With my Metu university mechanical engineering finished in 1973 I first worked as an engineer in a public machinery manufacturing plant for eleven years. During this period, many foreign delegations visited the factory. They asked for price for the manufacture in accordance with their designs. We had several hours of meetings in the plant’s meeting room. I did simultaneous translation in meetings and interviews. I wrote the proposal letters, prepared them in English and Turkish and had them signed, we signed contracts within the limits of the possibilities of the public institution, we received orders, we manufactured and delivered. We collected money.
Then I worked for Turkish American joint venture companies, we also held meetings with buyers and sellers. This time, I was the simultaneous technical translator of the foreign general manager. We have read and reviewed many pages of contract documents, we have prepared English proposal documents and letters.
If the job is just translating the written text, it is relatively easy. If you have difficulty, you use a dictionary. Nowadays, “google translate” is used. However, if the job to be done is instant fast improvised simultaneous interpretation, you do not have the right to waste a second, you do not have the luxury of skipping words. Verbal, fast, instantaneous simultaneous interpretation is very difficult. When you’re done, there’s nothing left in your memory. You don’t remember much of what was spoken, if you have the luxury of sitting down and taking notes, you write down what was said in main headings, then fill in the gaps.
Management also asks you to write a meeting note “minutes of meeting” and distribute it to those attending the meeting for confirmation of its eligibility. Especially in American companies, written meeting notes are very important. Beforehand, confidentiality agreements are signed between the parties, and the CVs of the participants are sent to each other. The agenda is shared before the meeting. It is agreed in advance on written documents.
There are two main types of translation: simultaneous and interpretation. Interpretation translation relies more on the ability to synthesize; the interpreter needs to remember what was said and have the ability to summarize key highlights in a discussion. Simultaneous interpreter is more exciting and more adrenaline focused. This type of translation requires quick reflexes, intense concentration and a good working knowledge of the topic being covered. In addition, translators must not only have a good command of the languages they are working with, but must also be able to conjure up a word or phrase as soon as it is pronounced. They cannot afford to hesitate.
The translator’s technique is to identify keywords while conveying the speech and link the discourse from one keyword to another. Keywords help the translator remember what was said, while focusing on how best to translate the general theme. As a result, the more familiar the translator is with the keywords and their associated meanings, the more their confidence will increase, and this can be immediately felt in the way the conversation is conducted. Keywords obviously vary from one domain to another. Even in the same field like diplomacy, there are different keywords for different topics or situations. So how will translators recognize these words as keywords and familiarize themselves with the general framework these words represent? Will they transfer?
Usually, these expressions pop up frequently at a conference. However, a translator should research other sources of information beforehand. It is important for a translator working in the diplomatic field to closely follow the political, social and cultural events in the world. Resources for these may include local and foreign newspapers, magazines about current events, news publications and a very good knowledge of history and geography. It is important to have backup material from the conference itself, as it will help the translator better focus on the issues being discussed. It is essential to have conversations a few days in advance to better anticipate the conference and avoid potential problems with vocabulary, expression and general attitudes. For example, if a hot topic, the Ukraine war, NATO, G7, G20 summits will be discussed, it is useful to know that sparks can fly. But keywords are not static. They develop with political events and developments. Nowadays, we hardly hear the old slogans like superpowers, polarization, blocs, but other words like ethnic cleansing, money laundering, free trade zone have practically become common usage at international conferences. Knowing the origins and historical and social connotations of such terms helps to settle the discussion and helps avoid misunderstanding by mispronunciation, heavy accents, or sometimes misuse of the word.
Trust in simultaneous interpreters is essential at diplomatic conferences. Fundamental tensions that may arise between delegates or country representatives can be exacerbated if interpreters are not trusted. In fact, in some major tension situations, delegates prefer to speak or translate themselves in a language they don’t really master, rather than go through an interpreter. Most heads of state prefer to speak English to each other without an interpreter. Putin and Merkel spoke German or Russian between themselves. In public or at press conferences, each leader speaks in their native language, waiting for their speech to be translated into the other language. Speeches are recorded in audio and written. It is therefore important to ensure that translators selected have the knowledge, experience and caliber to deal with situations where tact and skill are important.
An interpreter who has lived abroad for many years and speaks a foreign language like a mother tongue may have difficulty speaking in his native language. Therefore, it would be better and more reliable to assign professionally trained diplomat translators to international negotiations.
Diplomacy is not just about diplomats and is not just a feature of diplomatic conferences. Other types of discussion, such as religion, culture, heritage, sales, marketing, may require such skills. Interpreters should know how to convey a message using discretion, without resorting to censorship, where it is not their role. In diplomacy, it is very important to make instantaneous oral and simultaneous translations, to keep written minutes and to publish them when the time comes, because the translators feel that they are making a contribution to history in this process.