Lost in translation?


My first experience with the translation system made me quite aware of how lucky I am to speak the language that so many people present in at this conference. It is not easy to listen to the translation when the speaker can also be heard. Also, if the speaker speaks quickly, you can hear the hurried tone of the translator as she tries to keep up, tries to find a place to breathe, tries to find the right word to use when all the while the speaker moves forward. She stumbles, she catches up, she backs up for a second. All of this I am aware of while the content of the speech only comes to me in waves.

On the other hand, the translation headphones were exceptionally helpful when listening to a speaker that is speaking in my own language. There is no static, no delay, and the speaker’s voice is that much clearer because all the normal background noise of people moving about is silenced. All I can here is the speaker. This makes me think I should always use the translation headphones even if I don’t need the speech to be translated.

The other strange thing that happened is at one point the translator started translating the speaker into a different language. I switched through all the channels to listen to the many different languages that was being translated in and eventually I returned to the English channel and by then it was working, but I missed the beginning of the presentation. Granted, it was probably only about a minute, but imagine how difficult it would be if these small glitches had to be dealt with for every speech, every seminar, every day. How would this experience effect my overall satisfaction of the conference? How would this experience effect how I saw myself; would I only see myself as other? How would this experience effect my ability to attend all the conference seminars when just one seminar with the translation system made me a little tired? These are just some of the questions that went through my head as I tried to pay attention to the speaker and if I’m thinking all these thought, how am I getting anything out of the speech at all? 

It made me realize firsthand how powerful language is and how it can be used to enhance the divide between people. If this one experience is this difficult, what makes me think people would be willing to patiently surf the web that is primarily in English if they don’t speak English? How can services be relevant to users if they don’t read or have some other barrier between them and the knowledge the library is storing? These are questions that are often posed, but I’m grateful for this experience because it shows me personally how language becomes economics, becomes quality of life, becomes one’s way of seeing truths in the world.  

3 thoughts on “Lost in translation?

  1. Although I didn’t needed translation it’s an invaluable service and a publication of the recordings would definitely support IFLAs oureach. The German interpreters are always invited to the German social event of the Goethe institute.

  2. Full respect to the translators at IFLA 2010 and to the profession in general, they are doing a very, very important job and share the values of us librarians. I wonder if the translations are recorded and published? It would be very easy to expand the reach of the conference over time, space and languages by publishing the translations!

    I tried an english to spanish translation once yesterday, and it worked very well for me. Thank you translators🙂

    • Absolutely, full respect to the translators. My post was definitely a reflection about my own inadequacies, and not meant to take away anything from what the translators are doing. They are very important and vital to the process.

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