Career milestones

Why do I love Mondays? Cold almost gone, LSP got in touch, & I have been accepted by IAPTI and ITI. Need to say more? Knotty is an overjoyed baby right now!!!


Interpreters in movies special edition: Games of Interprethrones.


“Daenerys: They may suit my needs, tell me of their training Interpreter: The Westerosi woman is pleased with them but speaks no praise to keep the price down. She wishes to know how they are trained. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell her what she would know and be quick about it. The day is hot. Interpreter: They begin their training at five. Every day, they drill from dawn to dusk until they have mastered the short sword, the shields and the three spears. Only one boy in four survives this rigorous training. Their discipline and loyalty are absolute. They fear nothing. Ser Jorah: Even the bravest men fear death. Interpreter: The knight says even brave men fear death. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell the old man he smells of piss. Interpreter: Truly, Master? Kraznys mo Nakloz: No, not truly! Are you a girl or a goat to ask such a thing? Interpreter: My Master says the Unsullied are not men. Death means nothing to them. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell this ignorant whore of a Westerner to open her eyes and watch. Interpreter: He begs you attend this carefully, your grace. Daenerys: Tell your good Master there is no need Kraznys mo Nakloz: She’s worried about their nipples? Does the dumb bitch know we’ve cut off their balls? Interpreter: My Master points out that men don’t need nipples.”


Here I am again, surprisingly adding an extra post to the planned trilogy about interpreter in movies. That is a shock even for me since, as soon as I wrote the third part, I just wanted to delete everything. If I didn’t, it is because of the hard work done to complete it, and because I was happy with the result after all, if not of the things through which I passed to achieve it. I want to dedicate this post to the first episode of the third season of Game of Thrones, a TV series very special to me. In it, we have seen plenty of interpreting scenes, and I don’t want to analyse all of them, for different reasons. Among them, maybe the main one is the fact that the same mistakes are repeated over and over, due to the fact that the characters are improvised interpreters, as it has always been for centuries. In the new episode, however, we see a scene in which the interpreter seems to know her job, at least at the beginning (don’t worry, she’ll soon disappoint us); moreover, the scene is long enough, as you can see from the partial transcription I have included, and there are some subtitles which allow us to see the modifications introduced by the slave-interpreter. Just for those of you who don’t know the series: start watching it now! No, seriously, I will try to summarise something for you, although I know of great summaries, both on the internet and in person, and I don’t think I can get close to that. Daenerys is trying to have an army to fight against her enemies and win her kingdom back. To do that, she visits Astapor, the land of the Unsullied, the slaves famous for their skills in battle. There, she meets Kraznys mo Nakloz, the slave-trader, to obtain the soldiers she needs. It is here, during the negotiations, that we see this incredible interpreting performance. I think this example would disturb anyone with a vague idea of what interpreting is, you can imagine how I felt watching it and then attending a two hours session about interpreting protocol the day after. No wonder my friend and fellow interpreter Marta sent me a message as soon as she watched the episode, to tell me that it was interesting material for my blog. I don’t even know if there is any need to talk about the “He says” any more, I am so tired of that! The interpreter must speak in the first person when interpreting; if he/she uses the third person, it is exactly to express his/her own opinion, as in “the interpreter cannot hear the speaker”, or “the interpreter would like to ask the speaker not to read”. I am pretty sure some of you can remember me saying that more than once from the booth. The interpreter, in this episode, offers us the complete range of things not to do. She is not impartial, which is to expect, since she is the trader’s slave. The problem is that it doesn’t matter who pays you, you are invisible and impartial. And I say that keeping in mind that one of the most famous Spanish translators in Barcelona once said that, if one of the parties was in clear inferiority, he would act to favour it. With all the admiration for him, I don’t agree with this kind of conduct. But, let’s go back to our poor slave; in one of her first interventions, she shows us a great selection of don’ts: the third person, as I said, the adding information, and the expression of personal opinion. For once, you could be a good slave and don’t use your free will, and you miss the chance, well done! Her master does what any client attending trade shows organised by SOTUR does: gets lazy and asks the interpreter to answer directly. The difference is that, at SOTUR, the client at least explains the idea the first time, and you can interpret; then, you can repeat it again and again using your notes. It is not the best way of doing it, but it still is respectful enough. In the show, on the contrary, the interpreter becomes the speaker. It is not a case of culture broker, a role often used by the interpreter, when he/she explains cultural aspects quoted by the speaker; here, the mediator is the one delivering the original speech. Then, we have the apotheosis of what we don’t want to receive from the speaker, and what we should never do. I am going to repeat the interaction in here to make it clearer: “Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell the old man he smells of piss.

