Brigitte: My name is Brigitte Andreassier-Pearl. I’ve been an interpreter at the UN for 33 years actually. I started at ’71 and for the last three years I’ve been a chief of the French Interpretation Section.
Diana: An interpreter is supposed to understand certain languages and then turn them into their mother tongue most of the time. So, for example, Russian interpreter will hear the original speech in English and in French and turn it into his mother tongue, which is Russian.
Sydney Pollack: Interpreting is very different from the translation, and there is an enormous amount of pride about that here, among the interpreters. They don’t like to be called translators.
Nicole Kidman: An interpreter is someone who is listening and literally interpreting on the floor, while inside of the General Assembly, or is in action, or at any other particular meeting, and they will interpret at the same time.
Brigitte: School of thought would say as long as you translate the word, you know, it’s OK. No, you have to make sense, it has to be coherent. It’s not enough to do a translation, you know, you have to interpret and make full sentences, and you have to make sense in what you’re saying.
Diana: You have to speak while the speakers are speaking. So this is called simultaneous interpretation. Translation is written, so you deal with the documents. A good interpreter is not necessarily a good translator and vice-versa. It is a cross between the real professional profession and an artistic profession. You have to know your technical side, but you also have to have certain disposition before you can do it well. And, when you are in the booth, when you are in front of the meeting, part of it is really performing also, because you are, after all on air, and you cannot redo what you just did.
Sydney: So they prefer seeing people. They live international lives, their research is reading the news-papers, and the funny papers or comic books on another language. They’re constantly trying to learn slang and current expressions, because when they get in trouble is when conversation gets very technical or moves outside the classical or traditional phrases of language.
Brigitte: Sometimes delegates go too fast, but actually, in my case, when it’s fast and easy, I like it because it is very challenging. Now, fast and difficult that is when you just have to, you know, keep your cool. But the main thing is that you never have to give the impression to your audience that you’re lost.
Diana: It is seldom not stressful, because you’re not saying what you want to say, but someone else’s thoughts. So you can never know where they are going to lead you. When it is politically charged you’re particularly stressful because you really don’t want to make a mistake.
Sydney: There are certain characteristics that a lot of interpreters have a common, most of the time they are musical.
Brigitte: Quite a few of us, you know, play a musical instrument or are in a choir. And when I first talked to Sydney Polack, he said: “You, Brigitte, what is your hobby?” I said: “Well, I play a bassoon.” “So, tell me, tell me again about a bassoon. How big is the case? Would you take your bassoon to work?” I said: “Sometimes I do when I have rehearsals, also in evenings and things like that”. Here you have Mr. Fark, chief of an Arabic section of interpretation. Now, this is the English booth of a Security Council, we have two interpreters at work at work. The speaker is speaking English, so they’re listening, waiting for their turn when some foreign language will be spoken in the room, and they will start working. And this is actually where Nicole Kidman came that day to observe the interpreters at works.
Nicole Kidman: When I was doing my research I went to spend time in the little boxes, in the interpreting boxes, and saw the General Assembly in action, and what they really told me is that you really have to interpret each word, because if you get one word wrong, then you can absolutely throw off the understanding.
Diana: Some people prefer to interpret from the booth, because you feel protected, you’re behind the glass and all that, but personally I prefer what you call “life”. They are bilateral, for example: two heads of states, then you are with one and then you talk to another, because it is more pointed and you can feel the electricity in the air, you can, you know, see the expression on the face much closer, and you really feel that you are…the voice, tact to another voice, and the time is so tight that you really don’t have to think of yourself, you hear what you’re hearing and quickly you render it. And I love when it is bilateral.
Sydney: That is a fictitious country that we made up. And we made up, believe you or not, a fictitious language, which only Nicole Kidman can speak. I can’t utter a word of it. She’s learned a lot of it.
Nicole: It was pretty hard but I like a challenge.
Sydney: We went to a Language Institute in
Nicole: You really wanna be précised about it, and you have to speak it quickly, and you wanna understand what you’re saying, that’s all important even if it is a sort of make-believing language.
Brigitte: It is almost like any other job – if you’ve never done it, it looks impossible. But, listen, a brain surgeon is really hard, but you’re trained and you can do it, right? You know, pilot of an airplane, you get the training and then you can do it. So it’s the same for us.
I had to interpret recipes, I had to interpret babe-feed instructions and, oh, but, you know, you never know which way it’s going to take. Because they have a kind of diplomatic band, or no, in the beginning. Before they really get into the integrity they can be talking about anything. For us all, to do a good job, we have to know what we’re talking about, you have to know what we’re talking about. And to know what you’re talking about, you have to know what is happening in the world. And for that we might be more and more involved than people think. They think we’re just interpreting speeches, but actually no. We are really trying to figure out what that country is trying to speak, how we try to help people talk and not fight.