From Being a Translator to a Facilitator: Role Exchange of an Interpreter Working for Intergovernmental Communication | July 2015 | Translation Journal

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From Being a Translator to a Facilitator: Role Exchange of an Interpreter Working for Intergovernmental Communication

From Being A Translator To A Facilitator

A Practice Report on an Interpreting Assignment for the Fifth Guangdong-Stockholm Civil Servant Training Workshop


This practice report reviews a consecutive interpreting assignment for one of the Guangdong-Stockholm civil servant training workshops. The review highlights the importance of early preparation of both glossary building and knowledge structuring, and of final preparation of a “mind-map” that allows immediate associations and contextualization. In the assignment, three dimensions of an interpreter’s responsibility were brought to light, suggesting a role exchange from a mere translator to a facilitator. The author argues that formality, intelligibility and coherency are the essential measurements for interpreting assessment. In the review of the assignment, the report particularly focuses on problematic or referable cases that either violate or follow the three principles. Case analysis is presented to discuss practical solutions to the problems of inappropriateness in register, “untranslatability” in meaning and incoherency in delivery. To be register-conscious, the interpreter is expected to the match her diction to that of the speaker with regards to the subject, the audience and the occasion as well; to get the meaning across, she needs to seek beyond “untranslatability” flexible expressions in the form of paraphrasing, describing, keeping the terms in their original or skipping them; to achieve coherency in delivery, the interpreter could re-organize the speaker’s utterances through putting in logical links, cutting off dispensable expressions and reversing the sequence of speech notes.

Key Words: facilitator, formality, intelligibility, coherency, register, untranslatability

Chapter One Introduction to the Assignment

At a time when China is moving forward with its internationalization projects, when intergovernmental exchanges are thriving and diversifying, reaching as far as the sub-local level, and when these official dialogues are becoming increasingly specialized, practically-based and technically complex, there is a pressing need to maintain quality and standards in the profession of governmental conference interpreting, particularly at the local and sub-local levels. Intergovernmental communication no longer just displays stereotyped posture, handshakes or decent diction in the glamorous spotlight; it reaches out, touches the real and solves problems. Apart from general meetings, it takes on other various forms to achieve its goals: summits to address crisis, workshops to gain insight, fora to share information, field trips to experience and joint programs to prepare future leaders. These meetings are by no means playgrounds for modeling. They are more like testing grounds for new ideas and practices, which are usually informative and target-specific. For these exchanges to be accessible as both inspirational and informative in the language domain, interpreters are expected to assume a role that is no longer traditional and mechanical as they did when they could do their job well as long as they followed the scripts already prepared. It is a new role that requires a functional shift from being a translator who only works on rendition of different languages per se, to a facilitator who deals with interpretation of different texts, so to speak, so as to enable governmental conversations formal, intelligible and coherent all at the same time.

This report is thus put together to identify factors that cause informality, unintelligibility and incoherency in interpreting for intergovernmental communication, and to seek practical solutions based on a recent consecutive interpreting assignment for the Fifth Guangdong-Stockholm Civil Servant Training Programme. Initiated on a ten-year contract signed by the Guangdong Government and Stockholm Municipality, this annual training programme is a joint offering between Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) and Stockholm University to help Chinese officials gain a greater understanding of public administration, using Sweden as an example. From June 1 to June 30 in the year 2011, 32 civil servants from GuangdongProvince received training at StockholmUniversity in the form of workshops, field studies and site visits, with specific themes on the agenda for each day. The author of this report, together with the other two faculty members from SYSU, served as the interpreters for the programme. This report describes one of the author’s interpreting assignments for a workshop featuring Swedish Public Administration on June 8, hosted by Dr. Paul Levin, currently Programme Manager for this training and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of Economic History at StockholmUniversity. He presented his talks in English titled as “Global Governance and Swedish Public Administration” , with PowerPoint slides given out to the author one day prior to the workshop, which lasted 3 hours from 9:00am to 12:00pm as a morning session, including one coffee break (15 minutes) and the group discussion part (30 minutes). Messages were rendered consecutively between segments from English to Chinese for Dr. Levin’s presentation, and then switched from Chinese to English for group reports after the discussion.

