Taina Ikola

Taina Ikola

Voicing the Greats through Simultaneous Interpreting

interpreter and interpreting

This autumn, Nordic Business Forum brings together under one roof around 7500 visitors from over 40 different countries. Delingua has been the interpreting partner for the conference for quite some time and, over the years, our interpreters have interpreted some real global stars. But what is it like to interpret for them?

 

Each speaker is a keynote speaker

At Nordic Business Forum, Delingua’s simultaneous interpreters have interpreted some very interesting keynote speakers. Past speakers have included Al Gore, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The stage has also been taken by actor and musician Will Smith, billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and marketing guru Seth Godin.

According to Suvi Rapola and Mari Janatuinen, who interpret from English into Finnish at Nordic Business Forum, working at an event like this differs from other interpreting assignments. The speeches are spellbinding and they require the interpreter to identify in a very special manner with the speaker.

“Merely repeating the message monotonously would deprive the listener of the atmosphere of the event. The interpreter must truly get under the skin of the speaker. For me, it means paying close attention to the speech being interpreted and the speaker’s body language. I often notice that I gesture in sync with the speaker even if that is not necessary,” says Suvi Rapola.

On the other hand, the interpreter must also find a balance between cultures when it comes to the manner of speaking. “Very varied intonation in one culture may be regarded as highly artificial in another culture, and what is considered compact and concise in one culture is seen as rude in another,” Mari Janatuinen points out.


Successful interpreting requires thorough preparation

A professional interpreter prepares thoroughly for each assignment, and often the majority of the work is carried out before the interpreting itself. Usually, the speakers’ presentations are delivered to the interpreter in advance so that he or she can think about appropriate expressions. The interpreter also follows topical issues, such as current affairs, financial news and sometimes even sports results, as presentations may contain references to these.

According to interpreter Minna Kalajoki, there is always a special glamour and excitement involved when interpreting public figures. Failure is not an option. “I always prepare myself super-carefully by watching videos of the speaker’s previous speeches, for instance. TED talks are particularly good,” comments Minna. She adds: “Succeeding in interpreting assignments like this requires a keen awareness of what is going on in the world. Interpreting is often listened to very carefully and it has even happened that after an EU summit my interpreting has been reported word for word in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper.”

Russian interpreter Sophie Chantseva also emphasises the importance of preparation: “Interpreting great men and women is a mixture of big privilege and big responsibility, which means long hours of preparation.”

Another aspect of the interpreting assignment is the atmosphere of the event. “There may be additional commotion, including strict security measures. The atmosphere is usually charged with excitement as people wait expectantly for the speaker,” says interpreter Nina Murray.


 

Highlights of interpreting

Delingua’s Russian interpreters Sophie Chantseva and Grigory Khaustov both mention the Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic as one of the most impressive speakers. They interpreted him at the 2017 Nordic Business Forum. Nick’s zest for life despite his difficulties made such a strong impression on Sophie that she started to cry. “It was the only time in my career when I was literally crying in the booth. When I was interpreting Nick, I stayed focused and did the job, but every time my colleague took over and I could simply listen to him and watch him, tears were running down my cheeks.”

Suvi remembers particularly well Fidel Castro at the summit of the ACP countries in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1990s. “Not so much because of the interpreting but simply because his appearance was so different from the other heads of state and government around the table. When he entered the room, it felt like the atmosphere had become more electric and more significant than usual.” 

Minna thinks back to the time when she interpreted the Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai who received the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17: “On the whole, when listening to and interpreting human rights activists, your own worries start to seem insignificant.” From Nordic Business Forum, the person that Minna remembers especially well is the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. “He walked to the stage like a rock star, with smoke and flashing lights,” says Minna.

Delingua’s CEO Katja Virtanen has also worked as a conference interpreter. Interpreting certain prime ministers is etched in Katja’s mind. “Back in the day, I interpreted a speech by the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel at the European Parliament’s plenary session as well as the speech of the then Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the meeting of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in Seville. A common factor in both cases was that the prime ministers gave a pre-written speech, talking very fast, and did not slow down for interpreting. On the other hand, these occasions are special highlights for a conference interpreter in German and Spanish, and I found extra energy from somewhere to keep up with the speaker,” recalls Katja.

 

This blog was originally published on Nordic Business Forum's website on 12th September 2019.