A salute to simultaneous translators | Sunday Observer

A salute to simultaneous translators

9 February, 2020

In the early nineteen sixties, the Head of State of a tiny nation was to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. All eyes of the delegates and those of a few Heads of Government were on him. The auditorium was overflowing. The speaker walked up to the rostrum. He bowed to the assembly. A standing ovation, and he turned to the translators’ enclosure. Then he spoke. “Distinguished Heads of Nations and delegates, without our lovely set of translators, up there would never be a United Nations.”

It would be another ‘Tower of Babel’. According to the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, the people of Babel had started to build a gigantic tower to reach the abode of God. God was peeved. Suddenly those working on the tower began to speak in different tongues. Confusion and unlimited tempers resulted when people could not understand each other.

That was the end of the ‘Project tower of Babel’. So without our lovely simultaneous translators, the organization would be yet another Tower of Babel. Our translators have lifted the curse of Babel from this assembly.” The assembly hall resounded with the ovation by the delegates to applaud the translators and the speaker.

The role of the translator is absolutely indispensable in the daily functioning of the world. They are a vital component at conferences, be they international or national diplomatic deliberations between two countries As much as the role played by simultaneous translators enclosed in cubicles striving to convey the accurate translations to a multilingual audience, translators sit behind distinguished persons, listening alertly.

The translator should be knowledgeable in both languages and have a general background of the subjects discussed. Above all, they should have the unique ability to transfer the feelings, jokes, subdued humour, puns and interesting experience exchanged by their subjects, keeping in mind that those waiting for their translator are quite competent in the language of the other. They should be empathetic. Any lapse in their translations could cause diplomatic upheavals.

A vital role

A tour guide or even an ordinary citizen with a fair knowledge of a foreign language could be a simultaneous translator. No super class computer could ever dream of performing the duties of a simultaneous translator. The former has no emotions. The latter has the unique virtue of being able to sympathize. Empathize and go in to the very depths of the heart of a person and use his brain, with pride.

It is indeed an exciting profession. There was a Sri Lankan Anglican Rev. Father in the early 1950s who could read, speak and deliver a sermon in Sinhala, Tamil, English, French, Spanish and Greek, a simultaneous translator par excellence.

The translator had played a vital role in the history of the world. Without them man would be living in the well of ignorance.

The words of our teachers have been translated into thousands of tongues. Epics have been translated and given the world a glimpse of literary excellence in ancient writings. Libraries around the world are full of translations of these masterpieces. The Mahawansa, Bhagavath Geetha, Tripitaka, Bible, Quran, are all written in many languages. So are popular novels and Hansards.

These translators of books and documents have the time, books to refer, access to dictionaries, atlases, bibliographies and reference books. They have the privilege of using the telephone and the internet for information.

Not so our terrestrial wizards who have been blessed to bind nations with knowledge, so that Mother Earth on which we live will never ever have to bear the weight of a foundation of another Tower of Babel. Without you dear simultaneous or instant translators, where would mankind be? We salute you!