Terminology Management for Simultaneous Interpretation

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.

About Cris

My name is Cristina Silva, and I'm a Portuguese Translator, Conference Interpreter, Voice-Over Talent and Cultural Consultant who lives and works in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Thanks for stopping by, I'm happy you found my blog! Click onCristina-Silva-Portuguese-Conference-Interpreter-and-Translator to find out more about me.
This entry was posted in Conference Interpreting | Interpretação de conferência, in English, Simultaneous Interpretation | Interpretação simultânea, Terminology Management | Gerenciamento de terminologia. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Terminology Management for Simultaneous Interpretation

  1. Tony says:

    I primarily interpret in legal venues, courts, depositions, etc., where conversation largely tends to revolve around D.U.I (driving under the influence) and driving without a license, registration and/or insurance, workmans’ compensation (medical terminology), construction, cleaning, or the restaurant industry (where many immigrant work accidents occur). I also occasionally interpret for medical consultations. As such, I’ve endeavoured to study vocabulary relevant to legal, construction, and medical matters, primarily, which has mostly worked out well for me (I worked in construction and restaurants while working my way through school, too, which helps). Of course, from time to time, I am confronted with other areas, such as automotive mechanics and heavy machinery or other matters. I bring a bag full of dictionaries with me, mostly legal and medical, but also general. I rarely have to use them, but they have proved useful on some occasions.

    • Cris says:

      Thank you for a fascinating insight into the world of court interpreters. As the lusophone population grows in the U.S. as a whole, we expect to be doing more and more cases in our neck of the woods as well. I like the idea of the bag of dictionaries, although it’s not feasible in every interpretation scenario :).

  2. Gio Lester says:

    Hi, Cris! Thanks for the description and for the links. The most challenging part, for me, is committing the new terms to memory. For agriculture related research for Brazil, I like the IBAMA site (it has links to other related sites: http://ibama.gov.br) and the library at Ministério da Agricultura (http://www.agricultura.gov.br/biblioteca/acesso-as-informacoes).

    But you hit the nail on the head: the research preceding the event is a very important step in the preparation process.



  3. Joe says:

    Fascinating blog post, Cris. As an outsider, it gives great insight into the lives of my friends in the terminology world

  4. Hello! I am a colleague living in Rome, Italy. I have been working for FAO quite often. Prof Graziano da Silva has been elected General Director of FAO last June 2011 and me and my booth mates expect portuguese will be more requested now, even though it is not an official Un language. We will provide some glossaries and FAO terminology. Your Blog is quite usefull and I will ask my students to read it carefully! Thanks!
    Paula Queiroz

  5. Pingback: Bringing Terminology Management to Center Stage | The ALL in Portuguese Blog

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