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Interpreting turbulence: expect the unexpected

By Zane Hema

I recently read a very interesting article about air turbulence; the violent or unsteady movement of air that makes for a bumpy flight. While it is normal and happens often, it can be dangerous. According to the FAA, in-flight turbulence is the number one cause of injuries to passengers and airline crew.

The 3 types of air turbulence are:

  • (a) storm turbulence;
  • (b) mountain or wave turbulence; and
  • (c) unexpected turbulence.

Storm turbulence is foreseeable. As storms are visible by radar and satellite, turbulence can be anticipated.

With this information together with updates from the ground and other aircraft the pilot can fly the plane around the storm and avoid the worst. When strong winds blowing perpendicular to mountains, pass over the top, mountain or wave turbulence is produced on the other side.

This type of turbulence can’t be seen but pilots can anticipate it and take the necessary action to avoid the worst of its effects. The third is termed unexpected turbulence or clear air turbulence. It cannot be seen and can happen without warning.

Unless the pilot gets reports from other pilots who have just flown through the same region, there is little else the pilot can do to avoid injury to passengers. That’s why passengers are always advised to fasten their seat belts when seated and to minimise any time away from their seat.

Interpreting may be likened to a flight that may encounter turbulence, if by that, we mean those bumpy moments, foreseeable or not, that have the potential to cause injury to our work. Co-working in an environment where it difficult to hear is an example of foreseeable interpreting turbulence.

The working interpreter may avoid injury to their work by combining a number of factors at their disposal, including:

  • (a) making sense from the fragments of sounds heard in context;
  • (b) calling on the strength of their preparation;
  • (c) calling on their world knowledge; and
  • (d) support from the co-worker.

Interpreting turbulence can also be unforeseen perhaps where a participant makes a reference to an event, individual or place where the interpreter does not have context.

Or where a participant makes a surprise remark that causes offence to others as well as the interpreter. It could be a last minute change to the program. The potential for injury to work is greater and some quick thinking and sound judgement is required to decide a course of action, one that optimises safety for everyone.

I remember my first interpreting teacher telling us to “expect the unexpected”, because chances are it will happen.

Zane Hema is a professional Auslan interpreter but originally trained as a British Sign Language interpreter completing his Post Graduate Diploma in 2000.  He also works as an international interpreter educator and is the former President of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (for England, Wales & Northern Ireland), Vice-President of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters and Secretary of World Association of Sign Language Interpreters. He gained his first NAATI accreditation in 2014. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.  


Published: 31/08/2016