Olympic Interpreting

Palm trees inertly witness a lively conversation in foreign tongues on a sidewalk in Sochi, Russia. Big mounds of snow muffle another one in the adjoining ski resort, well above the altitude of the Black sea-side city. The athletes are present at last and the liveliness in the air is a combination of rosy cheeks, healthy people, and sheer excitement, the ingredients of any Winter Olympics game. Amid outcry that the brand-new infrastructure and athlete accommodations are not perfectly designed and still unfinished, the games starting Friday should turn the focus to the stadiums and snow complexes. The conversationalists of earlier will be replacing their wit with speed and prowess while television sets around the world clamor the news. Yet what had that biathlon sprinter, or even that snowboarder been talking about before they snatched their respective gold medals? The professionalism of the interpreting staff assisting dialogue between the delegations is certainly noteworthy.

The commended amateurism of the Olympians is interspersed with interpreters bearing high credentials such as the U.N certified team that often accompanies Bill Weber to the games. Weber, himself an interpreter, was in charge of assisting communication between the languages of participating countries at numerous past Olympics. His successor will be facing 88 delegations in the coming games, however the most obscure countries usually opt to speak in a second language. Despite these efforts, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, German, Serbian, and an array of others will be flying in and out of interpreters’ ears and mouths, and far from effortlessly. In fact, the task is quite difficult keeping the pace of lively athletes that shell out their emotions quickly in anticipation of returning to their lodge’s fireplace. Lengthy press conferences with questions and answers shooting from all directions is another example of fast dialogue and challenging conditions for the interpreters.

And the Sochi event is quite different in nature than the reports, treatises, and declarations being flung around in U.N conference halls or other multinational organizations. First, it lasts the better part of a month, counting media coverage before and after the 16 official game days. This is much longer than normal interpreter escapades, especially when dealing with unfamiliar terminology. This is the other major aspect that drives interpreters to educate themselves on athletic lingo, from information about sports rules and equipment to information about medical supplies and steroids. Indeed, the press has often hammered athletes in interviews about doping themselves, and will not relent this year.

Of course there is always room for the more eclectic interpreters. Some of them volunteer to don police caps and assist languages engaged in security measures. Others translate from experience as they recall participating in a sport themselves. Still others, tend to telephones at the call center, providing guests with the information necessary for a comfortable vacation. In total there will be upwards of a 1,000 interpreters (a record and about 1/5 the number of athletes) which constitutes a small army training just as hard as the Olympians for the crunch time. This crunch time has, in reality, been reached as the first on-site reports are already being diffused to eager spectators. And for the tourist that is as tardy in purchasing their plane ticket as builders in their completion of Sochi hotels, you must speak English, French, or Russian, the three official languages, or you will be using their high-quality services!

For an overview of our translation expertise, visit our interpretation service page.

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Category: Alpha Omega News

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