By Panpan Wang, Senior Interpreter and Translator (Mandarin Chinese and English)
A client once asked me why I needed to prepare for a medical conference since I had worked for other pharmaceutical companies before. He also could not understand why an interpreter with enough experience to fill a 50-page resume still asked him for background material in order to prepare for a meeting.
The answer is, I still need to prepare, so do other veteran interpreters. In fact, the more professional an interpreter is, the more thorough they are when it comes to preparing for a meeting. Otherwise, it is highly improbable that they would deliver a good service to their clients.
To be able to perform the ‘magical’ simultaneous interpretating when a speaker talks faster than a machine gun, or to deliver a flawless interpretation for a 7-minute monologue without a discernible full-stop, an interpreter must have ‘three strings’ to their bow, which can only be picked up by way of careful preparation.
1. Know the jargon (memorising terminology)
The importance of using the correct technical jargons in interpretation cannot be emphasised enough. For the audience, it is easier to understand when an interpreter speaks their ‘language’. Conversely, for an interpreter, if they fail to grasp the meaning of a particular sentence because of unfamiliar terminology, they will struggle to keep up with the speaker. Therefore, professional interpreters always compile glossaries beforehand, remember them in a short period of time and use them correctly when interpreting. Like Dora Tan mentioned in her insightful article on how she prepared for a medical workshop, surgeons talk differently from sonographers, and each medical speciality comes with a unique set of jargons. Even for the same conference that is held at a regularly interval, interpreters still need to prepare. Take the “Meetings of the conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions (BRS COPs)”, one of the most technical meetings of the United Nations, as an example. I have worked for the BRS COPs for several times, but every two years when delegates gather again for negotiations, new chemicals will be listed and old exemptions will cease to apply because of scientific discoveries or breakthroughs, therefore, a large number of new terms will go into our old glossaries.
2. Know the subject (understanding concepts)
As the famous French conference interpreter Danica Seleskovitch puts it “the interpreter cannot restrict himself to learning words and their equivalents without seeking to find what they express”. As we interpret meaning, not words, it is imperative for us to understand the most basic concepts of the subject matter, as well as some related concepts and ideas. To be able to interpret accurately for a leading engineer with a doctoral degree in robotics or a renowned physician with 20 years of clinical experience, an interpreter must acquire as much specialised knowledge as possible. Meeting materials, such as agenda, participants’ list and their bios, minutes of previous meetings, brochures and reports, will help narrow down the scope of concepts to be learned and allow us to make targeted preparations. Of course, all outstanding interpreters are life-long learners who are committed to expanding their general knowledge day in and day out and have an aptitude for absorbing new concepts in a very short period of time.
3. Know the audience (adapting to specific situation)
What is the general theme of your conference? What is the purpose of this meeting? How many participants will be there and what are their backgrounds? Were there any previous meeting minutes? These are just some of the most basic but pertinent questions that I usually ask my clients prior to a meeting. Understanding of specific situation plays a central role, as it will help interpreters to make targeted preparation, to predict and anticipate better while interpreting. Dora mentioned in her article that we looked for the interviews of main speakers to familiarise ourselves with their accents and positions on treatment guidelines. I also remember that when we interpreted for President Xi during his state visit to Rwanda. We had three days to prepare, but due to the confidentiality of the visit itself, the organiser was not allowed to provide any documents before the meeting. In fact, we did not even know for sure when and for whom we were going to interpret. Fortunately, with our experience of working on other high-level meetings, we managed to find useful materials from media reports, articles on bilateral relations and official websites. For this one-hour meeting, we prepared until the last minute and barely got any sleep.
All in all, preparation is an integral part of an interpreter’s work to ensure the communication between you and your client is as clear, accurate and effective as it can be. If the interpreter you have hired does not ask for documents prior to the meeting, maybe it is time you find one that does.
At the same time, it is also important that you, the organiser, facilitate the interpreter’s preparatory work by providing them with as much information about the meeting as possible. With your understanding and help, we know for sure that your next meeting with the Chinese client is going to be a great success!
About the author:
Panpan trained as a professional interpreter and translator at the University of Bath. She is a United Nations (UN) accredited interpreter – a testament to her exceptional professionalism and skills. Prior to setting up as an independent interpreter, Panpan worked for Pfizer China as a consultant linguist, providing language support to the Vice President and his Executive team.
Panpan has more than 6 years of experience providing interpreting services to international organisations and private firms. She has stood alongside heads of states, senior government officials, and business leaders on the podium.
She works regularly for the UN and its agencies, including the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), covering a wide range of technical subjects such as environment, intellectual property, medicine, public health and telecommunication.
In the private sector, she is a trusted interpreter and translator for many major international companies, including Kuka AG, Midea Group, ABB Group, Siemens AG, Audi AG, Boehringer Ingelheim, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Bayer, Fresenius Kabi and Adecco Group.
Panpan has specialist knowledge in the following industries: automotive, mechanical engineering, pharmaceutical, carbon trading and banking.
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