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His Majesty, The Interpreter: The Fascinating World of Simultaneous Translation

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Original title:Sua Majestade, O Intérprete
By: Ewandro Magalhães, Jr.
Publisher:Parábola Editorial
ISBN-13: 978-85-88456-59-4
Number of pages: 232
Price (in Brazil): R$19.90

Arlene M. Kelly photoAt a meeting of the Portuguese Language Division some time ago, Tereza Braga, a former administrator of the Division, sang the praises of a book written in Portuguese about the translation and interpreting professions. When Gabe Bokor asked me to review a copy of it, I jumped at the chance. Expectations were high for this small volume whose title translates: "His Majesty, the Interpreter: the Fascinating World of Simultaneous Translation." And, overall, my expectations were not disappointed.

The skills required for interpreting and translation are not identical.
Ewandro Magalhães Jr., in his biographical recounting of his entry into this fascinating world, reveals a path taken by the majority of working interpreters in the world today. He fell into it, unaware of the rivalries, the efforts to professionalize the field both through professional organizations and professionals lobbying for and staffing training programs. He soon discovered that there are pitfalls and he has taken steps to become trained through his recent (2008) classes at the Monterey Institute.

Thankfully, in an early chapter aptly called: "Before They Crucify Me," the author, Ewandro Magalhães, Jr., proceeds to explain his interchangeable use of simultaneous translation and simultaneous interpretation to mean the same act. My own preference would be to maintain a somewhat more purist view here since one of the T&I professions' basic problems concerns understanding just what it is we do and how we do it all. And if one of our own perpetuates a basic misconception, our professional image takes another blow for inaccuracy. Perhaps, it is the conflict between the conference interpreter (Mr. Magalhães' works mainly in conference interpreting) and the court interpreter. Many hold the opinion that court interpreting has a higher level of accuracy. Be that as it may, the skills required for interpreting and translation are not identical, and I would have preferred to have the situation explained in a footnote, and of course, change the book title a tad.

From his start as an interpreter, Mr. Magalhães' career illustrates another major hazard of our profession: assumptions. The others (non-T&I professionals) seem to assume that interpreters are available at a moment's notice without any preparation of prior notice. In Mr. Magalhães' case, he truly was baptized by fire: his first major assignment fell out of the sky and put him between the president of (what he calls) the Parliament and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. He (Mr. M) was able to handle the small talk, had a bit of anxiety with the more technical aspect, and was beginning to feel comfortable as the jokes began when the president of the Parliament presented the Prince with the gift of a book about the Amazon Region. Ewandro chose not to relay the Prince's comment concerning what remains of that tropical area. Here, another clear division between conference, or in this case, more correctly diplomatic interpreting, and court interpreting. In court, we do not get to decide what to add and what to omit.

This experience launched him into a trajectory that has given him rare opportunities. Those recounted in his small, but well-written tome show him to be a thoughtful, reflective interpreter. He recognized the need for training, and as he touches upon in his book, the need for collegiality instead of rabid competition in the profession.

Traveling with Evandro through his experiences, philosophical detours and evolution as a professional leaves me looking forward to a second volume which he says he is preparing; this next one deals with training and I can't wait to read it!

Published in April 2009.

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