By Huaning Gu, NAATI Certified Practitioner (CPN1AG81W)
Covid19 is a disaster, but it also brings changes and opportunities. I got my first Zoom interpreting job which lasted for 6 days and involved participants from both coasts of the United States, mainland China and Australia. It is amazing. I have never imagined that I can stay at home, doing consecutive and simultaneous interpreting for parties so far away. We could hear and see each other though we cannot touch each other. I have to admit this first experience is not that good since we misunderstood each other in the pre-interpreting communication and some technical issues also disturbed us, but I did enjoy the whole process and the convenience.
A former schoolmate approached me, checking whether I would like to accept a six or seven day Zoom interpreting for legal issues. My first question was ‘is it consecutive or simultaneous?’ since I had only got half-day training for the latter and I was not confident in it. The answer was ‘consecutive’, so I said ‘ok, just let me know the schedule’. It turned out this six-day interpreting was half consecutive and half simultaneous while the worst part was no one had considered an interpreter’s brain might be burnt without breaks or a partner’s collaboration. It was too late for me to find out this terrible fact that I was going to shoulder all the responsibilities by myself. I got my panic attack midnight before the interpreting and a clear voice echoed in my mind ‘quit when you can’.
The schoolmate reassured me the simultaneous part was more like sight translation since a stenographer would type everything on the screen and they would try to arrange as many breaks as they could. I knew it’s too late to quit, so I forced myself in that little corner I had set up for the interpreting and waited for the unknown fate. The first day was not too bad, I had 5 to 10-minute break after half an hour to one-hour interpreting, but things got out of control quickly. No one noticed the poor interpreter and went on and on for hours. I got exhausted and felt like half dead at the end of each day. The worst part was one professional carried on for hours with lines rolling up the screen so fast that I could not catch up. If the kind gentleman presiding over the meeting had not stopped him, I would have collapsed and run away forever.
Therefore, it is essential to let others know what you can do and what you cannot do at the beginning, and bargain not only for price but also for the basic rights of an interpreter.
I got a big bundle after accepting the task. There were so many things to remember, vocabulary, company names, production process, legal provisions, national and international standards, etc. I read through them again and again till I could recite, which helped a lot during the interpreting.
Another preparation was about the devices. I got one ipad to install the app shared by the stenographer, one laptop for zoom with three earphones ready and another ipad as back up. As requested by the Chinese party, I got a phone with WeChat as well. Unluckily, my laptop broke down on the third day, but luckily I had a back-up iPad, so the interpreting went on well.
Finally, I had my private corner ready and house chores arranged. I shifted all my family responsibilities to my husband and hid in my little corner for six days.
It was quite a pity there was no time for clarification during most of the interpreting which went on and on for hours. However, the chairperson who was fluent in both Chinese and English stopped from time to time to clarify the true meaning of the parties and to find whether there was something missing or misunderstood. For example, when one party was asked ‘Don’t you understand the Chinese standards are different from the international standards’ and answered ‘no’, he need to confirm whether ‘no’ meant ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘there is no difference’.
It was extremely hard when the parties used the same term but had different understanding thereof. Sometimes the same Chinese word referred to different English ones, or vice versa. The experienced chairperson would stop and ask the parties to clarify whenever they used the term.
It looks like an interpreter is more passive in the Zoom setting.
Now, when looking back, I think I can do better next time. I do hope this new method of interpreting which I call zoometing, i.e. interpreting via Zoom, can last and boom after the pandemic since all the parties can benefit from the convenience of using the internet.
However, there are many precautions or rules to be set for this zoometing, and hopefully the interpreting industry and my dear colleagues can work together to make everything clear soon.
Thank you for reading.
Ms Huaning Gu has been a certified interpreter and translator in Australia since 2016 (Mandarin/Chinese, NAATI Practitioner ID is CPN1AG81W)
She was a legal professional in China before moving to Australia with her family in 2014. She has an Advanced Diploma of interpreting from RMIT and is based in Melbourne.