Interpreter: Truly, Master?

Kraznys mo Nakloz: No, not truly! Are you a girl or a goat to ask such a thing?

“Tell the old man”? Who was absent during the pre-session, the master, who doesn’t know he has to address Daenerys, not the interpreter, or the slave, who didn’t illustrate that point? If that wasn’t enough, she brilliantly asks “Truly, Master?” Are you kidding me? Say what he said, for pity’s sake! I know that interpreting for your Master is not easy, and that few of us have the skills to do it remarkably, but you don’t even try, my poor girl!

Interpreters in movies part 3.


Pierre : Mais, comment ça se fait que vous traduisez aussi bien aussi vite?

Mathilde : On me paye pour ça, vous savez?

Pierre : Oui, oui, mais enfin, vous connaissez des termes techniques très précis sur les systèmes de stockage et l’ingénierie.

Mathilde : Aucun mérite.


Here I am, exactly as I said, talking about two more movies in which we see an interpreter. When I watched the first one, I thought for a moment that I could not finish this trilogy, because the subject was really too painful, but a little of fresh air and some good news helped me, and I managed to watch the second one as well. The result is even worse than before, because these two movies show very little of the work of an interpreter, but they represent perfectly his life. I am going to talk to you about Hector Babenco’s “El pasado” and Zabou Breitman’s “Je l’aimais”. I only want to inform you that I am going to spoil the movies so, please, be aware of that if you continue reading.

El pasado

Rimini and Sofia are a couple who is getting a divorce, the most peaceful divorce in history, it would seem. He is a translator, and at the beginning of the movie he works on subtitling some movies. After the separation, he starts a new life, but Sofia is always there, calling him and haunting him. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries to stay away from her and to be happy with his new relationships, she will keep stalking him. At some point, he’s offered to work as an interpreter, with an old friend from university. We don’t know how this is possible, but he falls madly in love with her after what can be a small congress of some days. After declaring his love, he gets sick and faints during a session of interpreting. It doesn’t matter, against all bets, this love story continues and they end up together but he gets really sick, possibly Alzheimer (no one, apart from Sofia, has the courage of pronouncing the word, too painful for anyone who relies on his memory to gain a living). From that moment on, everything falls around him, and brings him back to his life with Sofia; el pasado, after haunting him, has swallowed him, as in a perfect circular story. There is no improving in his life or, if there is, he loses it to go back to the beginning.

There is very little of the work of the interpreter to analyse, as I already said, but there is a lot of the psychology. At the beginning, he works on translating, both texts and videos. Nothing to criticise about that, I cannot subtitle a video without listening to the original through headphones but, I guess, if someone can, it is not a problem. When we see him and Carmen interpreting, instead, it is not completely convincing. Maybe it simply is that I never had the chance to work in a similar situation, but we have a French speaker, who talks at an unnatural slow speed, so slow that we hope none of our clients will ever speak like that, or we won’t be able to stay focused on our interpreting. The interpreters are sitting on a regular table on one side of the stage, and each one of them has a microphone. Not only the speaker is really slow, he also stops after every sentence; the interpreters, then, are doing a short consecutive, which is simply repeating the five words the poor man says every time. The only thing they could do to make the experience a little normal for the audience would be to keep a certain coherence, avoiding switching from one to the other every time, but no, they change every single time, passing from a female to a male voice constantly. Of course, it is better to let the poor colleague a little time to breath after having interpreted as much as five words!

