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Near Real Time Translation - HOW?
Old 03-19-2017, 03:06 PM   #1
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Near Real Time Translation - HOW?

I was watching the clips of Angela Merkel's recent visit. I was a bit surprised that she didn't speak English in these events, she used translators. All the people I worked with from our facilities in Germany (mid-level managers to engineers mostly) spoke English very well. But I read that she is more fluent in Russian, and maybe French, and while conversational in English, just isn't confident enough in her abilities in a live event like this. OK.

But the translator kept right up after a ~ 7 second initial delay. I thought - how could you be talking and listening and translating at the same time, without gaps? Forget all the computer translators, I don't think they are good enough for something at this level.

Reverse engineering this, I thought maybe there are two people with court-stenographer abilities. One just takes the notes in real time in German (just like you see in court), and the second one can read the German notes, and have the ability to look ahead to the end of the sentence and the context to construct the proper English translation. This way, the announcer/translator doesn't need to listen (probably has the sound muted to not distract), and has some time to formulate the translation in their mind.

It could have been reading from prepared notes at first, but there was also impromptu Q&A that was the same.

Does anyone know - is that how it is done? Something else?

-ERD50
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:13 PM   #2
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There is a big difference between translating and interpreting.

Translating is a piece of cake, since there is no time pressure.

Interpreting, like they do at the UN or other places, is HARD.

I used to interpret at meetings of big shots from one country with big shots from another. I would sit behind my principal and whisper into his ear, real time, what his counterpart was saying in another language. By the end of the meeting I was usually soaked in sweat because the level of concentration required is so intense.

No special trick to it, you just have to be extremely fluent, not only in the language but also the technical vocabulary, slang and idioms being used.

They say the hardest person in the world to interpret was the late Chairman Mao. He spoke in a relatively obscure dialect that was murder to deal with.
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Old 03-19-2017, 03:26 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
I was watching the clips of Angela Merkel's recent visit. I was a bit surprised that she didn't speak English in these events, she used translators. All the people I worked with from our facilities in Germany (mid-level managers to engineers mostly) spoke English very well. But I read that she is more fluent in Russian, and maybe French, and while conversational in English, just isn't confident enough in her abilities in a live event like this. OK.
Mrs. Merkel always speaks German at these events, though she clearly understands what is being said in English. Having grown up in the former DDR, her second language would have been Russian. Perhaps she is being cautious with her words in English, as it is her third language. Words can so easily be misinterpreted, that it is probably safer to have the original record in her native language and the English translation done by experts. In her position as a world leader, you wouldn't want to say the wrong thing.

How many languages does President Trump speak?
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:00 PM   #4
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...

No special trick to it, you just have to be extremely fluent, not only in the language but also the technical vocabulary, slang and idioms being used.

...
I figured there had to be a 'trick' to handle complicated, important comments like that in real time. Wow, I just can't imagine listening, and talking to someone else in real time like that - even w/o interpreting. Now I've seen where they pause to give the interpreter time to talk, and then listen to the next sentence. But that wasn't the case.

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Mrs. Merkel always speaks German at these events, though she clearly understands what is being said in English. Having grown up in the former DDR, her second language would have been Russian. Perhaps she is being cautious with her words in English, as it is her third language. Words can so easily be misinterpreted, that it is probably safer to have the original record in her native language and the English translation done by experts. In her position as a world leader, you wouldn't want to say the wrong thing. ...
Right, I covered that in my OP.

As for your last line (which I won't repeat - there was no intention to take this thread into political partisanship!), it's not a contest. I fully understand the Chancellor's reasoning and I'm certain she is a highly intelligent person (a Phd in Physical Chemistry!). I was curious about the logistics of doing this live, with no gaps. That's all.

-ERD50
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:20 PM   #5
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The interpreter they use at events like this must be top notch. Fluency in both languages is a necessity, but not sufficient. It requires a special skill, or perhaps an innate ability.
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Old 03-19-2017, 04:53 PM   #6
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The European parliament is the Olympics of this specialist industry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe...interpretation

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Simultaneous interpreting is offered in all plenary sessions, and all final texts of legislation are translated. With twenty-four languages, the European Parliament is the most multilingual parliament in the world and the biggest employer of interpreters in the world (employing 350 full-time and 400 free-lancers when there is higher demand).
Technology is a long way off from doing this.

Sydney pollack made a movie about it btw, about the use in the UN:


The main reasons Merkel might not speak English, and uses an interpreter has less to do with her ability, but more with:
  • The leader of Germany cannot be seen talking a non-German language. That would lower her status.
  • Talking in a foreign language puts you at a disadvantage. It´s like playing an away game, even if you are perfectly bilingual.
  • She is not there for the US, but for Germany. The German people and press are watching and it is more important they understand her.
  • Leaving an interpreter in between gives potential escapes in case of clashes. You can shoot the messenger ...
  • Using an interpreter even when you don't really need one makes it a lesser deal for others who do need one. Like Trump.
She speaks and understands English, Russian and German just fine. I believe also some French, but may be wrong.
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Old 03-19-2017, 05:18 PM   #7
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Simultaneous translators. Everyone uses them at the UN.
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Old 03-19-2017, 05:47 PM   #8
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.. Sydney pollack made a movie about it btw, about the use in the UN: ...
Thanks for that clip - they explain it in detail. Wow, it just seems near impossible to me to be listening, interpreting, and speaking all at the same time! I can screw up any of those doing them ownlee won ada tyme (see!)