A few points need to be made here to justify the selection of this one particular workshop out of many as the subject for the report. First and foremost, the presentation was well-organized to both deliver a clear outline of Swedish public governance and highlight the essential characteristics of its administration. It contains intensive knowledge, both theoretically and practically, about Swedish politics and public administration, and instructive details on how we, as foreign observers, could approach and understand them. The informativeness of the presentation, which is not only typical of any academic discourse in political science, but also unfamiliar to the Chinese participants, underscores the significance of having a sense of register (formality) and developing cross-cultural awareness (intelligibility) in interpreting, which are the first two main topics to be discussed in the report. Secondly, the workshop offered opportunity for discussion and feedback on a few certain issues, allowing participants to voice their own opinions and ask questions. The speech involved in this section therefore, tended to be more discursive, conversational and freewheeling. The unpredictability of the discussion part sheds light upon another hidden role of an interpreter (coherency): a language coordinator who help re-organizes source speech and delivers message-based target speech by cutting redundant words, putting in missing logical links and even reversing the sequence of notes. Last but not least, this workshop was one of the few cases in the programme where the author was allowed to make a recording for public re-use and where the lecturer, though born a Swedish, spoke standard American English without the slightest traces of a Scandinavian accent, making it easier for transcription and analysis.

Here is one more important note before the introduction part is concluded. The fact that “the author” and “the interpreter” hereafter distinctively called implies a difference. The former refers to the person who is recalling her first-hand experience of the interpreting assignment and writing it as it was into this report, while the latter refers to an idealized professional who is reviewing the experience and expecting it to be the way it should be. This distinctiveness is of course, neither a reflection of a split personality (technically not, as both personalities overlap most of the time), nor a tricky game that plays on words; it is thus contrived with the hope of benefiting readers by drawing a clear line between what was done and what should be done for improvement concerning interpreting.

Chapter Two Description of the Assignment

It should be noted that from May 31 to July 1 in the year 2010, the author performed similar interpreting service for the Fourth Guangdong-Helsinki Civil Servant Training Programme in Finland, from which prudence and foresight were gained in preparation for the 2011 mission. Programme itinerary was also provided to the author for translation one week prior to setting off to Sweden, so each interpreter was preliminarily assigned with specific sessions of the month-long programme according to the course agenda. Being aware of the intensity both in information sharing and time length of the workshop, the author set out early to prepare for the day.

2.1 Pre-workshop preparation


2.1.1 One week before the programme started

The workshop in this report was marked as “Swedish Public Administration, by Dr. Paul Levin, July 8” on the programme itinerary. With these two important sources of information available, the interpreter can either start seeking online data and library references on public administration in Sweden, or visiting the personal website of Dr. Levin for his biography, research interests, achievement and so on. Generally these two dimensions, i.e., information about the speaker and his topic for presentation, will run across each other during preparation, and it is usually the case that among universities of the western world, professors or researchers in the academic field furnish their homepages with not only resumes, but also lecture slides, notes, audio or video clips of former talks and so on for open download and study. Therefore, the author decided to approach the speaker as a starting point, before more “dots” of relevant documents were connected.

It is not difficult to locate Dr. Levin’s homepage on the web. Logging onto the website (, one can browse through the items of his publication and spot one paper titled as “瑞典公共行政分权化单一制国家中的治理, Paul Levin. 聂勇浩, 张照译” (“Swedish Public Administration--Governance in a Decentralized Unitary State”). Already translated into Chinese and uploaded in PDF format on the web, it is an article that was published in“公共行政评论” (Commentary on Pubic Administration, Vol.6, 2008), a Chinese journal on public governance. It summarizes the three basic levels of Swedish political structure, the working principles and distinctive qualities of its public administration, and how the EU membership affects its governance. The best part of discovering this paper is that it provides rich theoretical knowledge and term clarification about the subject concerned in Chinese, the target language the author was supposed to work into.

