Polyglot: Wrestling with Words

Kató Lomb describes some of the difficulties of being a simultaneous translator:

When a speaker recites intricately polished, long sentences from his script and we have to improvise, then a wrestling match between speaker and interpreter ensues. All we can do is wrestle in the Greco-Roman style while the speaker does so in a “catch-as-catch-can” way. In this struggle, we are always defeated.

… Anyway, only the speaker is allowed to stop. (“A profound mind, searching for the most suitable form to express his thoughts!”) If it is the interpreter who falls silent, then the sudden silence will awake even the delegates peacefully  napping in their headphones. (“There are amateurs sitting in the booths; they don’t know the terms.”)

—Kató Lomb, Polyglot: How I Learn Languages [Download PDF]


2 comments on “Polyglot: Wrestling with Words

  1. Hi Sylvia: Interesting analogy. What does “simultaneous translator” mean? Is that like when a person simultaneously translates a speaker's words into sign language for an audience? Susan

  2. Sylvia says:

    Hi Susan! I actually used the wrong word there, I meant “simultaneous interpreter,” which is a person who translates from one language to another into a microphone while someone is speaking. People listen to the translation on headphones, as you see at the UN and other big international meetings. Apparently it is so demanding that they work in pairs and switch every 15 or 20 minutes. It sounds like an endlessly fascinating career, though.

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