What Do You Call THAT?


Article originally published on June 2015 and republished with permission from InterpretAmerica. Visit their blog to learn more about their work. © Giovanna Lester 2015


hippocampus_by_nuka4everWhat do you call an animal with the body of an equine, a horn and a fish tail? It is an interesting hybrid but it is not a horse, it is not a unicorn and it is not a fish. The funny thing about names, nouns, is that they define a common point of reference, and by doing so, they facilitate communication on many different levels.

So, when I was called to work on another remote interpreting project, I was excited.

I had already done a few – once in a studio (great experience), several conferences, a few times over the telephone (over the phone interpreting (OPI) can be very convenient). But my worst experience ever was using two telephone lines while juggling a presentation and a chat session with my interpreting partner, on my computer, for the hand-overs. We survived.

None of that prepared me for the last two “remote interpreting” requests. First of all, there was no interpreting as it is defined: facilitating communication between a speaker and an immediate audience. For this project, I would be recording my voice after the presentation was over, without breaks or a partner, and no visual prompts.

That sounded more like a voice-over project to me. The main differences were the expectation of having someone speak for a whole hour without stopping, the lack of visual prompts, and do it while listening in on one telephone and speaking into another for remote recording.

This practice has been taking place for a few years, it seems, without regard for the target-language audience, how it reflects on the speaker’s performance, or the voice talent’s well-being. I say voice-talent because you don’t really need an interpreter to do this job, except for the fact that they expect the professional to provide the target-language version simultaneously with listening, without a script.

A few decades ago, it became acceptable to provide the translation of audio files without the transcription. This is the next step: voice-overs without the script.

Here we run into interpreter-related issues that providers who offer these services may not be privy to: mental and physical stress. Interpreting without visual stimuli is more stressful, speaking for stretches longer than 45 minutes compromises accuracy, which creates more stress, vocal chords need to relax, the interpreter needs to unwind… And then comes the two telephones bit, and the quality of the recording itself – both in content and sound. There is new technology available that can make this new business practice more efficient and still financially viable.

Is there room for dialogue? Remote simultaneous voice-over seems to be in its infancy and professional interpreters have to work together with those who offer that service to educate them on the other aspects of an interpreter’s work. There is much to be shared from both sides and gained by all, including clients.

Image courtesy of Nuka4ever.

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