This movie presents us one of the aspects of the life of an interpreter: the loneliness. One of my mentors and, also, one of my biggest inspirations, said that the working life of the interpreter is difficult, and that it is even more complicated to combine it with a satisfying personal life, especially in the case of women. As for men, he said, “it still is not a male profession, and the interpreters are not seen as alpha males at all.” It is funny, but it is true; I am going to generalise, I know many friends who are not like this at all. In any case, I think that female interpreters are big fighters, and they don’t want to share their life and success with anyone else, which is why their relationships don’t last. Male interpreters, on the contrary, are often more relaxed, and happy to have a stronger, leading woman on their side. Feel free to contradict me, but we see something similar in the movie; Rimini is supposedly good at what he does, but he can’t be happy with his own life. He was not happy with Sofia, but he is not capable of living without her, and keeps going back to her every time she stalks him. In his own words, it is a teenagers’ romance which lasted more than it should have, but the sad part is that it never really ends, because he is not able to live a life outside the security that story gave him.

Je l’aimais

Pierre is a man with a small company, and he is trying to expand his business. He travels to Hong Kong and he asks for an interpreter during the meeting with Mr Xing and his employees. The first approach with the interpreter is horrible, because he behaves like any other man when he realises his chances to close the deal are in the hands of a woman. We are at minute 35 and Pierre asks Mathilde, the interpreter, where is the man who was supposed to be working for him, and questions her competences with technical vocabulary.

In general, she doesn’t give a bad image of the interpreter; she does a pretty good bilateral interpreting, even if she switches from Chinese to English when talking to Mr Xing. She also speaks using the first person, at least until things get complicated. Pierre starts not making any sense, and Mathilde is professional enough as to stay neutral and try to help him, but the situation is so obvious that Mr Xing stops the meeting because he thinks Pierre “is falling in love and he doesn’t want to make a deal with a Frenchman who is falling in love”. We forgive her for saying this using the third person, because the interpreting has stopped and she is just trying to make the situation clear to the client. What would have been better, though, would have been to keep interpreting while they were speaking, instead of turning her head, as if blushing, and smiling happily at the insinuation. When she really disappoints us, however, is when, instead of defending the interpreter’s job after one more of Pierre’s statements doubting her capacities, she simply says that there is no merit in what she does. Honestly, there is plenty of merit in knowing the vocabulary of sectors you are not really interested in, and in having more knowledge of different fields than the supposed experts; but, why not? Diminish yourself, society doesn’t do it enough!

All the interpreting is relegated to these few minutes, 35-45, but the rest of the movie is so sadly related to that that it is difficult to watch. Mathilde waits for Pierre at the bar of his hotel, and they end up sleeping together. They don’t know each other, but they swear they are madly in love with each other. After all, as Connor says to Abby in “Primeval”:

 “When has that [not knowing someone] ever stopped people from fancying each other before?”

We see these two people living an affair around the world, meeting as soon as their jobs bring them close. It goes on for years, with him swearing his love, and maybe even believing in what he says, at least for a while. He even tries to make something serious out of the affair, but it gets scared and abandons the project. She also swears her love, and the more she does it, the more she seems to wish it was over; when he decides not to go for a life with her, she does the most stupid thing she can do: she keeps seeing him but trying to forget him when he is not there, pretending what they have is just a game. She only really finds the strength to let him go when, telling him she is pregnant, he asks who the father is. Is that serious? Is that the worse thing he did to you?

Actually, no, but that unfulfilling relationship was enough for her as long as she was living a full life as an interpreter travelling around, and she didn’t want something stable to stop her. When the idea of a child, with all the implications, presents itself, she realises she wants more from her man, but she doesn’t recognise Pierre as such. It is the curse of the alpha females, either they are happy with their jobs, or they are happy with their lifes, and we can only pray we will be one of those few who can have both sides of the coin!

Interpreters in movies part 2.


Peter Joshua: What are you going to do?

Regina Lampert: try and get my old job back at EURESCO I suppose.

Peter: Doing what?

Regina: I’m a simultaneous translator, like Sylvie, only she’s English into French and I’m French into English.


Segundas partes nunca fueron buenas, that’s what they say in Spanish (“Shrek 2” is the exception, of course.) In this case, I would say that neither was the first one, but I have been overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness on the previous post about this subject. I hope I will keep this one on the same level. As soon as I published the other article, I realised that some of my favourite movies have interpreters in them (my loving them and the presence of the interpreter are not related, though.) In this post, I am going to analyse the image of the interpreter in Stanley Donen’s “Charade”, in Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” and in Alan Grint’s “The Greek interpreter”, season 2 episode 2 of “The adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.