However, it is also important for the interpreter to be conversant with the subject involved in the source language so that she would be more perceptive to the ideas conveyed by the speaker, and more expressive and “terms-conscious” (in the sense of choosing the “right” words) when rendering feedback to the speaker. Therefore, the author continued with the research by googling more relevant papers by Dr. Levin on the same subject. One article was found also on the web, titled as “The Swedish Model of Public Administration: Separation of Powers—The Swedish Style” (Vol.4, No.1, 2009) in JOAAG (The Journal of Administration and Governance), an official journal of the network of Asia Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance. Closely associated with the contents in the aforementioned paper, this article investigates Swedish structures of public administration and discusses the three characteristics that distinguish it from other political systems. Related key terms are clearly defined and illustrated in various cases, many of which are matched with translated versions established in the Chinese paper, such as “labor peace” with “劳资关系的和谐”, “dualism” with “二元主义”, “openness and accountability” with “开放性与问责性”, “decentralization” with “分权化”, “Ombudsman” with “监察专员”, to name but a few. The benefit of these bi-lingual resources and cross references lends convenience to glossary preparation, a very important learning process for the interpreter to understand and memorize terminology.

These two background papers serve, to some extent, to outline a general picture of how Swedish public administration is methodologically described and approached by the academics, and thus suggest a clue of how the interpreter could prepare for the subject. Apart from learning technical terms, she is also building a knowledge structure. It starts with introducing the Swedish political system, which contains the central, regional and local levels, and then the relations between state and citizens, central and local levels, and politicians and civil servants, in order to demonstrate the Swedish system as something broader than the famous “cradle-to-grave” welfare type that most people are likely to think of when Swedish welfare is mentioned. Following the introduction are the three factors contributing to the success of the Swedish system: openness and accountability, dualism, and decentralization. Finally, the structure ends with discussion of the existing and possible impact internationalization brings to Swedish governance, the challenges it face and the opportunities it embraces in cross-cultural communication.

To sum up, early preparation in absence of any substantial documents provided by the organizers or speakers usually takes into consideration two important perspectives: the bi-lingual glossary of relevant terminology, and more critically, the knowledge structure out of which the subject involved is generally discoursed on. To put it in a metaphor, if glossary constitutes the flesh of an organic entity analogous to a quality interpreting service, then the knowledge structure could be regarded as something fundamental as the skeleton. It is a framework where the interpreter could contextualize herself, conveniently locate the technical terms and increase their “availability”, so that they will be on the tip of her tongue when she needs them.


2.1.2 One day before the workshop started

Now that we have the flesh and the skeleton, where is the running blood?

Although the AIIC (the International Association of Conference Interpreters) Code of Professional Ethics does require organizers to offer interpreters documents in sufficient time to prepare, some organizers might not be familiar with the professional requirements or working conditions for interpreting, and would need subtle guidance. It is therefore the responsibility of the interpreter to send polite reminders to them for drafts or finalized documents. Upon request, Ms. Hanna Hill Brunius, project coordinator for this training programme, kindly sent the finalized lecture slides complied by Dr. Levin to the author by email one day before the workshop started.

As soon as the slides were received, the author promptly set down to updating the existing glossary and rationalizing the logic on which the whole presentation is based, with the help of the knowledge structure already at work. And this is where the role exchange of the interpreter starts to play its part: the interpreter pictures herself in the workshop setting, with 32 civil servants sitting in the lecture room and Dr. Levin about to give his talk. She is thinking how Dr. Levin would start his presentation—maybe a self-introduction, but the chance is slim, since he already met the participants on June 7 for a small discussion according to the course agend—-but she decides to prepare for Dr. Levin’s bio anyway, in case he really picks it up. Then she closely studies each slide, identifying recurring terms, unfamiliar terms, and terms that denote abstract concepts, while adding notes to help define and clarify each of them. This is not a mechanical memorizing act; it is more of a learning process where layers of jargons are removed and a network of ideas is revealed. “Legalism” for example, is translated as “司法性”, based on references available online and in the background papers. But what exactly does it mean by “司法性It is a kind of ideology that is adopted by the Swedish judicial system but is now used more often than not to describe the working style of the Swedish administrative system. Probing deeper into its meaning requires a curious and concentrated attitude of the interpreter towards making sense of the word’s history, usage and its relations with the other key words. The reason why this word is applied to public administration is that, according to Dr. Levin, for a long history, Swedish judicial system and its administrative counterpart have been sharing a certain proportion of duties and obligations which are so overlapped that the Swedish courts could be even regarded as part of the administrative apparatus, which is gradually seen as the extension of the judicial system, whose spirit of independence without governmental interference is ardently upheld. Therefore, “legalism” is applicable not only in courts, but also in all those court-like agencies, councils, and ministries, who follow the laws as rigorously as the courts enforce the laws. This word appears twice on different slides. It first shows up as the third characteristic of Swedish pubic administration, which is easy to understand with what has just been explained above; but it shows up again on the last part of the slides, indicating its presence in the administrative system being challenged by the impact of the EU membership. What contributes to this change? It keeps pushing the interpreter for more answers. In the end, the interpreter adds a very important piece of note to the word in the glossary: “legalism” was once part of the system to epitomize the spirit of autonomy, but now it is affected as the EU places high demands on coordination between civil servants and ministry officials. All might seem to end here. But the interpreter quickly jumps onto another key term: “autonomy”, which is closely related to “legalism”. Apparently, these two words do not suggest association. But her knowledge structure that was built earlier and the logic which the slides follow guide her to connect these seemingly unrelated “dots” and form what the author likes to call a “mind-map”, a map on which all the destination-like terms involved are orderly positioned, organically connected, readily made accessible by clearly defined routes. This “mind-map” is the running blood.

