In many events where interpretation services are needed, interpreters are called to become specialists on the main topic of the conference: government and narcotics, defense and national security, agriculture, aviation, medicine, business, etc. These are just some of the events where I’ve interpreted, but that’s what I’m going to call the hard side of the interpreting. Not that the conference topic is difficult, because the topic could truly be very mundane. And then, there’s the soft side of interpreting.
When an American presenter meets a Brazilian audience, after all the hard side of interpretation is rendered, there’s a moment where soft content needs to be exchanged. I’m talking about all the pleasantries that still need to be interpreted: anything at all, ranging from weather, clothes and children, how many medals Brazil won in the Olympics, and of course, the World Cup, the Olympics, tried and true topics par excellence: Bossa Nova, beaches in Rio, etc. Meanwhile, Brazilian audiences like to ask questions on American basketball, football, best places to go get cheap electronics and computers, the presidential campaign, Vegas and New York. You guessed, it, this is a conversation that starts with stereotypes and may move to a much more meaningful level, where jokes and personal stories are shared.
The way I see my mission as an interpreter is that regardless of the soft topic at hand, I need to make both parties sound as natural as possible, and help them communicate to build rapport and commonality, genuine interest and empathy – all, of course, in 5 minutes. Jokes that don’t translate well may be made, and cultural faux-pas might happen.
Facilitating personal connections at a conference requires me to bring my whole self to the occasion, but yet, I’m called to be discrete and impartial. Kind of a mix of a matchmaker, broker and liaison, all wrapped up in a bilingual-bridge-crosser. I ❤ my job as an interpreter!