In this movie, Audrey Hepburn is Regina Lampert, a woman chased by her dead husband’s associates in crime. Without a dime (her husband sold everything before dying) but with an incredible number of Givenchy clothes, Regina decides to go back to her old job: simultaneous interpreter at EURESCO. In fact, she says: “simultaneous translator”, as it was common some time ago, and as it still is in Italy.

The plot is quite good, and so is the cast, which includes, apart from Ms Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and James Coburn. The details about interpreting, on the other hand, are not that realistic. First of all, at minute 47, Regina says: “What that has got to do with the CIO?” to what Matthau/Bartholomew answers: “CIA, Mrs Lampert, CIA!” Now, I am not sure about how the work was in the ‘60s, but I find it unlikely that an interpreter working for an international organization doesn’t know the acronym CIA, considering that, back then, the agency had already been operative since 15 years.

Another puzzling part is the one in the booths, starting at minute 1:25:20. Here, we see Sylvie, interpreter in the French booth, standing in the English one and talking with Regina, while the floor is taken by an Italian speaker. Seriously, I have several questions about this part:

–         Why are they alone in the booths? Was that normal before? It seems pretty strange, considering that nothing is coming out from the French and English booths while another language is spoken. Where is the other interpreter covering for that combination? Don’t tell me they could not manage to have a perfect cover of all language needs as we did this summer!

–         Assuming they really are one in each booth, how can Sylvie leave hers uncovered? You can abandon your colleague for a while, or worse. As Elena once said: “La confianza con el compañero nos hace hacer cosas asquerosas en la cabina.” To be clear, she was talking about me eating onion tortilla before going in the booth.

–         I don’t even know if there is a point in asking how Peter can enter like that in the booth, let alone kissing her and distracting her. Talking about that, a professional interpreter would not repeat her sentence, no matter how hard the other person is trying to seduce her, or so I think. I still have yet to try this, however.

Two things, though, are realistic enough: the first one is her way of keeping one ear always free from the headset; the second one is the image of the public staring at the booth when they start talking about their business with the microphone on. I know for sure that happens a lot more than we would like to admit, and I know several funny anecdotes; also I remember checking constantly if the light was off while talking with a friend and colleague about lovers during a break.

As I said, I love this movie, partly because Audrey Hepburn is one of my favourite actresses, and partly, as I said once talking about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, because I am not a romantic person and I need romance in movies! In any case, all my love for it and for her cannot blind my interpreter’s point of view; this movie needed some expert advisor on that sense.

Lost in translation

 This is another great movie, not only because of the actors, but in general. I love how they play with the lights and the colours to describe the different states of minds and feelings, or the choice of space and locations to indicate the characters’ abstraction and loneliness. Moreover, of course, I love the part about communication and languages, often just implied, but always incredibly clear. For those of you who don’t know the movie, the two main characters are a famous American actor (Bill Murray/Bob Harris) and a young American graduate (Scarlett Johansson/Charlotte). They are in Tokyo, he is there to film a whisky ad, and she is following her husband, a photographer, who is also there to work. Neither of them can sleep, and neither of them is happy. Lost in a city they don’t know, surrounded by a language and a culture they don’t understand, they enter in contact with the Japanese life through all the visual inputs the city offers them.

Harris has an interpreter who helps him communicate with the director and, in this case, we can see the clichés we associate with oriental languages being represented. We are at minute 9, and the director explains with a lot of emphasis how he would like Harris to act. After all that, half a minute of really serious and deep explanation, the interpreter simply says: “He want you to turn, look in camera, ok?” Harris, following the cliché, and everybody’s thoughts, replies: “That’s all he said?” The same happens the other way, with Harris asking a simple question and the interpreter doing a monologue for the director. I don’t want to judge the quality of the interpreting or the reality of the scene, because I know that is not the point of the movie. As far as I am concerned, she is not even an interpreter, I think she is a secretary who works for the production and happens to speak English. The whole point of this scene is to show us how alienated the protagonist is, and his face says it all, shows the despair he feels in a world he doesn’t understand and in where he doesn’t belong. The whole scene is mockery, but we feel it real, we receive the struggle and the suffering and we can only chuckle bitterly.