The interpreter is translating if she identifies “legalism” as “司法性” and isolates it from other words of potential relevance; but when she approaches the term within the text of the “mind-map”, she is interpreting, in the sense of facilitating the understanding of esoteric languages by making them re-connected to the popular minds, in whatever languages she is working from and into.

Another attempt the interpreter should also make to transform herself from a mere translator to a facilitator during preparation is to request a pre-workshop briefing, preferably attended by the speaker, even if it is a very short one. It not only enhances the professional image of the interpreter, but also helps improve interpreting performance. It may also be a good opportunity to remind Dr. Levin of the need to provide to the interpreter a copy of any text that is to be read out during the workshop, and to agree on the appropriate speaking speed for quality interpreting. Unfortunately, Dr. Levin was assigned by the university to engage in an important meeting in the afternoon on the day before the workshop started. Thus the only period fit for the briefing was a small part of the lunch time, between 12:00pm to 12:20pm, just after the morning training session was over. The twenty-minute meeting, though as short as it seemed, proved to be a valuable addition to the author’s preparation. He did not went through the slides though, given the constraint of time, but he effectively answered some of the questions the author posed, and kindly reminded her of the article he had given out earlier to the participants for preview, which much to the author’s surprise, happened to be one of the background papers she had researched into in the early stage of preparation.

Finally, the interpreter also needs to check if the working conditions are well set up for the day. Working in the C.I. mode may not require an extensive check on the setting of booths, consols, headsets, receivers, and so on as working in the S.I. mode does, but “due diligence” still applies. The interpreter should make sure that she will be interpreting from a position from which she can clearly hear the speaker and see the screen, that she has a working surface to support her notepads, documents and laptops, and that a sound-tested microphone is provided, with spare batteries and a desktop stand with which it can be fixed in position. However, this checkup was not performed at all, as the author assumed that a lecture room in a university would be undoubtedly well-equipped. This overestimation later proved to be a careless, regrettable and inexcusable mistake the author would not afford to make again next time around. There were no microphones in all the lecture rooms. The faculty do not even use one when they present their talks! Microphones are only available in auditoriums or congregation halls. If the author had checked earlier, she could have brought her own portable microphone system with her to Stockholm.

2.2 During the workshop

As conference/workshop interpreting is a professional communication service, it is the interpreter’s responsibility to communicate the speaker’s intended messages as faithfully in register (formality), comprehensibly in meaning (intelligibility), and communicatively in delivery (coherency). As the speaker’s echo, she must strive to convey both the contents, tone, and nuance of what is said, so as to allow her audience to understand the target language just as clearly and convincingly as those who are listening to the source one. During the 2-hour workshop, the author followed the principle of intelligibility by unveiling the mysteries of esoteric terminology and introducing culturally-loaded concepts with localized expressions. In addition, she was aware of the role as a facilitator in delivering re-organized and substance-based messages to enable conversations to run more effectively. The author also endeavored to present her rendition in a way that could reflect the speaker’s sense of occasion, carefully choosing words that would observe the conventions and forms of “political correctness”.

2.3 After the Workshop

The overall performance of this assignment, along with that of the other nine sessions the author covered for the whole training programme, earned positive and respectful feedback and recognition from all the 32 participants, according to the evaluation checklists collected and archived by the School of Governance at SYSU, the co-organizer for this programme. But there were still some places where the author could improve by the principle of formality, which will be discussed in the case analysis part.

