Thursday, August 27, 2009

Church Interpreters 4: Simultaneous

In 1994, I received a request from a branch of the Worldwide Church of God (now called Grace Communion International) to give a workshop to their interpreters. I’d never heard of the WCG, but I learned that it’s a California-based evangelical Christian denomination with about 50,000 members and 900 congregations in a hundred countries and territories. The congregation that made the request was the one in Ottawa, Canada. Ottawa is a bilingual city, situated on the boundary between the Anglophone province of Ontario and the Francophone province of Quebec.

How do the churches in Ottawa deal with two languages? The biggest, the Roman Catholic Church, can afford the luxury of separate buildings for each language community. Thus, on the campus of the University of Ottawa, which used to be a Catholic university, there are two really large churches run by the same Catholic religious order. A French Canadian translator friend who was born on the campus told me that as a child he was forbidden to attend mass at the English-speaking church. When the Francophone church burnt down a few years ago, it was decided to rebuild it rather than combine with the remaining church. An example of the ‘two solitudes’ of Canadian culture.

Smaller denominations, however, can’t afford the luxury of separate churches. One solution is to hold services in the same church at different hours in each language. Another, rarer solution is – interpreters.

When I received the request from the WCG, I jumped to the conclusion –perhaps because of my African experience – that they wanted a workshop in consecutive interpreting. They immediately disabused me. This was Canada, this was a technologically sophisticated country where people were used to the speed and convenience of simultaneous interpreting. The WCG not only had the interpreters, their church was prepared with all the necessary equipment and wiring. And who were those interpreters? Bilingual members of the congregation itself who had volunteered for the task and then were, so to speak, ‘thrown in at the deep end’. Well, a great many simultaneous interpreters of my generation – perhaps most of us, even the professionals – were thrown in at the deep end. You fear you’re drowning, and then you sink or swim.

So I gave them the workshop. I was sceptical beforehand about their quality, but I needn’t have been. Some of them had already been at it for ten years. They had no formal training, but they had companions who acted as models and as close mentors; and as a result, they were Expert Translators within their field. Indeed, they knew the terminology and phraseology of their religion far better than I did. I gave them a few ‘tricks of the trade’, but they didn’t need another workshop.

This concludes the series of postings on Church Interpreters. The previous postings were on July 29 and August 3, 9, 11.

1 comment:

  1. See, church interpreters aren't as bad as people make out.