Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia
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Translation and interpretation are communication
skills that a person acquires through involvement
in actual translation and interpretation work.
One who knows two or more languages is not necessarily
a good translator or interpreter, because not
only linguistic issues, but other communicative
and cultural aspects are also involved. Accordingly,
a translator or interpreter always faces linguistic
and non-linguistic challenges in performing a
job if they come to it unprepared. However, once
these barriers are successfully overcome, the
translator or interpreter will play a critical
role in, and give a significant contribution to,
the communication between the parties involved.
I have been working since 2002 both as a translator
and as an interpreter for BP, an oil and gas company
based in London, since the early phase of its
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Tangguh Project located
at one of the remote areas of Papua Province,
in the eastern part of Indonesia. My responsibilities
include accompanying my manager to meetings with
the villagers around the construction site classified
as directly affected villages, having conversations
with community members or government agencies
coming to the office or via telephone, translating
incoming Indonesian letters and e-mails, proposals,
and other written documents, and translating outgoing
English letters and documents to be sent out to
the Indonesian employees of the same department,
communities or local governments either as a response
or as a new message from the Project.
- Roles of Translation and Interpretation
The only national language in Indonesia is Bahasa
Indonesia while English is taught at all levels
of education as a foreign language. Accordingly,
every international company, government organization,
non-governmental organization, etc always needs
a translator or an interpreter to ensure that
the intended message is channeled through appropriately,
clearly, and naturally.
The top management and the field managers of
the LNG Tangguh Project plant are facing a language
barrier in communicating with the local government
authorities, the local communities, the local
contractors, and other local stakeholders related
to the Project and vice versa. Translation and
Interpretation are the only twin keys to overcome
this communication barrier. Therefore, BP A&D
Resettlement Manager proposed a translation service
collaboration with the Language Center at Cenderawasih
University from 2000 to 2002, and with Papua State
University from 2002 to 2005. During these years
I have played a few roles that I would like to
share with translators and interpreters elsewhere
in the field.
- Translators and interpreters play a crucial
role in mediating between two parties, helping
them reach an agreement.
The Project's message was that they needed
the site then occupied by the villagers as a
construction site. To convince the community
to move from their current village required
a series of long comprehensive discussions and
exchanges of letters with the villagers, the
land right owners, the local government, and
other relevant stakeholders. The Resettlement
team, in which I was working both as a translator
and as an interpreter, spent nine months to
reach a mutual agreement under which the community
and the land right owners were willing to release
the site against a reasonable compensation from
the Project. Between the 29th of
June and the 4th of July 2004 the
community was successfully relocated after the
Project built housing, public facilities and
utilities as a part of compensation from the
Project to the community following the World
- The translator and interpreter play a crucial
role in reducing the emotional tensions during
a dialogue and in written communications.
To reduce the emotional tension during a dialogue
I used three strategies: (1) avoiding offensive
utterances; (2) talking in a normal tone; (3)
pausing during the interpretation process. During
the nine months of negotiation some hot debates
occurred at the meetings and in the written
exchanges. In some tense occasions the emotional
villagers who opposed the Project's community
development programs would stand up and use
harsh and offensive language. In such a situation
I always used these strategies: (a) I would
explain to my manager what the villagers said
avoiding offensive words. This kept the emotional
stability of the manager in responding to the
complaints. This was also applied in responding
to the villagers when the offensive statements
came from the manager; (b) either talking to
the manager or talking to a villager, I would
always use a normal tone of voice to prevent
emotions from taking over; (c) the emotional
tension of both the manager and the villagers
would be reduced when I did not interpret sentence
by sentence as I always did but summarized what
was said after a minute or so. This pause is
a very critical period for reducing a high emotional
tension. This also happened in the case of some
written documents where I would paraphrase without
omitting the real meaning to reduce an emotional
tension that might occur if such documents were
- The translator plays a crucial role in editing
written documents in the source language before
translating them into the target language.
Incoming letters, e-mails, proposals, and other
written documents from different stakeholders
of the Project written in Indonesian require
a translation. This is a must because the message
from each document has to be understood by the
manager before providing a response. We all
know that some writers are better than others.
Those with lesser writing skills make a translator
spend much time to determine the intended meaning
in the source language before reconstructing
the same meaning using the appropriate grammatical
structure and the cultural context of the target
language. This is a time-consuming work because
a translator has to reword, add, omit, and rearrange
a particular document which is full of redundant
words, ambiguous statements, incoherent paragraphs,
and other linguistic and non-linguistic aspects
- The translator is a writer.
