It’s Not a Squirrel!

It’s time for Friday Fancies, where I talk about pretty much anything that strikes my fancy.  Maybe it will strike yours.

This week officially began my day job as a sign language interpreter.  Interpreting is very challenging.  Simultaneous interpreting, which is the most often used, is a complex process of various steps all done at the same time on a loop.  First, you take in the incoming message and search out any implied meanings or cultural nuances to decode.  Then you begin working out how you will translate it, and then you produce the actual product, while at the same time continuing to listen to the incoming message and doing the same process over again.

Another thing many people may not realize is that interpreting is not done *exactly* at the same time as the original language is being produced, word-for-word.  There is usually a 4-10 second lag.  Because of the various grammatical structures of different languages, it’s important to listen for the complete sentence before trying to restructure it appropriately.

For many assignments, sign language interpreters work in teams.  The team interpreter monitors the “working” interpreter’s production for accuracy while also listening to the original message and holding onto details should the working ‘terp miss something.

We had a lot of practice with this in my training program.  (We were usually there for 12-hour school days.)  The following incident was my absolute favorite moment in the whole program.

A classmate was giving an oral presentation on one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Statue of Zeus.  I interpreted, another classmate was my team, and everyone else played the “audience.”

Zeus sat on a chair, yet still his height was 43 feet tall.  He was constructed with ivory and gold-plated bronze.  Precious stones decorated the throne.  In his right hand he held a statue of the goddess of victory, and in his left a sceptre.

As can happen in the interpreting process I described above, the sound door to the ear can shut.  I became so focused on my interpretation, that I didn’t hear what sat on top of the sceptre.  That’s where my team came in.  I leaned over and raised by eyebrows at her, signaling my need for a feed.  She was ready with one.  Now, I didn’t understand how what she told me related to the Statue of Zeus, but I had nothing else to go on, so I went ahead and interpreted that atop the sceptre sat a…squirrel.

There was no squirrel on the Statue of Zeus.  It was an eagle.  We laughed so hard during that debriefing session.  At graduation, that classmate drew each of us copies of this picture:

See the squirrel on top?

Have you ever been given wrong information, only to find out it was wrong *after* you repeated it?  Was it embarrassing, or were you able to laugh about it?  Have you and your friends or family shared any blundering moments?  I love hearing from you!  Have a great weekend everyone!

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19 comments on “It’s Not a Squirrel!

  1. Susan A. says:

    lol, that story is too funny. It amazes me when I see people who can do simultaneous translation. I can’t do it with Arabic, not even when I was at my best. The grammar is so different from English that you have to totally rearrange the sentence and some words just don’t translate. I remember during one of my speaking tests they asked me to talk about a recent news article about the Middle East (in Arabic). It had to do with a Naval blockade that Israel had up during their last confrontation with Lebanon (this was 2006). For the life of me I couldn’t remember the word for “blockade” in Arabic. It totally escaped my mind though I normally knew it. That meant I had to go around the term and describe instead. It went something like this “Israel has ships out on the Mediterranean Sea blocking other ships from getting to Lebanon.” More wordy, but they had to give me credit for it since I still got the point across!

    • Susan A. says:

      Oops, I meant “stopping” not “blocking” in that example sentence, lol.

      • That’s right, Susan, sometimes you just have to go the long way around. As long as the point gets across. There are some ASL words that take one or two English sentences to explain, and vice versa. ASL does share some grammatical structures with English, but I’ve heard it actually has more in common with Arabic.

        • Susan A. says:

          Arabic does weird things like put the verb first in a sentence and it is like Spanish in putting the adjective after the noun. Often, the prepositions are different too. Like they say “close the light” instead of “turn off the light” which I find comical.

          Anyway, I took a sign language class during one of the church camp trips I went on as a kid. We mostly just learned the alphabet and a few words, but since reading this post I have that song “Love in any language” stuck in my head. They taught us the sign language for that (which I have long forgotten) so we could show it off at the end of the week presentation. Amazing that I still remember the song itself after all these years though.

          • linda says:

            Ooh, neat! It’s “close the light” in Mandarin, too, and “open the light.” Sometimes I catch myself almost saying that in English, lol.

  2. amyshojai says:

    Love that! It’s the “telephone game” all over again.

  3. Well, I can’t speak for Zeus, but a squirrel sceptre sounds pretty cool to me 🙂

  4. Hi Angela!

    I learned how to sign the alphabet in grade school. They handed out small cards to everyone in our class. Of course, the nerd in me memorized all of the hand signals. I still remember a few.

    Blundering moments…thank God, it wasn’t mine but…my husband set up his good friend on a double date with a good friend of mine. While the four of us were at dinner, my friend commented on how small my husband’s friend’s hands were. The poor guy “got” the connection, especially after my friend glanced down at his feet. Horrified, I kept my eyes on my plate, afraid that I’d start howling. Um, needless to say, they didn’t hit it off. 😦

  5. Katy says:

    Hats off to you Angela. Many of the sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival were AUSLAN interpreted, and let me just say, for the ones that were, I could barely concentrate on what the speaker was saying because I was so fascinated by the interpreter. It truly is incredible to watch and I am still mind-boggled by how you interpret what’s being said and relay it into basically another language, whilst still listening to what’s being said. Amazing!

    Speaking of bad interpretation stories, I had just arrived in Italy after spending 3 months with a host family in France when I tried to explain to my Italian host family that I had been made to eat a fish head. In French, the word for ‘head’ is tête. As you can imagine though, it’s not easy to go from one language to another, especially when they are as similar as Italian and French are.

    In my confusion, instead of using the correct ‘testa’, I told my story using ‘tette’, which sounds much like tête, but which actually means tits. It wasn’t until I finished telling my story and my young host brother queried my host mother as to why they had made me eat fish tits that I realised my error. We had a big laugh over that one.

    • Hey Katy! I actually think sign language interpreters have it a little easier because of the two modalities: aural and physical. I can’t even imagine being a spoken-language interpreter and listening to the speaker in one language and myself in another!

      LOL. That is so funny that he thought you were serious. He was probably thinking those French are crazy. 😛

  6. Elena Aitken says:

    I love it! And it totally looks like a squirrel to me. 🙂

  7. how funny congrats on the new job. Often times I qualify what I’m going to say with so and so said- esp as I work with kids who lie- a lot

  8. linda says:

    It’s so cool that you’re an ASL interpreter! Best of luck with the job. 😀

  9. Congrats on your new job! My grandma is deaf so I grew up knowing sign language and we always had to speak what grandma was saying as well as answer back. That’s hard to do! My aunts are so proficient at it that we let them interpret for us 99% of the time. They live near grandma (in Denver) and I only see her every few years. Still, I remember everything from my childhood. Which makes it awkward when I’m out and I see deaf people talking to each other. It’s very hard not to eavesdrop. Oops.

    • That’s great that you remember what you learned, Tameri. Often it’s a matter of “use it or lose it.” I know just with the three-month summer break, I go back feeling a little less fluent.

  10. Great job Angela! I admire what you are doing … and the great sense of humour you add to it.

  11. Hartford says:

    Congrats on the job and wow – that’s intense. Love the blunder!! LOL…stuff like that happens to me all the time. Foot in mouth. yip! 🙂

  12. A squirrel scepter! Awesome 😀

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