Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympics Interpreting

Watched the Vancouver Winter Olympics on TV this week. Spanish TV uses native Spanish commentators, so no interpreting except during an occasional snatch of interview translated by the commentators themselves. But it brought back recollections of my own three-week stint at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. My most vivid memory is of the evening at the Montreal Forum when little Nadia Comaneci scored her perfect 10, the first Olympics gymnast ever to do so. I wasn’t there as an athlete (ha! ha!) but as a Conference Interpreter - the high point of my professional interpreting career. I have other stories to tell of the Montreal Olympics, but they concern Professional Interpreters and so this blog isn’t the place for them.

Instead, I want to draw attention to the army of other interpreters at the Games, the Liaison Interpreters. Unlike us conference interpreters huddled away in our booths, they wear smart uniforms and are to be seen walking around everywhere at all such international events. Some are temporarily professionals, some are volunteers. But they aren’t engaged as interpreters and they aren’t recognized as such. They’re called hostesses and hosts. Of course they have a lot of other duties besides interpreting, but they usually have to be bilingual, and it’s not sufficiently appreciated that translating and interpreting are often anciliary parts of other jobs (bilingual secretary, for example). For the Beijing Olympics, it was announced that
Members of international delegations in Beijing for the Olympic Games will be served in 55 different languages, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.
In Montreal the hostesses and hosts were provided with pocket glossaries, one for each major sport, compiled by the Quebec Government's Office de la Langue Fran├žaise.

An event like the Olympics gives spin-off, and so the interpreting jobs may be outside the Olympics organization itself. Here’s part of a job ad by a private Vancouver firm:
To ensure the success of the entire Olympic Games experience, CoSport establishes a Hospitality Desk at all of our hotels staffed with knowledgeable CoSport employees to assist with any questions or requests and to ensure the comfort of our guests. If a package includes hosting services, guests will be escorted throughout the day by a bilingual host/hostess who can describe the history behind the many historical sites of Vancouver and provide updates on the latest Games information.

So with all those Liaison Interpreters around, why are Conference Interpreters needed? For one thing for the press conferences that follow each event. But few people realize how much conference work goes on behind the scenes before the Games even open. It’s an opportunity for the world governing bodies of each sport to get together. I said I knew about soccer, which in those days few Canadians played, so I was assigned to a week of meetings of FIFA, as well as to a tense meeting of the International Olympics Committee over Taiwan‘s participation as “China“.

To be continued.

For Nadia Comaneci, see Wikipedia.

Cosport. Welcome to the web site of the official hospitality services provider for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

55 languages spoken at Beijing Olympics. All About China, February 7, 2008.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The Taiwan controversy. June 16, 1976.

1 comment:

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