You know how it is. You JUST want a HUMAN BEING—not ANOTHER computer system. The role of human beings in almost any professional sector is diminishing, being replaced by the digital age of computer engineering. Though most of us have come to accept that this new digital age in our world is not going anywhere, there is absolutely no denying the pervasive disadvantages it has brought along with it.
As a Professional Interpreter and Translator, it would be impossible to overlook the ways this digital mind-set hinders our efforts. Let me elaborate. Think about the vast, beautiful cultures and languages throughout our world. I’d like to share some personal insights relating to the disservice people and companies unintentionally inflict upon themselves by accepting what mass-media attempts to sell as a ‘better way’ to Communicate, Translate, Interpret & Mediate Dual-Language Situations.
Having worked as an Interpreter out in the field for many years, along with teaching Second Language Learners—I have seen first hand the lengths people will go to “try” translation programs and ‘top of the line’ translation devices. I’m always initially curious when I see another new device someone brings along to share in an ESL class or for an Interpreting Session …. “just in case”….
Recently, a student of mine brought this super cool looking pen into one of my classes, all excited to show me. “Here, Look, Mrs. Lopez!” she said with such enthusiasm—as she passed the flat tip of the ‘digital pen’ across a sentence on the paper in front of her. She explained that the pen would produce a perfectly translated sentence in her own native language, which would be projected onto the digital bar on the body of the pen.
With hopeful anticipation, I waited…only to find—as cool as the pen looked with this neat sentence running across its body—the translation was not correct. It was not at all correct. Well, at best—the device came up with two similar words, but completely out of context. It was CONFUSING!
Yet again, a cool-looking digital device that took more time away from REAL COMMUNICATION then it contributed. I excused the poor pen, thinking- maybe it was because of the conditional verb tense used in that particular sentence- but each try rendered a different problem.
The pen is only one example of so many other situations just like it. The digital age takes up so much of our personal time and often doesn’t contribute what it promises. People not only lose time, they lose money and ultimately—the most important: quality interactions with humans. We simply can’t expect word-for-word translations via the innumerable digital devices to be precise or exact. In fact, many times sentences and phrases are so mistranslated that the context and meaning are completely LOST-IN- TRANSLATION.
So, why this talk of the digital age and translation devices? Well, as an Interpreter, I’ve come to see how critically important it is for companies requiring translation services to understand more fully the crucial Irreplaceable role of Human Interpreters.
As Interpreters, we are the voice for two parties in matters of tremendous import. Professional & Qualified Interpreters hold their fiduciary relationship to both parties in the highest regard. It is our Code of Moral Ethics. The responsibility to communicate meanings of words, is only a portion of the equation.
Professional Interpreters must have an empathetic understanding for every individual situation (much like a counselor, a mediator or a personal mentor) because Interpreters convey deeper concepts and establish the basis for trust in each interaction. Ultimately, an outstanding Interpreter not only translates— taking great care to use words that best suit the immediate context—but guides the interactions beyond mere verbal communication.
Interpreters must have a deep reverence, appreciation & understanding of not only individual cultures, but Culture as a whole—otherwise we enter an Interpreting session with the blinders of our own cultural biases.
Trust, Empathy, Cultural Reverence, Clear Communication and Depth of efforts to understand the situation as a whole from both perspectives… -Do these sound like things a computer translation device could do? Not even close. So Interpreting is not a literal point-blank-word-to-word-translation. Whether it be a legal dispute, a medical visit, a factory training session, issues relating to insurance, a parent-teacher conference, or something else…the Interpreting process must be facilitated by an Individual whose Integrity— is equal to her Ability—is equal to her Cultural Awareness and a keen Empathy for bridging the language gap. She is creating common ground on which to build understanding and remove confusion.
I hope now, you might have a heightened appreciation for the Higher Ethical Code this profession entails. As an Interpreter, Translator and Educator—words alone hold deep meaning—and these very titles are more than a profession. They must be a passion from within the heart of a person, a humanitarian and a lover of culture.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
Jennifer Campana Lopez, MA, Ed.
A New Generation of Thinkers & Learners
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