The Jerusalem Post of the 4th September had a really interesting opinion piece, written by a former pilot in the Israeli Air Force, which included this memorable phrase: “Choosing an unprofessional translator without the appropriate credentials is the equivalent of having an appendectomy performed by someone who studied medicine by watching the medical drama ‘House.’”
Essentially, the article was a diatribe against sloppy, unprofessional translation, and especially against government agencies which hire translators/interpreters on the basis of cost rather than quality.
One particular story caught our attention. The quote below is taken directly from this article and needs no explanation.
“In 2012, I inspected the simultaneous interpretation at an international conference. In my left ear, in Hebrew, I heard: “This model can hardly be seen as a representative of the phenomenon we are exploring,” while in my right ear, in English, it was: “I – eh – think that this – eh – this is very very – eh – interesting.” After a short while, the Russian representative said: “They call this interpretation? Do they think I’m stupid?” Sure enough, he was soon gone, along with others who had originally planned to spend the entire day.”
On other occasions, the author, Reuven Ben-Shalom, had to re-write a formal, military document because it contained not just basic mistakes (systematic instead of systemic, deadline instead of timeline) but also insensitive translations which would make the document less likely to receive a sympathetic welcome in some international quarters.
He then recounts how during the recent visit of the pope to Israel, the firm chosen to provide technical services was not up to the job. There was no booth, the audio equipment didn’t work and no one, including the pope, could hear the interpretation. Ben-Shalom, rightly, describes this as ‘a disgrace’.
He then tells us that subtitles in movies and TV shows are probably the most commonly seen examples of translation in Israel. As a result, punch-lines of jokes are omitted and idiomatic phrases are translated literally. He cites the example of Frank Underwood in House of Cards, saying: “If a bullet comes my way… I must be quick to duck.” The Hebrew translator got this more than a bit wrong, and the subtitles read: “I must be quick as a duck.”
A great article, and not just because I agree with its sentiments, but also because it shows how, in a dangerous and internationally sensitive part of the world, interpretation and translation really do matter and skimping on quality just for the sake of a cheaper price is not the right thing to do.
David Orr, Director, Global Connects