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Simultaneous translation - a golden bowl?
( 2004-01-09 15:36) (eastday.com)

Simultaneous interpreters are in great demand in Shanghai. For the upcoming 2010 World Expo, multilinguists are training hard and cashing in on the city's need for talent. Of course, not everyone has what it takes, writes Xu Wei

They are a specialgroup of people. Through the au-dio-visual equip-ment before them, they can utter thousands of words instantly and, in doing so, earn up to 1,000 yuan (US$120) per hour.

Yes, they are simultaneous interpreters.

Many people still remember the simultaneous interpreters who remarkably showcased their skills for live broadcasts on China Central TV during the US-led war on Iraq last March. Once again the prestigious position - called jin fanwan or golden bowl by many Chinese - has aroused a great deal of interest.

There are only about 20 professional simultaneous interpreters in China, and more qualified talents in this field are waiting to serve the ever-increasing number of international conferences and events. Because of the great demand, the first training center for simultaneous interpreters in city was launched at the Shanghai International Studies University last September.

"With a dream of nurturing local top-level interpreters, we are trying our best to provide students with a first-class, all-encompassing training program," says Chai Mingjiong, president of the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation at the university.

More than 4 million yuan has been invested in the new training language lab whose design is reminiscent of the lab at the United Nations. Taking turns, two simultaneous interpreters can work in each of its eight booths.

Additionally, two experienced simultaneous interpreters at the United Nations, both members of the International Association of Conference Interpretation, Andrew Dawrant and Dai Huiping, have been invited to teach. So far, the alluring facility has enrolled its first 10 students from various backgrounds. After passing strict exams in both English and Chinese, these 10 were selected from 100 applicants.

Denise Zhang, one of the 10 students, courageously quit an admirable job in a foreign company and decided to take on this demanding career.

"My strong interest in translation pushed me here," says Zhang. "The outstanding performance of the simultaneous interpreter covering the September 11 terrorist attacks on Hong Kong's Phoenix TV deeply impressed me, and I decided to pursue this career, which is very respectable but certainly not easy."

Zhang and the other nine students are now in their first phase of theoretical learning, which covers specific interpretation skills and routines, and will soon receive practical training in the newly built translation booths. They may even have an opportunity to practice at the United Nations.

However, to ensure the high quality of graduates, strict filtration never ceases during the 2-year training.

Officials from the international organizations will test their abilities in a real working environment with midterm and final examinations.

Those who can't pass either of the exams will be eliminated while those who can, the qualified ones, may be recommended to the interpretation association after several months' work and will then start their simultaneous interpretation careers.

Perhaps the lure of prestige and high salaries mask a learning process that is a little bit cruel, but, as the adage says, true gold fears not the fire. The officials of the training center have reached a consensus on simultaneous interpreters: What the city really needs is quality rather than quantity.

"I regard simultaneous interpretation as a skill rather than a talent," says Dai. "Continuous practice, diligence and persistence should be highlighted in the learning process. These elements can help interpreters overcome the language-learning bottleneck and succeed in the end. The glorious results come out of a process that is undoubtedly time-consuming and painstaking."

The perception that a person with a good comprehension of English will definitely be a qualified simultaneous interpreter is wrong.

These interpreters should remain curious about every field in order to be able to react quickly to any special or updated terms during their translation. The principle is that the interpretation should strictly conform to the speaker's original words.

Interpreters must grasp the main meaning of each sentence instead of dwelling on individual words. Furthermore, they must try not to reverse the sentence order.

"It is a demanding job that requires a broad understanding, a good attitude, and language proficiency," adds Chai. These requirements explain why classes on various subjects including economics, law, foreign cultures and conference management are offered.

"Interpretation has long been my interest ever since high school," smiles Zhou Liang, another student who formerly worked as an IT engineer. "Now it's time for me to pick up the dream again. The road to becoming a high-quality simultaneous interpreter is tough, but I have never regretted my choice."

Due to the generous salaries given to simultaneous interpreters, a growing number of people are inclined to begin their studies in the field, but both teachers and students advise candidates to think twice and make full preparations before entering this career because of its strict requirements and arduous training process.

Many even feel reluctant to call the position a "golden bowl."

"Compared with the students' investment - a fee of 80,000 yuan for two years - the pay is reasonable," adds Dai. "In addition, simultaneous interpreters usually work as freelancers. Their payment is associated with the number of conferences they attend, which varies based on the time of year."

Since a large number of simultaneous interpreters will be needed for the approaching 2010 World Expo, the training program is considering the possibility of setting up more simultaneous interpretation programs for other foreign languages.

Hopefully in the near future more professional local talents will actively engage in the city's conferences.

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