The endless myth – Spoken or Written?

 (pic from here)
When I lived with my parents, a few years ago, I used to watch a few shows with my dad and sisters (mom prefered to watch the soap opera). And I remember my dad used to “request my services” whenever there was a problem in the subtitling of the sitcom Friends, which was quite often for an entire month. At first, I gave it a try, and started “translating” what the character was saying. But that didn’t work for much longer, because I wanted to laugh and my dad got angry because he wanted to laugh too. Also, there were a few jokes I could not convey in Portuguese for him to understand.
All these would start with a charming request, something like “do you understand what she’s saying? So translate it”. It was my dad, so give it a break 🙂
Later, I used to get angry with people who would call everyone in the language industry a translator, disregarding if that person was referring to text or speech. That doesn’t happen anymore – me getting angry.
My family is huge, and many of them doesn’t even know what translation is, let alone the distinction made between interpreters and translators. So if my own family, who knows what I do for a living (concerning titles), doesn’t know the difference, how could I expect it from everyone else? That’s when I started “calming down”.
The pretext for this post is an interview in a Brazilian news show. The interviewee is a Professor from a renowned university in São Paulo, and she is a Translation expert. The theme behind this interview is, of course, the many international events scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro. As a consequence, there is an increasing demand for interpreters, and the interviewer grabs this motif and never lets go.
The first question is about the areas in which a translator can work. The answer: this profession is marked by diversity. The interviewee mentions audiovisual translation and audiodescription. The interviewers’ reaction is cute – “so that the visual impaired person can imagine, at least, what is the scenenary, that’s a beautiful job” (free translation). That was not a nice comment, but let’s move on. Next, she shows an “illustration”, llisting a few translation subareas, such as literary, technical, sworn, and others. Another problem occurs: she mentions “translation of books” and then ask the professor to describe what “technical translation” is. The professor corrects her in a suitable tone, stating that technical translation doesn’t exclude books. Interviewer: of course, it could be a manual. Am I the only one who thinks she hasn’t done her homework before the interview?
The interviewer call a news story, with a reporter, and another story is shown: this other lady interviews the owner of a translation agency. First question: what’s the difference between translation and interpretation. The owner replies, clearly differentiating these. The interview goes on showing images from interpreters working at Rio+20, and mentions the salary for 6h, with an emphasis on the figures – as if this was an amazing amount. Next, she interviews interpretation students. And she wraps up asking one student where she sees herself translating from now on.
This inside interview ends and the camera goes back to the studio, with the professor and the previous journalist. The question: is it necessary a special education, or only speaking a foreign language is enough? The professor answers that it takes more than knowing a foreign language for this, emphasizing that the translator needs to have in their bag many techniques and specialized knowledge to translate a particular text, and this also includes audiovisual translation. Next question: Is it necessary to have a degree, or only a special course is enough? The professor replies favoring a degree, since it is broader. I confess that at a first glance, I understood this second question as a repetition of the first, so I watched it again to be safe.
The professor ends with a remark that “these large events get the attention to a market that is very dynamic and necessary, although not much visible”. 

Trying not to be too critical, the interview wasn’t very deep, but you can’t expect that in a general note. But the emphasis on amount, her”tone of pity” when talking about audio description (as if inclusion was not a right), and the manual thing left me with a bad taste.

Am I being too critical? Was it a good way to educate the people about our field? Or calling everyone’s attention to money and events creates an illusion? 
If you understand Portuguese, click here to see the interview.
  1. Marina Wade

    I agree with you, Michele… the journalist was very superficial and pointed out only the financial aspect of interpreting, luring people to the profession… bad taste… it doesn’t do us any good and directs a “fat eye” (olho gordo) vibe to translators and interpreters.

    5 years ago


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