Ask anybody in the audience, and they will almost always be amazed at how simultaneous interpreters “do it.” Interpreters’ uncanny abilities to multitask and perform, making technical jargon seem like it belongs in a cocktail conversation are only the tip of the iceberg. Quite justifiably, interpreters and translators are extremely well-read in source and target languages and cultures, as well as being linguistically creative. But let’s be honest, nobody was born knowing sports negotiations, union contracts, post-operative nursing, to mention just a few of the conferences I recently interpreted in. As Baris Bilgen discussed in his M.A. Thesis for the University of Ottawa, Investigating Terminology Management for Conference Interpreters, “Conditions of the profession do not allow interpreters to specialize in a single field, yet they have to provide a fairly efficient interpretation regardless of the subject.”
In a very recent assignment dealing with potato growing, a team of 6 interpreters in 3 languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish) had the daunting task of gracefully conveying terminology about potatoes. Who’d ever thought that you could talk about potatoes for a full 8 hours :)? The meeting revolved around seeds and perfect tuber sizes for growers in small farms and industrialized operations, optimal seed planting conditions and certifications, diseases and pests, chips and fries, types and color of skin and everything else in between.
So, how did we find, learn and organize the terminology for this assignment?
Despite the fact that our client was able to send us a copy of all presentations beforehand, which thankfully facilitated our preparation, there isn’t any magic or shortcuts in terminology management – it takes intensive, high-level reading in order to understand terminology. Very few terms that we needed were in our technical dictionaries – I knew that, but you always hope… FAOTERM, the database for FAO was useful, but unfortunately didn’t have terms in Portuguese. IATE was also useful, with many “very reliable” terms in mostly European Portuguese, which would have to be validated for Brazilian Portuguese.
As an interpreter and a translator, one of the first lessons that you learn very quickly is that online databases and paper dictionaries only help us to a certain extent. The terminology is out there, in the world, books, libraries, Internet and it is up to us to soak it up. The first step was figuring out meaning/ pronunciation/ usage in the source language and then… do the same thing for the target language. By comparing the parallel texts we started finding, we were able to start figuring out meanings and correspondences.
Next, we had to start organizing the terminology. From my experience as a translator, I had a feeling that the usual features of terminology management solutions, such as Trados’ Multiterm, were primarily designed for terminologists and translators. Even though many terminology solutions can be used as independent tools, most of them were primarily designed for use as an integrated part of a Translation Environment Tool (TEnT). And even though I had heard about InterpretBank, I haven’t yet had the time to download a trial and start using it.
So, after some intensive reading, I suggested to my booth mate that we should start organizing our terminology findings. I created a simple, no-frills spreadsheet in GoogleDocs, where we would have real-time access to each other’s work and we would both contribute terms to a bilingual term list. Our work in progress looked like this:
When we finished this bilingual terminology list, we sorted the terms. The next challenge was committing them to memory. Using memorization and sight translation techniques, we were eventually able to learn about 100+ new terms dealing specifically with potatoes. And seeing our French and Spanish colleagues’ term lists was very helpful as well, as it reassured us that we were on the right track. Multilingual cooperation rocks!
Although we ended up printing our glossary, this solution turned out to be extremely portable and I would have been happy to have accessed our terms from our laptops. I’m curious to know how other colleagues prepare for specialized assignments, so feel free to contribute your own ideas for terminology management for the booth.