 The Greek interpreter

To be brief, and to avoid spoiling the plot, I will only say that, in this episode, Holmes helps a Greek interpreter who has been recruited for a job and dragged into a crime. I have to admit that, although I am a great fan of Sir Conan Doyle’s books, which I keep rereading both in Italian and English since I was 13, I am not extremely pleased with many of the screen adaptations of those stories. The modern “Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, is maybe the only one that doesn’t disappoint me at all; that is because, despite the fact that it is transferred to present day London, it respects the original characters with all their details, if not the stories 100%. “Sherlock Holmes”, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, is not a bad series of movies, and it tries to respect the original as far as Hollywood allows it. In them, though, we see a London more suited for a Tim Burton’s movie, with some hints of “Dr Jekill and Mr Hyde” and a little of Jack the Ripper. It would be silly to say that we can forgive that thanks to the main actors, because they are an incredible pleasure for our eyes, but they also are the farthest I can imagine from the original Holmes and Watson; the only relation between Downey Jr and Sherlock is, maybe, the debauched life style they led. Anyway, going back to the beginning, this series I want to analyse lacks a little of the wittiness that is an important part of the books.

The episode that I quote shows us, again, some of the “don’ts” of the interpreting profession. At minute 10, one of the first statements of our interpreter is: “For many years I have been the chief Greek interpreter in London,” and Sherlock’s face is as skeptical as we will be when, around minute 16, we see him in action. The situation is very dangerous and stressful, we must admit that, but the “chief Greek interpreter in London” should be more used to tension and should handle it a little better. We forgive him for adding or modifying the sentences, because he is more concerned for the guy’s life, but we cannot forgive him for keeping saying: “He says” or “He writes”, there is no excuse for that!


I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it gave you something to think about, either if you share my point of view or if you don’t. And here comes the serious danger: there should be a third part, dedicated to two more movies, and then my first trilogy will be done.

Interpreters in movies.

PresentaciónSilvia Broome: I’m for peace and quiet, mister Lud, it’s why I came to the UN, quiet and diplomacy.

Nils Lud: But… with respect, you only interpret.

Silvia: Countries have gone to war because they misinterpreted one another.”


This was supposed to be my favourite but unfinished post, but then I chose the wrong moment to watch the wrong movie, and here I am, not sure about how much of what I am feeling will come out instead of my knowledge. From the beginning, my apologies for that. The aim of this article is to analyse the image of the interpreter in movies, and to see if this image is correct or if there are mistakes. The reason why I said “unfinished” is because I will be talking about three movies, but I plan to write more as soon as I find more of them.

Of course, one of the movies I will talk about is Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter”, and here come the problems. I watched this movie long time ago, and I tried to avoid watching it again since then. It is not a bad movie, simply it is one of those you cannot watch too many times or, at least, I cannot. After deciding I wanted to write this post, though, I just knew that I had to go back to it, and so I did yesterday. Now I know it was a bad idea or, at least, a bad timing, because the movie shows too much of what I don’t need to see right now and too little of what that title makes me suppose. Who knows me can think that the problem is Nicole Kidman, but no, not this time. I think there is just too much implied in this movie that is painful for me in this exact moment of my life.

Anyway, alea iacta est, I watched it again, I have swallowed the bad feelings and the questions are ready. The other movies I will analyse are Peter Howitt’s “Johnny English Reborn” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel”. Let’s start!

 The Interpreter

Silvia Broome is an interpreter for the United Nations, she works at the Headquarters and she is part of the English booth. Her combination seems to be Spanish-French>English, but we immediately discover that she also speaks Ku, an African language which will be crucial for the plot. We can see several interpreting scenes during the movie, although not too many. One of the first ones is a speech at the General Assembly, and we can directly see something that is not really convincing. The speaker is addressing the audience in Spanish, and we can hear the different booths going into the other five official languages; we start and end with Silvia Broome. In this case, she is anticipating the speaker (we are at minute 6:25). This can happen (even if it should not), but it is kind of unlikely at the beginning of a sentence. We can assume they are implying she has the script in front, because the other interpreter has a document and she is reading it. In that case, an interpreter could anticipate the speaker, but she would and should be even more careful and leave a bigger gap, especially in an ideal situation in which the speaker is going to such a comfortable and easy to manage speed.

