Interpreting for the Media: Spotlight on the fast-moving world of the multimedia interpreter

Event report

by Michael Wells

Have you ever watched a TV news item with a non-English speaker interpreted live and wondered where the interpreter was and how they prepared? My colleague, Dominique Lambert, answered this and other questions in the fascinating talk he gave on “Interpreting for television news” as part of our Interpreting Division multimedia event. Dominique started interpreting television news in 2003 at the time of the Iraq war and rendered the French Foreign Minister’s speech into English. Since then he has interpreted all the French presidents and covered topics ranging from foreign policy and the Euro crisis to internal domestic affairs and terrorism. TV interpreting now takes up about 20% of his time, but is predictably unpredictable, as the interpreter does not know what the speakers are going to say, unlike the case for conference interpreting. Wide-ranging, up-to-date general knowledge is therefore essential. Dominique finds that his extensive translation work helps with vocabulary and preparation. He noted that one golden rule is never to guess or invent, mentioning the hapless Iranian TV interpreter who mistranslated President Ahmadinejad’s speech and said Iran would use nuclear weapons instead of the opposite; that certainly could have had some pretty nasty consequences. He covered other essential requirements such as tone of voice, a pleasant speaking manner and good delivery.

Alexander Kan, BBC Russian Service Arts and Culture correspondent, then spoke to us about his experience as an English-Russian interpreter and the linguistic and cultural journey to London from his native Leningrad/St. Petersburg, the Soviet Union’s cultural capital where he started in the 1980s translating for Western journalists who flocked there as the country opened up during glasnost and perestroika. He moved into the political sphere to work for Anatoly Sobchak, the then presidential hopeful Mayor of St Petersburg. At that time, he had to enrich his linguistic interpretation with cultural background to explain to his boss what was going on. When Sobchak’s Deputy took over and needed an interpreter, he cut Alexander short, telling him not to explain or comment, but just to interpret, that was his job. The Deputy in question? Vladimir Putin! Alexander moved to London in 1996 and started work for the BBC World Service and BBC World TV, where he is the principal Russian simultaneous interpreter and correspondent focused on cultural issues.

After a networking lunch, the event continued with a panel discussion of some of the challenges of interpreting difficult speakers such as US President Trump and ended with a general exchange of views on conditions and rates.

The ID Committee met afterwards to finalise planning for the next meeting on 28 April, which will look at all things voice-over and Blue Badge tourist guiding.  Detailed information available in the New Year.

The Interpreting Division invites you to the first CPD event of their 2017/18 programme.


10:30-11:00: Coffee and welcome

11:00-11:45: "Interpreting for television news", with Dominique Lambert MCIL

Dominique has been a full-time translator-interpreter for the last 16 years and runs Lambert Languages, a London-based company providing in-house translations into French and into English, mainly in the legal sector and for agencies. Interpreting for the media takes-up about 20% of his time, and very much depends on current affairs and whether it is of interest or not to an English-speaking audience. Although Dominique is a generalist, most of his experience is in international affairs. He has interpreted the last four French Presidents live for most of the major TV stations. He started in 2003 with the French Foreign Minister’s speech at the United Nations at the time of the Iraq war, and has been pretty busy ever since. The subjects have ranged from France’s foreign policy, to the Euro crisis, internal domestic affairs and terrorism. 

Dominique will talk in particular about the importance of gaining wide-ranging general knowledge of current affairs and associated vocabulary. He is convinced that extensive translation work is key and he and his team translate up to 300,000 words a month – they are still learning, but the experience is invaluable for interpreting. 

11:45-12:30: "Interpreting the World", with Alexander Kan

Alexander is an English-to-Russian and Russian-to-English translator and interpreter with a vast experience of translation and interpreting work. In the 1980s and 1990s, as a freelance interpreter in his native Leningrad/St. Petersburg, he worked at high-flying political events including talks between the City Governor and visiting US senators, diplomats and Vice-President Albert Gore. He also worked with media: TV, radio and print journalists who were flooding the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia at the time of the country’s radical post-communist transformation. The work also included business talks, scientific and academic conferences, art events, etc. Since moving to the UK in 1996 his interpreting was focused mainly in the media world, primarily for BBC World TV, where he is the principal Russian simultaneous interpreter for every live appearance of President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov and other Russian officials.

Alexander will share his experience of translating/interpreting for the media, focusing on challenges of simultaneous interpreting and the need to be flexible in the smooth shift from simultaneous to consecutive.

12:30-13:45: Buffet lunch and networking with colleagues

13:45-14:45: "Exploring media interpreting"

Q&A discussion panel with speakers and committee members

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November 11th, 2017 12:00 AM   to   12:00 AM
Hotel Novotel London City South
53-61 Southwark Bridge Road
London, SE1 9HH
United Kingdom
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Category Interpreting Division
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CIOL Interpreting Division