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  • In 1956, during a diplomatic reception in Moscow, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Western Bloc ambassadors, "My vas pokhoronim!".

    1956 年一場莫斯科的外交晚宴中,蘇維埃政權的領導人 Nikita Khrushchev 對西方集團的代表們說「My vas pokhoronim (俄文)」。

  • His interpreter rendered that into English as, "We will bury you!"


  • This statement sent shockwaves through the Western world, heightening the tension between the Soviet Union and the US who were in the thick of the Cold War.


  • Some believe this incident alone set East/West relations back a decade.


  • As it turns out, Khrushchev's remark was translated a bit too literally .

    但後人發現,口譯員僅依字面上的意思,翻譯了 Khrushchev 的話。

  • Given the context, his words should have been rendered as, "We will live to see you buried," meaning that Communism would outlast Capitalism, a less threatening comment.


  • Though the intended meaning was eventually clarified, the initial impact of Khrushchev's apparent words put the world on a path that could have led to nuclear armageddon.

    雖然後來終究釐清了原先的意涵,但最初 Khrushchev 字面上的意思,差點促成了核戰世界末日。

  • So now, given the complexities of language and cultural exchange, how does this sort of thing not happen all the time?


  • Much of the answer lies with the skill and training of interpreters to overcome language barriers.


  • For most of history, interpretation was mainly done consecutively, with speakers and interpreters making pauses to allow each other to speak.


  • But after the advent of radio technology, a new simultaneous interpretations system was developed in the wake of World War II.


  • In the simultaneous mode, interpreters instantaneously translate a speaker's words into a microphone while he speaks without pauses, those in the audience can choose the language in which they want to follow.


  • On the surface, it all looks seamless, but behind the scenes, human interpreters work incessantly to ensure every idea gets across as intended.


  • And that is no easy task.


  • It takes about two years of training for already fluent bilingual professionals to expand their vocabulary and master the skills necessary to become a conference interpreter.


  • To get used to the unnatural task of speaking while they listen, students shadow speakers and repeat their every word exactly as heard in the same language.


  • In time, they begin to paraphrase what is said, making stylistic adjustments as they go.


  • At some point, a second language is introduced.


  • Practicing in this way creates new neural pathways in the interpreter's brain, and the constant effort of reformulation gradually becomes second nature.


  • Over time and through much hard work, the interpreter masters a vast array of tricks to keep up with speed, deal with challenging terminology, and handle a multitude of foreign accents.


  • They may resort to acronyms to shorten long names, choose generic terms over specific, or refer to slides and other visual aides.


  • They can even leave a term in the original language, while they search for the most accurate equivalent.


  • Interpreters are also skilled at keeping aplomb in the face of chaos.


  • Remember, they have no control over who is going to say what, or how articulate the speaker will sound.


  • A curveball can be thrown at any time.


  • Also, they often perform to thousands of people and in very intimidating settings, like the UN General Assembly.


  • To keep their emotions in check, they carefully prepare for an assignment, building glossaries in advance, reading voraciously about the subject matter, and reviewing previous talks on the topic.


  • Finally, interpreters work in pairs.


  • While one colleague is busy translating incoming speeches in real time, the other gives support by locating documents, looking up words, and tracking down pertinent information.


  • Because simultaneous interpretation requires intense concentration, every 30 minutes, the pair switches roles.


  • Success is heavily dependent on skillful collaboration.


  • Language is complex, and when abstract or nuanced concepts get lost in translation, the consequences may be catastrophic.


  • As Margaret Atwood famously noted, "War is what happens when language fails."

    正如 Margaret Atwood 的名言:「當溝通失效,戰爭將一觸即發。」

  • Conference interpreters of all people are aware of that and work diligently behind the scenes to make sure it never does.


In 1956, during a diplomatic reception in Moscow, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Western Bloc ambassadors, "My vas pokhoronim!".

1956 年一場莫斯科的外交晚宴中,蘇維埃政權的領導人 Nikita Khrushchev 對西方集團的代表們說「My vas pokhoronim (俄文)」。

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