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Some Advice on Preparing for Simultaneous Interpretation of Current Political Themes

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When I was a young student, our math teacher showed us a trick which struck me very much. He asked us to give him twenty words, which he then would memorize without having made any notes. Then we were to ask him to repeat all words successively or at random, and our teacher would recite all words without making a mistake. I was really struck. I thought: "What a good memory our teacher has!". But the secret of the trick was very simple, and our teacher told us without reservation how he did it. As we were telling him the words, he attached ordinal numerals to them, not as numerals but as nouns, and associated them with the words given to him in semantic word combinations. For example, when we told him he first word "house," our teacher pronounced it in his head as "the First (or it is possible Mr. The First)" an then "Mr. The First left a house". In such a way anybody can memorize any word if he can understand it. It works both with the most simple words, for example, "Mr. The Seventh milked the cow" (the keyword is "cow") and with the most difficult words, for example, "Mr. The Thirteenth wrote the word 'vaticination' on the blackboard" (the keyword here is "vaticination"). After a short training period, any of you can use this trick (you may want to begin with ten words).

Each translator prepares his or her own glossary according to their knowledge of language, experience of previous translations, and a specific topic of the interpretation job.

My teacher helped me not only by showing me an interesting trick, which I then used to amuse my friends, but also gave me a valuable piece of information for my future work as an interpreter. In November last year I was invited to work as a simultaneous interpreter at a conference in Germany, organized by one our partners--the Evangelical church of Germany. (Die Tagung "Gemeinsam Europa bauen" vom 14. bis 16.11.2003, Iserlohn, Deutschland). The basic theme of this conference was the integration of the Eastern European countries into the European community. Preparing for the conference, I found out, that I would have to interpret simultaneously speeches of some professors from Belarussian universities into German. To my requests to be given the speeches typed in advance, I only received promises, but no written materials. (You know those scientists; they are always so busy... Incidentally, I understood afterwards that none of them had the full text of their speeches, because they only used short notes).

So, I had following starting points:

  1. I had to do simultaneous interpretation from Russian into German (my native language is Russian);
  2. I had no written materials;
  3. My conclusion was: I had to prepare myself for this interpretation job.

My advantage was that I was familiar with the subject of the conference and the subjects of speeches. I had spoken with all lecturers over the phone and had found out the general contents of their reports and the time each of them intended to dedicate to the report. I decided to prepare a glossary for my interpretation to gather all the vocabulary which I would need for the job (nouns, verbs and semantic word combinations). From the very beginning, I decided to prepare myself systematically.

What does systematically mean? I remembered the trick of my teacher and understood that the best thing for me to do would be to prepare a glossary on the basis of keywords. I began to reason: The theme of the conference was "Integration of Belarus into the European community"; therefore, the primary focus in this reports will be on the information about Belarus. On this basis, I wrote down the first keywords:

Belarus: Innenpolitik und Aussenpolitik

As the participants of the conference had enough general information about the country, I classified this information into "geographical location," "system of government," and so on, and I focused on those aspects which, in my opinion, would necessarily be mentioned in the reports. Thus, the internal policy of the country includes, first of all:

  • Wirtschaft [economy]
  • Gesellschaftliches Leben, politisches Leben [social structure, political structure]
  • Presse, Kultur [press, culture]

Certainly, the list could be continued, but as I mentioned. I didn't want to copy all dictionaries, and was only guided by the topic of the conference and my language knowledge.

To gather the necessary words and word combinations, I used all dictionaries which I have, materials of the previous conferences with relevant themes, articles from political magazines and newspapers, and materials from the Internet.

Under the term Wirtschaft I wrote:

  • wichtigste belarussische Wirtschaftsbereiche (Raffinerien, Chemie, Maschinen- und Fahrzeugbau), exportintensive Sektoren, schwerindustrielle Sektoren, Überalterung des Kapitalstocks, allokative Verteilung von Finanzmitteln, deflationäre Tendenzen, aussenwirtschaftliche Entwicklungen,
  • (als spezifische Besonderheiten der Wirtschaft) staatliche Kontrolle der Energieverteilungssysteme und strengt autoritäres Charakter der Politik von Lukaschenko, das staatsinterventionistisches System, die Staatswirtschaft, kraftvolle Handels- und Wirtschaftsmacht des Staates etc.
  • Bankwesen (Steuerhinterziehung, die Steuerreform implementieren, Rücknahme von Privatisierungen, Kreditvergaben, FDI (Fremde Direktinvestitionen), Portfolioinvestitionen, Leistungsbilanzüberschüsse etc.

