After graduating from Metu University in Mechanical Engineering in 1973, I first worked as an engineer in a public machinery manufacturing factory for eleven years. During this period, many foreign delegations visit the factory. They asked for the price of manufacture in accordance with their designs. We had several hours of meetings in the factory meeting room. I did simultaneous translation during meetings and interviews. I wrote the letters of proposal, prepared them in English and Turkish and had them signed, we signed contracts within the limits of the possibilities of the public establishment, we received orders, we manufactured and delivered. We collected money.
Then I worked for Turkish-American joint ventures, we also held meetings with buyers and sellers. This time, I was the simultaneous technical translator for the foreign general manager. We read and reviewed many pages of contract documents, we prepared proposal documents and letters in English.
If the job is just to translate the written text, it’s relatively easy. If you have difficulty, you use a dictionary. Nowadays, “google translate” is used. However, if the job to be done is fast and instantaneous improvised simultaneous interpretation, you don’t have the right to waste a second, you don’t have the luxury of skipping words. Simultaneous verbal, rapid and instantaneous interpretation is very difficult. When you are done, there is nothing left in your memory. You don’t remember much of what was said, if you have the luxury of sitting down and taking notes, you write what was said in the main headings and then fill in the blanks.
Management also asks you to write a meeting note “meeting minutes” and distribute it to those present at the meeting for confirmation of eligibility. Especially in American companies, written meeting notes are very important. Beforehand, confidentiality agreements are signed between the parties, and the CVs of the participants are exchanged. The agenda is shared before the meeting. It is agreed in advance on written documents.
There are two main types of translation: simultaneous and interpretation. Interpretive translation relies more on the ability to synthesize; the interpreter must remember what has been said and have the ability to summarize the salient points of a discussion. The simultaneous interpreter is more exciting and more adrenaline-driven. This type of translation requires quick reflexes, intense concentration and a good working knowledge of the subject matter. Additionally, translators must not only have a good command of the languages they work with, but must also be able to conjure up a word or phrase as soon as it is spoken. They cannot afford to hesitate.
The translator’s technique is to identify the keywords while conveying the discourse and to link the discourse from one keyword to another. Keywords help the translator remember what was said, while focusing on how best to translate the overall theme. Therefore, the more the translator knows about the keywords and their associated meanings, the more their confidence will increase, and this is immediately felt in the way the conversation is conducted. Keywords obviously vary from domain to domain. Even within the same field like diplomacy, there are different keywords for different topics or situations. So how will translators recognize these words as keywords and become familiar with the general framework these words represent? Will they transfer?
Usually, these expressions appear frequently during a conference. However, a translator should seek other sources of information beforehand. It is important for a translator working in the diplomatic field to closely follow political, social and cultural events in the world. Resources for these may include local and foreign newspapers, current affairs magazines, news publications, and a very good knowledge of history and geography. It is important to have backup material from the lecture itself, as this will help the translator focus better on the issues being discussed. It is essential to have conversations a few days in advance to better anticipate the conference and avoid possible problems with vocabulary, expression and general attitudes. For example, if a hot topic, the war in Ukraine, NATO, the G7, G20 summits will be discussed, it is useful to know that sparks can fly. But keywords are not static. They grow with events and political developments. These days we hardly hear the old slogans like superpowers, polarization, blocs, but other words like ethnic cleansing, money laundering, free trade zone have pretty much come into common use in international conferences. Knowing the historical and social origins and connotations of these terms helps settle the discussion and helps avoid misunderstandings through mispronunciation, heavy accents, or sometimes misuse of the word.
Trust in simultaneous interpreters is essential during diplomatic conferences. Fundamental tensions that can arise between delegates or country representatives can be exacerbated if interpreters are not trustworthy. Indeed, in certain situations of great tension, the delegates prefer to speak or translate themselves in a language which they do not really master, rather than going through an interpreter. Most heads of state prefer to speak English to each other without an interpreter. Putin and Merkel spoke German or Russian among themselves. In public or during press conferences, each leader speaks in his mother tongue, while waiting for his speech to be translated into the other language. The speeches are audio recorded and written. It is therefore important to ensure that the translators selected have the knowledge, experience and caliber to deal with situations where tact and skill are important.
An interpreter who has lived abroad for many years and who speaks a foreign language as their mother tongue may find it difficult to express themselves in their mother tongue. Therefore, it would be better and more reliable to assign professionally trained diplomatic translators to international negotiations.
Diplomacy is not just about diplomats and is not just a feature of diplomatic conferences. Other types of discussions, such as religion, culture, heritage, sales, marketing, may require such skills. The interpreter must know how to convey a message with discretion, without resorting to censorship, where that is not his role. In diplomacy, it is very important to make instant oral and simultaneous translations, to keep written minutes and to publish them when the time comes, because the translators feel they are making a contribution to history in this process.