Note that translation is a process of transferring
a meaning, not form, from the source language
into the target language. A translator plays
a role as a writer when s/he starts reconstructing
similar meaning from the source language using
the appropriate lexicon, grammatical structure,
figurative speech, style, cultural context,
and other linguistic and non-linguistic elements
of the target language and combining them in
a good piece of writing. S/he always has a particular
audience in mind when writing the message; for
example, when I was translating a message from
the Project to the villagers I had to make sure
that the language I was using was comprehensible
by the villagers because of their educational
level and the interference of their local language.
In addition, I had to draw up minutes of the
meetings with different stakeholders on each
occasion. I developed each paragraph from the
main points noted down during the meetings,
and at the same time I recalled what each speaker
had said to make my writing well-understood.
I also had to find out other relevant references
to ensure that my writing made good sense. So,
a translator is also a writer because s/he presents
a piece of meaningful writing that can be read
by the intended audience. S/he devotes all the
skills and the knowledge to produce a piece
of writing that brings the message to the readers.
- The interpreter is a speaker.
An interpreter is not purely channeling a message
from one language to another one, but, s/he is
also a skilled speaker. Apart from the linguistic
skill an interpreter acquires, I learned that
public speaking skills were also important in
doing interpretation in front of a big gathering.
The following aspects were very effective in either
talking to a particular individual or talking
to a big gathering: (1) voice. At a big
gathering I always made sure that my voice was
heard clearly by a person sitting in the back
of the village hall meeting room when there was
no loudspeaker available. I raised my voice when
the room was noisy due to the hot debate or when
each people, particularly in the back rows, talked
to each other without paying too much attention
to what was being said; (2) eye-contact.
This was important to assure the audience that
I was telling them exactly what my manager said.
By looking at the audience I could also tell from
their eyes or their faces that I had to retell
or exaggerate the message I had just passed on;
(3) self-confidence. When speaking to the
different audience with a different social background
or speaking in front of the audience either on
an informal or on a very formal occasion, an interpreter
must keep his/her own self-confidence. This is
important to keep one's emotions and mind stable
before and while doing an interpretation work.
A beginner interpreter usually loses self-confidence
when standing or sitting in front of a big gathering
because of what is known as 'stage fever.'
- Contributions of Translation and Interpretation
Translation and interpretation work made a significant
contribution to the Project, the government, the
community, the contractors, and other relevant
stakeholders. Below are four of the countless
contributions of the translation and interpretation
- A Product Sharing Agreement between Petamina
(National Oil Company) and BP. There was negotiation
between the upper managements of both companies
to reach such an agreement produced in Indonesian
and translated into English.
- Environmental Impact Analysis Report concerning
the construction and operation of the Project.
URS was a foreign agency conducting joint comprehensive
research with the local university on the nine
directly affected villages. The report was first
produced in English and then translated into
- A Resettlement Agreement between Tanah Merah
Community and BP. All items in this agreement
were discussed in two languages during a nine-month
negotiation; the final draft was drawn up in
English and translated into Indonesian.
- National and Provincial Regulations concerning
the Project were ranslated into English as legal
documents to assist the legal department of
the company in making decisions and commitments.
There have been hundreds of translation and interpretation
jobs performed since the beginning of the Project.
The latest two visitors to the Project site were
Tangguh International Advisory Panel on the 12th
of December 2004 and a team of the Asian Development
Bank on the 15th of December 2004.
Their direct communication with the particular
groups and the community members as a whole was
fruitful because of the interpretation work performed.
BP's Management has recognized how crucial translation
and interpretation work is for the implementation
of the LNG Tangguh Project in Indonesia. This
recognition was manifested in signing a translation
service contract with the local universities.
Translation and interpretation work will be needed
for as long as the company is present here in
Both translators and interpreters have similar
roles in (a) doing a mediation work between two
parties, and (b) facilitating a successful meeting
or dialog and/or a written agreement. However,
they also play different roles such as the roles
of editor and writer for the translator and that
of speaker for the interpreter. A translator or
an interpreter has particular strategies to ensure
that those roles are properly performed.
The translation and interpretation work gives
invaluable contributions to the Project and its
local, national, and international stakeholders.
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