Of course, I put down the translations of some words and word combinations, but most words I just jotted down. It is necessary to emphasize that I only wrote down those words and expressions which, in my opinion, I would use during the interpretation to make the realities of Belarus clearer to the German-speaking audience. Therefore, it is important to use current periodicals and other up-to-date sources of information to determine which accepted terms are used in the other country for describing the realities of one's native country.

In any case, I considered the latest political events in Belarus, because I recognized that I would be told about those events. So, for example, under the keyword "Gesellschaftliches Leben" I gathered the terms related to the local elections in Belarus (Kommunalwahlen in März 2003). Regarding the press "Presse," I recognized that the cases of disappearance of journalists would necessarily be mentioned (it is unfortunately part of the Belarussian reality at this time--(Falle von Verschwindenlassen).

Thus I finished my preparation of the theme Innenpolitik von Belarus [internal policies of Belarus]. In the same way, I developed my glossary on other subtopics of the general topic of my lecturers' reports. Finally I developed the following outline of my glossary (only outline, without writing out the words):

Belarus: Innenpolitik und Aussenpolitik


  • Wirtschaft
  • Sozialpolitik, Gesellschaftliches Leben
  • Presse, Kultur


  • Aussenpolitik Richtung Russland (Probleme und Rückschläge, supranationale Kompetenzen und Interessen)
  • Aussenpolitik Richtung EU
  • Beziehungen mit anderen GUS-Staaten

Zwischenstaatliche Beziehungen (Belarus - Russland)

  • Probleme
  • Vorteile
  • Probleme von Russland (Wahlen in Duma)

Zwischenstaatliche Beziehungen (Russland - EU)

Beziehungen zwischen den EU-Staaten

  • Bereitschaft zu dem Beitritt von neuen osteuropäischen Staaten
  • europäische Auseinandersetzungen und Kompromisse

Gesamtprozesse der Transformation

  • Erfolge
  • Misserfolge
  • Risiken

In my preparation, I made a note of the abbreviations. I had to remember that I was to do simultaneous interpretation, where it is necessary to interpret the abbreviations from one language into the abbreviations of another one, and there is usually no time for decoding. After studying all sources of the current political lexicon, I found about fifty abbreviations such as: EU (und EU-Staaten), OSZE, Europarat, RGW-Staaten, GASP und ESVP, EBDR, EFF-Abkommen etc.

In some cases, the meaning of the abbreviations were to be learned in English, for example, NATO, EFTA, or FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering).

In addition, I wrote down the abbreviations of the best-known political parties in Russia and Belarus, e.g.: (URK--Union der Rechten Kräfte), and also the names of people occupying key positions in the political structures of the European community, Belarus, and Russia.

I spent two days to develop the entire glossary, but due to this work I began to feel at ease with the current political lexicon, and I felt I was well prepared for simultaneous interpretation, which later proved to be the case. I printed out the glossary on pages with separate keywords on each sheet, and as soon as the speech touched on this or that key subject, I put in front of myself the corresponding sheet of my glossary as a possible aid. During simultaneous interpretation, sometimes it is necessary to remember a word in the given context, a word combination, or the translation into the other language within a few seconds, and such glossaries are very useful in those cases.

I have shown, using one example, one possible method of preparation for an upcoming simultaneous interpretation job. Similar glossaries are also useful, for example, to prepare for guiding groups of foreign tourists through museums or various sights. (I made a similar glossary to prepare for consecutive interpretation between representatives of the Evangelical and Orthodox churches, where the keywords were different terms from the Bible or other terms of the clerical language).

It is impossible to use glossaries prepared by other translators. Each translator prepares his or her own glossary according to their knowledge of language, experience of previous translations, and a specific topic of the interpretation job. The printed-out glossaries can be kept and re-read from time to time to brush up one's linguistic knowledge of relevant themes. They can always be used to prepare for upcoming interpretation jobs.


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