To monitor interpreting quality of a current assignment for improved performance in the future, is the interpreter’s prime responsibility. The SWOT matrix, an established evaluation tool extensively applied in business management, was used in this case for self-assessment, covering a review of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the assignment. Strengths and weaknesses refer to the specific cases/instances of the performance that show either competence or inadequacy, such as eloquence or choppy delivery; while opportunities and threats are those external (non-performance) factors that are either positive or negative in facilitating or hindering quality interpreting performance. For example, early supply of workshop-related documents by the organizer was an opportunity, whereas the unavailability of a microphone may constitute a potential threat.

For a close review of the strengths and weaknesses, the author wrote an error analysis based on the transcription of the assignment. It evaluated the performance by segments and checked whether the following 10 types of errors were present or not: conceptual errors, omission, addition, substitution; grammatical errors, lexical errors; repetition, pace&pitch, pronunciation; and role exchange.

Chapter Three Case Analysis

In this chapter, the author argues for a benchmark that evaluates interpreting quality of intergovernmental communication by three principles: formality, intelligibility and coherency. Accuracy, fluency and expressiveness, undoubtedly remain the traditional criteria, but they do not sufficiently accommodate the evaluation needs for increasingly decentralized and specialized intergovernmental communication. In review, the author identifies bottlenecks in which interpreters might be stuck to fall short of the principles, and discusses possible solutions using specific cases that are either problematic or referable.


3.1 Formality: being register-conscious

In intergovernmental dialogues, speakers dictate their speech style including the choice of words and the way words are produced depending on what they will discuss about (the subject), whom they are talking to (the audience), and in what kind of ambience they expect the audience are effected by the subject (the occasion). The interpreter therefore, should match her register to that of the speaker with regards to the subject, the audience and the occasion as well. According to Martin Joos, a German linguist, register is defined as formality scale that covers 5 speech styles in spoken English (1961): (1) the frozen style, featured by “printed unchanging language” as in biblical quotations; (2) the formal style, indicated by one-way participation, almost no interruption, technical vocabulary and exact definitions as often shown in presentations; (3) the consultative style, suggested by two-way participation where background information is usually provided and interruptions are allowed, examples of which include teacher/student, doctor/patient, expert/apprentice, etc.;(4) the casual style as usually seen in social setting with common friends or acquaintances; and (5) the intimate style, with intonation more important than wording or grammar, which is seen among family members or close friends. If the speaker is using simple, plain words, the interpreter is not supposed to distort the original by using obscure terms or particularly arcane expressions. Conversely, she should not easily lapse into a familiar or jocular tone on formal occasions. Taking into consideration the vision of the civil servant training programme and the nature of this workshop, the interpreter could set for herself the general register and move between the formal style and the consultative style along the formality scale.

Here is one case where the formal style and the consultative style run across each other and therefore the interpreter is expected to be sensitive to the register change that not only re-presents the subject as is presented but also reflects the sense of occasion expected by the speaker.

  • Source: Before I move forward, I would like to point out the difference between sovereignty and autonomy. (writing the two concepts on the whiteboard) So sovereignty is the formal legal right of any state to decide on laws that regulate matters within the state. But autonomy has to do with its real capacity of actually doing so.
    Target: 我想先点一点主权与自治两个概念的区别。首先,主权是......一个国家, 嗯, 拥有的......一种正式的......在其国家本土内立法的......一种权力,而自治呢,则是这个国家实际操作,嗯, 或者说真正能实现这种立法权的一种能力表现。
  • Source: Now in terms of sovereignty, in terms of legally circumscribing a state sovereignty, the foremost principle is the principle of the enshrining of EU law, that EU law has the supremacy over national law.
    Target: 那国家主权如何被合法限制呢?最首要的一个原则就是欧盟法律是至高无上的,它的权威是至高无上的,高于一切国家法律。
  • Source: It is actually a very striking fact. Why would any country do that really? Why would it voluntarily put itself in a situation where other countries could decide and legislate on their own affairs while itself has to be defined by the EU law? What do you think?
    Target: 所以这其实是很吃惊的,很难以让人相信的一个事实。为什么会有国家愿意让自己服从于欧盟法呢?你们是怎样看待这个现象的呢?

