The Kindness of Translators

I recently had the honor of participating in an Encounter on Occupational Health, in Guadalajara Mexico. Its goal was to talk through a position on occupational health policies for Latin America.

I was one of three people participating in the conference who were not fluent in Spanish. The other two were from Japan, and were, fortunately, fluent in English. We were keenly interested in the conference topic and were committed to contributing to the discussion. To do that, we needed help.

There were two types of help. During the large format meetings, two women provided simultaneous translation that was transmitted through earpieces. This was a distant relationship, but a very helpful one. Their efforts allowed the three of us to track the conference proceedings and allowed the other participants to follow the three of us when we spoke to the group in English. Their work had the extra effort required by the range of dialect, word use, and speaking rhythm that varies considerably across Spanish speaking Americas.

During the small format meetings and the informal conversations, we were accompanied by students at the University of Guadalajara who translated conversations. One translator majored in psychology, giving her some familiarity with the lingo of the conference. The others majored in tourism or international relations which left them somewhat at a loss with words like “epidemiological.” We all helped out one another with some of the more jargon-intensive exchanges.

Translation is cognitively intense work. It requires closely concentrated attention. It requires attending to every word that someone utters, extracting the essential meaning, and conveying that to another person. The first step alone is a tough order for a lot of people. Completing all three steps is a major event.

So, I want to convey my thanks to Maryam, Sarai, Nydia, and Monica for helping me to form some working relationships with potential for great things in the future.

Who helps you to connect with others at work, on the road, or even at home?

There are times when we could all use some help.

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