreters that are proficient in several languages. It happens to even the most experienced interpreters and the best defense is to remember your audience and listening to yourself.

3. A Phrase is Worth 1000 Words – Direct interpretations are not always… well, direct. Expressing that “it’s a beautiful day” as “it’s a beautiful day” may be technically correct, but it might not be the way the locals express it. It’ a lot of work, but be up to date on your jargon, phrases, and even historical use of words.

4. What You Say? – It’s going to happen: you’ll mishear something and say it as something else. For example, one interpreter heard “concrete welds” when the speaker was saying “concrete wells.”

5. Google It! – No, no, and just NO. The problem is that incidents of interpreters using Google Translate or similar browser-translated programs have actually happened. Certified, government and private contracted interpreters resorting to Google Translate. Just don’t do it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lost in Translation - Another Gov't Fumbles a Foreign Interpretation

The Feds messed up— big time. According to a story from Talking Points Memo, lawyer Haytham Faraj claimed that authorities fumbled a translated conversation between his client—alleged Syrian spy Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid—and his wife via a flawed translator and even used Google Translate.

Faraj claimed that government “has demonstrated a serious deficit in its ability to translate recorded conversations from Arabic into English.” Talk about déjà vu— considering that just a month ago an Iranian refugee almost ended up being deported because of a government interpreter that also took creative liberties with the translation.

In this case, Faraj asserted that the Feds even misrepresented Soueid’s Arabic name by simply typing the words of his English name into Google’s translate program. He continued that the government translator even went far as to take “extensive liberties” between Soueid and his wife and transformed it “into a sinister warning that has no basis in fact.”

The lawyer cited a government transcript of the conversation which has Soueid saying “God Damn you - you - I will deal with you later” and observed that only the word ‘you’ was said within that statement and the rest was a “fabrication.”

Faraj continued:

“Within the same paragraph, the translator takes even graver liberties with the truth. The translator writes “you are talking to me over the phone- and this phone belongs to Intelligence agency - I am not supposed to be talking on it.” The translator missed a clear announcement of the words “over there,” the non possessive “telephone” and then “the intelligence service/agency” rather than “this phone belongs to the Intelligence Agency. To a listener fluent in Arabic, the speaker clearly indicates that he was not free to speak on the telephone because the intelligence service monitors phone calls. And that statement fits contextually within the tone, volume, and playfulness of the back and forth dialogue between husband and wife who defiantly and jokily states “Me, the intelligence service knows me…I...I am not afraid of the intelligence service.” Anyone aware of Syrian language, culture and life in Syria understands that Syrians constantly assume their calls are being monitored. Syrian culture is rife with humor about the Mukhabarat listening in on conversations. Such cultural aspects of Syrian life are commonly known and should be understood by anyone undertaking to translate a Syrian dialect conversation into English. The errors and fabrications in the Government translation are troubling, twist the meaning and portray a conversation that is disconnected from reality.”

So, all in two sentences the government translator reportedly botched the English translation and made contextual and cultural errors. Several questions come to mind in this case and the one last month with the Iranian refugee in Canada: Are these cases of bad contracting? Or are these cases of contractors hiring uncertified Arabic translators? Or was this all due to a shortage of Arabic translators since 9/11, according to Talking Point Memo.com?