These three consecutive segments witnessed the slight transition of Dr. Levin’s register from being a formal one, featured by the presence of term definitions and the use of academic jargons, to being a consultative one, marked by an invitation to individual thinking on the topic concerned that would lead to discursive dialogues. The author was aware of the definitions in making, but was not able to accurately re-present the substance of these definitions (the subject) and the diction of speech (the occasion) in the target language. It was a conceptual error to translate “legal right” into “权力”, which means “power” in English, when the term was supposed to be translated into “合法的权利”. It was also problematic to reframe “in terms of legally circumscribing a state sovereignty” into a question-based sentence “那国家主权如何被合法限制呢?”, wearing a conversational tone that suggested open answers. But it was certainly not a question; rather it was definitive and conditional, indicating a certain perspective from which the coming principle was derived. Considering its context, the whole segment could be translated as “从合法限制国家主权的角度来看,奉行欧盟法至高无上的原则,甚至视欧盟法高于一切国家法律的原则,是最重要的。” The revised version could thus better match the sense of occasion of the speaker when he stated the principle in a technical manner. Subsequently, Dr. Levin continued to clarify the principle by dropping thought-provoking questions, changing his formal style to a consultative one. Conscious of this slight register change, the author adjusted her diction following the principle of coherency, which will be discussed later, by integrating and simplifying explanatory expressions into straightforward and clear-cut utterances.

Another dimension the interpreter needs to take into account when following the principle of formality is that her register should also match that of the discourse generally employed by the audience, so as to become a facilitator from a mere translator in the sense of “bridging the gap”. In the following are some of the cases where the English descriptions of a particular set of concepts should not be readily or conveniently rendered into their Chinese “equivalents”, if there are any, since the renditions may appear not only awkward and rigid to the ears, but also confusing to the knowledge of the civil servants.

  • Source: It is de-centralized both to the sub-national agencies, so that a lot of decision-making authorities delegate the power to them; it is also de-centralized in the sense that a lot of work is actually done out in the municipalities.
    Target: 这里讲的权力下放是指许多制定决策的中央机构会把权力委派给地级行政机构;另外大部分的工作实际上是由自治市来负责的。
  • Source: It is rule-making in the sense that the laws of the land are made by the government and the elected officials, politicians.
    Target: 这种观点同时包括,政府是决策制定者,也就是由选举出来的政治家来做制定规则。
  • Source: If each official in each ministry is evenly assigned with work in the year 2009, that means everybody would work at least in Brussels for one working day per week, or one and half maybe. But it’s not distributed evenly. Some officials will travel more frequently than others.
    Target: Er, 按照2009年的数据来看呢,如果每个部,每个工作组,就是欧盟的瑞典工作组里面的每一个员工都被平均分配工作量的话,那就意味着每个人每周在布鲁塞尔的工作时间就是一天,或者一天半吧。但事实上,并不是平均分配的,有些官员出差更加频繁。

The recurring terms that these three independent segments contain are not concept-loaded vocabulary but culture-specific jargons that are conventionalized by a certain public administration system. For example, “分权化”, the translation version established in the Chinese paper for “de-centralized”, is an academically adorned term used in written language, and may thus sound pedantic if it is uttered. Therefore, the author popularized it into “权力下放”, which is more commonly expressed in colloquial Chinese. With regards to the references to authorities, the interpreter is expected to contextualize such terms as “sub-national agencies”, “municipalities”, “decision-making authorities”, and “national, regional and local governments” within China’s system of administrative divisions, whose hierarchy is represented from the top to the bottom, by the national level “国家级” , the provincial/ministerial level “省部级”, the municipal/departmental level (including bureaus)“地市级”, and the county/division level “县处级”. If “national, regional and local governments” were translated literally as “国家、区域和地方政府”, the Chinese civil servants would have missed the opportunity of learning Sweden’s executive divisions, where the regional level “郡级” and the local level “地级” are respectively identical with the provincial level and the municipal level in China. Correspondingly, “次国家级行政机构” for “sub-national agencies” is semantically correct but pragmatically inappropriate since it is not yet contextualized. “地级行政机构”, which the author rendered the term as, was also inappropriate since the scope of the source phrase implies much broader than the municipal level. It would be more proper, therefore, to translate it as “地方行政机构”, a collective concept conventionally used in the Chinese context to refer to all those executive bodies that are not “中央行政机构”, meaning “the national/central agencies”. Likewise, “decision-making authorities” includes not only “中央机构”, but also whoever are assigned with power to make decisions at all different levels. Apart from referring to authorities and agencies, contextualization could also be tricky when people associated with the authorities or agencies are involved. In Sweden, there is a clear divide between a politician, who is elected as a man of visions to guide the nation towards a better future through manipulating his power and executing his programme, and a civil servant, who is employed as a staff member to serve his community. In China, however, the relationship between politicians and civil servants is apparently not as binary as that in Sweden. “政治家” for “politician” sounds more of a conspiracy theorist who plays with politics, than of a national leader, which is more appropriately called in Chinese as “国家领导人”. Another term that is used in Chinese to refer to leaders and officials at different levels, “官员”, has been increasingly associated with a slightly derogative note in the public discourse, but is still applicable on formal occasions. What is commonly expressed is the word “干部”, a decent and respectable term traditionally and historically favored by not only the leaders/officials, but also civil servants as well. Therefore, it was problematic to translate “each official in each ministry” into “每个部的每名员工”, and “elected officials, politicians” into “选举出来的政治家”.