And with important information, what pressure! Man, I would think they would want to do something as I described (the two person team, one writing, one interpreting/speaking), but I guess they've got it covered.

A little like Morse code. The original receivers made marks on paper, to be read a bit later, and to provide a record. The operators learned to hear the sounds directly and decoded in real time (which I understand Samuel Morse did not approve of!). But I never heard of a telegraph operator sending and receiving messages at the same time!

And I'll say it again - my post had nothing to do with the Chancellor deciding to use an interpreter. Lots of valid reasons for that, I didn't see anything negative about it at all. I was just a bit surprised, based on past experience, and got curious about the actual methods the interpreters used.

Thanks - ERD50
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Old 03-19-2017, 07:40 PM   #9
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My husband was wondering the same thing. But I understand why she has to speak German.
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:39 PM   #10
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...Mrs. Merkel always speaks German at these events, though she clearly understands what is being said in English...

How many languages does President Trump speak?
To try to answer your question, I think President Trump can speak in two languages: English and locker-room.
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:55 PM   #11
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How many languages does President Trump speak?
Now, that is an interesting question.
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Old 03-20-2017, 02:02 PM   #12
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Now, that is an interesting question.
I thought so too. I mean, his grandfather was German. His mother was Scottish. It's not unreasonable to think he might have had some exposure at home to German and Scots Gaelic.
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Old 03-20-2017, 02:14 PM   #13
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I thought so too. I mean, his grandfather was German. His mother was Scottish. It's not unreasonable to think he might have had some exposure at home to German and Scots Gaelic.
A joke told to me in broken English by a Dutch man, who spoke multiple languages.

What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual.

What do you call a person who speaks more than two languages?
Multilingual.

What do you call a person who only speaks one language?
An American.
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Old 03-20-2017, 02:15 PM   #14
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If a person is super-fluent in more than one language, the real-time translation task should be only slightly more difficult than repeating in real-time what another person says without translating it.
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Old 03-20-2017, 02:17 PM   #15
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A joke told to me in broken English by a Dutch man, who spoke multiple languages.

What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual.

What do you call a person who speaks more than two languages?
Multilingual.

What do you call a person who only speaks one language?
An American.
That is funny, but not true. Many Americans speak at least two languages ( ie. immigrants)
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:24 PM   #16
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That is funny, but not true. Many Americans speak at least two languages ( ie. immigrants)
I know. In the families I've been part of it dies out in a generation or two. When I was little a couple of Aunts had immigrated very young with their mothers(perhaps the fathers had passed?) as the great aunts were quite old. I remember them talking and even teaching me a few words.

It fit this fellows perception he'd recently been working with our American expats who were only English speakers. I know he meant it in humor, but perhaps a little frustration on his part. He was very uncomfortable with his skills, you could see him pause to think/translate during the conversation. His English was quite good, but you had to be patient to allow him to explain. Didn't help that often our conversations were around somewhat abstract concepts where it's interesting to communicate in one's first language.
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:31 PM   #17
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I had an interesting example along these lines at my kitchen table the other day. My son's girlfriend in China was trying to send him money via an app on their phones. He tried using the app but it was all in Chinese and he was clueless about what the app was asking him to do to accept the payment.

His brother used an app on his own phone to translate. I think it was Google Translate. The app uses the camera and translates any text into the language you choose. He held his phone over his brother's phone and on his phone all the text was in English. I was fascinated!

In the end they used Western Union to transfer the money with a very small fee. PayPal was expensive and WeChat (a combination app like Facebook, PayPal and other functions) didn't work for what they wanted to do.
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Old 03-20-2017, 04:29 PM   #18
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First, I think most Heads of State prefer to speak in their home language on the world stage. After all, they are primarily speaking to their constituents, not us! When a world leader ( from Mexico, Germany, Israel, etc) makes a major address in English, then WE are the audience.

ERD50's query is how do they translate it so quickly, and I too am amazed at that.

Regarding English as your only language, the simple fact is we CAN get away with it because it is, for now, the language of business and commerce.

And sometimes pride does become a factor. Having worked with an office in Brussels for many years, it is interesting to see the interaction between the Flemish and the French. Even though they both know both languages, they will only speak English to each other .
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Old 03-20-2017, 05:37 PM   #19
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Having worked with an office in Brussels for many years, it is interesting to see the interaction between the Flemish and the French. Even though they both know both languages, they will only speak English to each other .
Many years ago I attended a technical conference in Brazil. There were representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, USA, and most of the Latin American countries.

The meetings were held in a nice facility that supplied simultaneous interpretation, so everyone had headphones and you just turned a dial to hear your native language regardless of who was speaking.

Unfortunately, a few of the South American reps had the machismo thing going (I won't name their countries) and they got up at the beginning to request that we send the interpreters home since "obviously" we were all worldly enough to deal with all the languages. The motion carried, unfortunately. The hosts, who supplied the venue, just shook their heads sadly and complied.

So for the rest of the conference everyone struggled as each speaker used his or her own native tongue to make very technical points. I was able to keep up (barely), but I'll never forgive the French reps who did their best to speak as quickly as they could, using as much slang as they could.
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