Proverbs aside, I don’t practise constantly and I don’t interpret at the highest level, but I can do it in other, slightly less demanding circumstances and from time to time I am contracted for that purpose.
Another thing about interpreting, which you would have thought was fairly obvious but apparently isn’t, is that interpreters specialise; you interpret from one, or sometimes two, specific languages, into your own native tongue. It is not simply a question of knowing some generalised ‘foreign’. There are people who fail to grasp this, including people who should know better. I work for the courts occasionally and the last time they rang it was to interpret for a man who spoke Hindi and Bengali, but not English.
‘So you can’t help, then?’ asked the judge, getting to the point in a sharp and practical manner. Since the accused seemed an educated chap it crossed my mind to try it in Sanskrit, if only because it would have made a great story, but I could see it ending rather badly, and I dared not.
‘Afraid not, Your Honour,’ I declared. ‘Maybe we’ll have better luck next time.’ And I was sent on my way. They paid me anyway, since it’s someone else’s money.
On another occasion I was asked to interpret for the judges at a dog show. It wasn’t for the show itself, where communication seems to be done by a form of sign language, but beforehand, to keep them busy and stop them getting in the way while everything was organised. A simple enough task, it should have been. Except that they were French, and spoke no English. Again we had hit the problem of generalised foreign.
Now I read French well enough, and I speak it after a fashion, but that fashion can be seen in the title of this post, which is a verbatim answer I gave when asked what the men loading rifles into their cars were doing. Experts in the Gallic tongue well notice there is room for improvement. Had I had time to think, I would have made a better attempt, I would at least have remembered the word ‘sanglier’, but that’s the thing about interpreting- you don’t have time to think.
So there I was, through no fault of my own, taking a professional fee for doing the job of a rank amateur. To point out that I wasn’t really up to the task would have been useless, as the organisers were far too busy to look for a replacement, so I just got on with it. It went remarkably well, in the end. Everything that needed to be communicated was communicated, they were kept away from the preparations for the show, and they went off quite happy.
Due to another little mix-up of that kind I suspect there is a farmer somewhere outside Dublin trying to raise pigs on hazel nuts, and wondering why they are so expensive to feed and the meat doesn’t taste anything like what he tasted in the south of Spain, when I told him that’s what they fed on.
It all serves to make life a bit more interesting.