Interpreter ‘at War’

I watched the BBC documentary ‘Our War’ last Tuesday. It was footage taken with helmet cameras by soldiers fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Very shocking and thought-provoking programme. Among other things, what particularly interested me was the mentioning of interpreters on the front line.

The battalion in the programme was responsible for training the Afghan National Army (ANA). When coming into contact with the Taliban, one ANA fired without Positively Identifying the Enemy (PID) first and a little girl was shot. PID means when confronting with the enemy, the soldiers have to be absolutely sure that it’s the Taliban before they are allowed to fire a weapon. On the recording, the British soldier yelled ‘PID. PID first!’ And I was just wondering if I were the interpreter and needed to do it into, in my case, Chinese, how would I do it. Would I just stick to the English abbreviation? Or would I invent something in Chinese that’s equally short?

I can imagine working as a military interpreter on the front line, the most important is to be quick and accurate. Note-taking? Absolutely not. Eye-contact and gesture? Probably unnecessary. I know there are military universities in China that provide interpreting and translating course. Anyone heard of such courses here?

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

14 Comments

  1. avatar

    Dear Eva,
    Very nice to read your blog. I also partly admire, partly dread the work of military interpreters. As “just” a conference interpreter I’m not sure I would be up to it, the working environment and conditions are quite different. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the Chinese market or training so I’m afraid I cannot give any tips.
    I blog about interpreting at http://interpreter.blogs.se
    Best,
    Tolken

    Reply
    • avatar

      I think the basics are the same regardless of language combinations. I sometimes compare military interpreters as military surgeons. No time for a perfect suture, just need to get the work done as quickly as possible. Even if there will be a scar, the life is saved.
      Thanks for the contribution. I’ve link you on my page :)

      Reply
  2. avatar

    It is crazy to think about issues like this… These are the sort of things that I would never think about, but once it is brought up it kind of blows my mind. I guess I’d have to speak Chinese to understand why this is a big issue… Surely they have shortened versions of wording…

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    • avatar

      Chinese language is generally more concise and economical pronunciation-wise (for example, one syllable one word). But when it comes to abbreviation, English is definitely better.

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      • avatar

        I do not see any problem in ipnertreting for a patient of the opposite gender in situations like this. I did it a number of times ( prostate problems, incontinence, flatulence etc.) and the only thing I had to do was to prepare better in terms of terminology and understanding the medical problem. I think an interpreter must be ready for this sort of situations even at GP’s appointments because the patients may first start sharing with GP about this sort of problems. In our culture (Russian) it is normal for a woman to be examined by a male doctor and a man by a female doctor. In this case the professional qualifications mean more than the person’s gender. Often the best gynecologists are found among male doctors. I think the same principle can be applied to ipnertreting it is part of being professional to be able to interpret in situations like this.

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    • avatar

      Technically the gender of the iterrpeetnr should not make a difference, just as the examining doctor’s gender should not make a difference. But I would say it is a more complex issue than that which involves cultural background, assimilation and age of the client. As an iterrpeetnr my task is to remain neutral and pass the message in its truest form. And the message can only be passed on in its truest form if it is clear, straightforward and unambiguous. As soon as the client/patient is trying to find terminology to camouflage their own discomfort one is facing a very different task indeed. My experience is that I have sat in immigration hearings where the case has been adjourned because the appellant decided that her rape case should after all be discussed in a all female court (that option was available to her all the time but when it came to the crunch she just broke down).In answer to your question: yes I would agree to interpret however I would be prepared for the client/patient to change their mind half way through the discussion or procedure and seek a male iterrpeetnr.

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    • avatar

      Hi LeoAs for your question re gedner on medical assignments personally, it doesn’t matter with me.Hi LeoRe your question on gedner on medical assignments, personally, it does’t worry me.In terms of awkwardness, I think a lot of this depends on the interpreter’s past experiences, age, education,up bringing, cultural background, people’s skills, and the ability to deal with various kinds of situation. In other words, the interpreter’s behaviour can often make the patient to feel less awkward and a bit more at ease.When an interpreter takes on a medical assignment, I feel, she/he should fit in with the medical setting like being part of the medical team. The whole objective of the exercise is to deliver a top professional job just like the doctors, nurses and the medical staff of both gedners.

      Reply
  3. avatar

    interpretation can be quite a big issue nowadays.
    A good needs a lot of qualities

    Reply
    • avatar

      The onus is on the client as well. It is very imtnpraot to ask the client if he/she is happy to have an opposite sex interpret.I have had several situations such as this. In majority of the cases the male patients are very happy to have any interpreter4. For Indian women it is a no no.Indian women do not like male interpreters for personal issues such as smear, gynacological, breast screens general check by the physian etc where ever4 the female body is exposed to the male interpreter. Y^ou will also find that females do not like to talk openly and do not express themselves openly in front of the male. As for females interpreters interpreting for males I dont see an issue. Males are very happy with me because they like my high standard of interpreting.

      Reply
    • avatar

      I shall engage with this aegssnmint depending on lots of factors. If the matter is serious and the treatment is urgent then I would do it otherwise if it is not life threatenning than we will try and match up with the same gender interpreter. Culture plays a major role in interpreting for a client of the opposite gender especially if it is to do with genital area. I will choose not to do any aegssnmint as such hence the need to further train both male and female interpreters from different ethnicities. If it is life threatening and you can’t find any other interpreter, I will do it otherwise find some one else with the same gender.

      Reply
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