As an interpreter, you have to learn how to REALLY listen to people and convey EMOTION. And you start paying attention to speaker’s quirks and eccentricities. Some speakers are nasal, some are funny. Some have a thick, unintelligible accent, others have amazing voices and personalities and stories to tell and can pack the house. And because you’ve learned how to listen to people, you slowly start learning how to produce different vocal effects and mimic people. There is a bit of acting in interpreting, that’s for sure. Until you really have to DO IT:)!

I will call today’s speaker Joe (not his real name) and he is talking about leadership and stages of leadership and the importance of leadership for this particular group. Joe is enthusiastic and passionate about his presentation, has great empathy for the Brazilian Delegation and is very funny. He has a strong voice, he’s very intelligible, keeps a comfortable pace for interpreting and keeps things fun. So far, this is going to be a perfect, easy presentation to interpret. Until, of course, he has an idea :).

During the break, Joe approaches the interpreters and tells us about his plan of presenting a 3-minute video, during my turn to interpret. The video shows the amazing Morgan Freeman, cleaning up the failed high school district on Lean On Me. Unfortunately, at that point in time, I couldn’t even hate myself for not having watched the film yet :(! At this point, I should frankly ‘just keep calm and interpret’.


– Can I really keep up with the highly intense mood of the clip, which is so needed by my speaker to make a point about leadership to the Brazilian audience?

– What if I don’t understand names or a word here and there?

– What if I can’t keep up? After all, this is show business and many more words per minute than a regular speech.

In retrospect, I could have:

– Asked my booth mate to interpret

– Asked the speaker to pause the video (but how about my fear of killing the cinematic effect of that beautiful thing called the seventh art?)

– Gone to the bathroom with my smartphone and watched the clip on Youtube.

Well, the break is short, and here we are. The beginning of the scene is fair, but as tension builds up, I’m really earning my fee as an interpreter, as I attempt to keep the mood and the emotion. As the scene unfolds, I’m thinking fast to try and capture ‘hoodlum’, ‘miscreant’ and ‘avenging angel’ and, of course, the brilliant “HNIC” (Head Nigger in Charge), in Portuguese. OK, I’m not going to lie and tell you that my interpretation was perfect, as I missed a few names and hesitated on other concepts. But in retrospect, I think I’ve done a good job to convey the overall meaning of the scene. It would’ve been perfect had he showed it a second time :)!

Think you can do it? Try to interpret this scene:

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