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Excellent skills make certain nothing gets lost in translation

Published on Thursday, 27 Jan 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

When simultaneous interpreter Ana Chan is at a movie or watching television, she translates the dialogue in her head.

"I also pay attention to the labels on food items and take note of how the terms are translated," says Chan, whose work involves listening to a message delivered in one language and almost simultaneously interpreting those words into another.

"I always have a notebook in my bag in which I jot down interesting terms I come across in everyday life."

Chan says private companies and the government hire simultaneous interpreters for international conferences.

She adds that excellent language skills and creativity are necessary for success. "Sometimes, speakers use slang. You need to be able to give the audience the full picture," she says. "It is also important to be well-versed with the jargon in different industries."

Simultaneous interpretation is fast-paced and there is no room for error, Chan says. "If you are stuck in the middle of interpreting a sentence, you are in trouble. To prevent that from happening, I prepare thoroughly for each job."

Before going to an event, Chan researches the occasion and the speakers on the internet. She also talks to the speakers before the conference starts in order to familiarise herself with their voices.

Simultaneous interpreters in Hong Kong work on a freelance basis and arrange jobs through agents. They receive an hourly rate from HK$1,800 to more than HK$2,000 - depending on the length of the job and the interpreter's experience.

There is no licensing system for simultaneous interpreters in Hong Kong. Professionals generally hold a university degree in a discipline involving translation or interpretation. 

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