好译员是英雄 / Good Interpreters Are Heroes


“但是,由谁来给它装上轮子呢?”/ “…but who’s gonna put wheels under it ?”
 

好译员是英雄

1976年,我参加了广交会的一次会谈。会谈的一方是一位中国的外贸官员,另一方是一个美国代表团,都是香港美国商会的成员。

会谈的目的是探讨加强和促进中美贸易的方法。

我那时是代表团里低级别的年轻成员,第一次受邀参加此类会议。

会上的美方发言人惯于使用大量的英语俚语,包括企业行话。他是口译人员的噩梦,因为他还喜欢说冗长复杂的句子,中间也不停下来让译员翻译。

中方的译员还算称职,但经验明显不足。就像当年中国的大多数翻译一样,他可能很少、甚至根本没有接触过母语是英语的老师。

中方官员姓孙,是一位十分严肃、寡言的中年干部,身穿一件灰色的中山装。按照当时的惯例,中方只把他的姓氏告诉了我们,没有告诉他的职衔或部门,也没有提供他的名片。

会议进行得拖拖拉拉,那位喋喋不休的美方发言人提及了贸易中的问题、困难和建议,而那位沉默寡言的中方官员则听得多、说得少。

在把美方发言人的发言翻译成中文的过程中,译员的平均准确率大概有60%。考虑到错译和漏译的情况,这种准确率相当危险,特别是在持续一个多小时、包含多个主题的会谈里。

作为一个低级别成员,我觉得自己不适合插嘴,去澄清或更正译员的错误。

那位美方发言人发表了一通高谈阔论,大讲中国外贸企业如果想增加销量,就必须改进出口产品的包装。

译员处理得不错,但明显感到累了。

Good Interpreters Are Heroes

In 1976 I was in a meeting at the Canton Trade Fair between a Chinese foreign trade official and a group of Americans, all members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to improve and facilitate US-China trade.

I was a young, junior member of the group, and it was the first time I had been invited to join a meeting of this sort.

The spokesman on the U.S. side had the habit of using a lot of slang expressions in English, including corporate slang. He was an interpreter’s nightmare because he also spoke in long, winding sentences without pausing for the interpreter to translate.

The interpreter for the Chinese official was reasonably competent but obviously inexperienced. Like most interpreters in China at the time, he probably had little or no exposure to native speakers of English among his teachers.

The Chinese official, Mr. Sun, was a somewhat stern, quiet, middle-aged cadre in a gray zhongshan-styled jacket. As was routine at that time, we were told his surname only. No title or department, and no name card was provided.

The meeting dragged on, with the talkative American raising trade issues, problems and suggestions, and the quiet Chinese official listening more than responding.

The interpreter was averaging about 60% accuracy in rendering the American’s comments into Chinese. That’s a dangerous level, considering errors and omissions, especially in a conversation covering multiple topics and lasting more than an hour.

As a junior guy, I did not feel it was appropriate for me to chime in and clarify or correct the interpreter.

The American gave a long spiel about how the Chinese foreign trade corporations needed to improve the packaging of their export goods if they wanted to increase their sales.

The interpreter handled this pretty well, but he was clearly getting tired.




广交会代表胸前佩戴着进入会场必需的粉色丝带。这些丝带让我们看起来就像在县农产品交易会上以最佳母牛、最大西瓜或者最胖南瓜而获奖的胜利者。/
Canton Fair delegates wore pink ribbons, which enabled access to the Fair complex. All these ribbons made us look like winners of the prize for best heifer, biggest watermelon, or plumpest pumpkin at the county agricultural fair. 

中方的那位高级官员回答说:“我们已经注意到贵方有关改进出口产品包装的意见,我们将转达给相关部门的负责人。”

美国人对这种含糊不清的保证有些失望,他用一句外人不熟悉的企业行话反问:

“孙先生,这是个好主意,但是,由谁来给它装上轮子呢?(意为“谁来真正推动这项工作呢?”——译注)”

此时已经非常疲倦的译员把这句话翻译成“现在美方有一项关于汽车工业的建议。”

从那一刻起,会谈奔向了外太空,双方各自的讲话和回答出现了巨大的脱节。

美国人说的是大批化学品的出口包装问题,而那位译员却拼命把他的话往汽车工业上靠。

孙先生只有听的份儿,显然不明白这些美国人在唠叨些什么。

这就好似一场接发球都不沾球案的乒乓球赛。会场里全是困惑不解的面容。

那个时候,许多会谈都变成了这个样子。优秀的译员凤毛麟角,没有好的译员,本该卓有成效的讨论可能成为白白浪费时间的东拉西扯。

The senior Chinese guy responded: “Your comments on export packaging have been noted and will be relayed to the responsible persons of the departments concerned.”

Somewhat frustrated by the vagueness of that assurance, the American responded with an obscure piece of corporate slang:

“That’s a fine idea, Mr. Sun, but who’s going to put wheels under it?”

Which the now very frustrated interpreter translated as: “Now the American has a proposal about the automotive industry.”

From that point on, the conversation went off into outer space, with huge disconnects between the respective comments and responses of both sides.

The American was talking about export packaging of bulk chemicals, but the interpreter was trying to fit his comments into the context of the automotive industry.

Mr. Sun just listened, no doubt wondering what these Americans were going on about.

It was like a pingpong match in which every volley and serve completely missed the table. Puzzled faces all around.

There were lots of conversations that ended up like that in those days. Good interpreters were few and far between, and could make the difference between productive discussion and time-wasting babble.

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