Around minute 15:00, Silvia is asked to interpret Ku during a private meeting. In this case, there are some things of which I am not convinced, and I hope some of my readers can clarify them to me, since some of them work for the UN. We see the interpreter standing, with a notebook on her hands, taking notes but doing a mix of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. These conditions are often common in the market, but I do not expect the UN to have the interpreter standing while taking notes if she can be comfortable and do her job properly. Just because Francine Kaufmann did not stand for the rights of interpreters when they took her umbrella to give it to Madame Mitterrand does not mean that we should all accept this kind of treatment or that everyone treats interpreters without the respect they deserve! Moreover, she is not doing a consecutive, which is the way it should be done, since she is the only interpreter for both parties; she is simply doing a kind of “out loud chouchotage”. Is this normal in this kind of meetings?

The most puzzling moment is when, at minute 52:50, a janitor is speaking Portuguese and the interpreter from the French booth is interpreting into English for the policemen, and she shows us some of the “don’ts” of the profession:

–         He says he wasn’t here, I think.

She does not speak Portuguese, because she cannot understand a basic statement that even I understand, but they still choose her to interpret, instead of any of the other UN interpreters who, no doubt, have Portuguese among their working languages. Moreover, she uses the clauses an interpreter should never use because they make him visible (the ones I put in bold.)

What surprises me are not the mistakes by themselves, but the fact that a director, who for the first time obtained from the Secretary General (at that time, mister Kofi Annan) the permission to film a movie at the UNHQ, could not have an interpreter supervising the scenes and correcting the mistakes. How is that possible?

Johnny English Reborn 

This is the second episode of the parody of James Bond which sees Rowan Atkinson as one of the British secret agents. Towards the end (1:21:30), English ends up replacing one of the interpreters during the meeting between the British and the Chinese Prime Ministers.

The situation is not really conventional, with the dignitaries and the interpreters closed in a sort of capsule surrounded by the guards and technicians. We see the interpreters sitting in higher and less comfortable chairs than the politicians, which is a realistic situation, even if the situation would require smaller chairs to avoid bending excessively when whispering. The most doubtful details, though, are the absence of a notebook and a pen on the interpreter’s lap, and the short consecutive that both him and English are performing instead of the chuchotage, which would be the obvious choice in that situation. Again, a little check with an interpreter would have helped smoothing these points.


I have talked already about this movie on a previous post, so I will not dedicate too much space to the general story in here. What interests me this time is the character of the guide/interpreter who helps Brad Pitt. Obviously, we know he is not a professional interpreter and, in general, tourist guides are not, even if they present themselves as such. Moreover, I cannot judge the quality of the interpretation, since I do not speak the second language used, but I can judge his interpreting behaviour at least.

The example I am using is the interaction with the policeman starting at minute 1:32:14. In this case, we can see the interpreter sympathising with Pitt and (so it seems without knowing the language) summarising what the policeman says, instead of interpreting it. It would be good to know if, when Pitt is swearing, he repeats that or not. In theory, he should, but the interpreter has here the freedom of choosing less rude words to help the client obtaining his goal. It is not professional, but it is a common acting when one of the parties is in a position of inferiority and we want to help. At the end, he does not translate the “Fuck you”, and stops interpreting to follow Pitt. That is a normal behaviour for a guide, while an interpreter would finish his job before leaving.

In any case, I do not consider these as mistakes of the movie, because I think this is exactly the way a non professional interpreter would act. My aim with this last movie was to show what is commonly done and what, instead, would be done if using a professional interpreter.


As I said, this was just an analysis I wanted to do based on three well known movies, and I hope to be able to find more examples to use for another post. Just one last thing, if you want to know more about Francine Kaufmann’s anecdote, I found it in Pour une ethique du traducteur (Anthony Pym. Arras, Artois Presses Université, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1997), but you can easily read the English version in here.