To achieve register appropriateness therefore, is not mere a matter of choosing the right words for interpreting the subject, and organizing the words together in a way that reflects the styles in the source language, but also a process of comparing and contrasting vocabulary in the two different language systems, so as to enable mutual learning for both the speaker and the audience .


3.2 Intelligibility: getting the meaning across

The interpreter facilitates intergovernmental communication in another sense that she endeavors to translate words and expressions that do not travel well from one language to another due to their culture-specific features, by paraphrasing, describing, keeping the “untranslatable” word in the source language, or skipping the word. This is similar to the case scenario mentioned above regarding the strategy of contextualizing unfamiliar terms of the source language within the target one, but this principle distinctly applies when simply no “equivalent” alternatives are available for getting the meaning across.

Therefore, addressing these tricky situations following the principle of intelligibility requires the interpreter to bear in mind that the same idea could find expressions in different ways from one culture to another. The following is quoted from James Nolan’s solution to the problem (2011:58):

[Dealing with the problem of “untranslatable” utterances] involves asking questions like the following: What am I translatingA word? An idea? The name of a concrete object or of an abstraction? The title of a person? The name of a cultural institution or artifact? A technical term? A specialized use of an ordinary word? An archaic word? An idiomatic expression? The expression of an emotion? An image? A figure of speech? A newly-coined term? Should I look for different parts of speech (e.g. A noun rather than an adjective)? Is there anything in my culture which occupies roughly the same place or which plays roughly the same role? Is there anything in my culture that is thought of or talked about in a comparable way? Is the target audience expecting a complete translation? Does the context or the sub-text make clear the untranslatable implications?

Here are two cases in the assignment to illustrate how “untranslatable” words and expressions could be better dealt with so that they would be comprehensible to the Chinese audience.

  • Source: The state may be less autonomous, but become increasingly “enmeshed”. “Enmeshed” meaning interwoven, woven into various international and regional networks, among the European Union nations.
    Target: 这种新的观点是,一个主权国家的自治权力,或者说,自治性减弱了,而更多情况呢,它会陷入这个国际网络当中去,所以用了这个词,就是“enmeshed”这个词,“卷入,深深陷入”这个国际与地区联盟当中,比如说这个欧盟。
  • Source: So think about that picture that I showed to you about global governance, which is an incomplete picture, but in that web, the national government was just one part, there are also “nodes”, all kinds of regional governments, municipalities are at work.
    Target: 所以呢昨天给大家介绍全球治理这个话题,给大家的总体印象其实还是不全面的,在今天的这个讲解中,其实你们会了解到,在全球治理中,国家政府只是一个方面,这个大网络还有很多节点,也就是国家各个层面,就是讲到这个自治市啊,地区政府,都会被卷入其中,来去参与这个大的国际网络运作中去。

The key word in discussion here is the predicative “enmeshed”, a past participle for “enmesh”, meaning “to involve or to entangle as if in a mesh”, which was metaphorically used by Dr. Levin to describe interdependence among European states. The author was informed of this term from the slides in advance and was thus better prepared for analysis and delivery. It is both a figure of speech and a “specialized use of an ordinary word”, borrowing from Nolan’s analysis, to enliven the discussion of how Sweden gradually lost its own hold and fell into the grip of a supranational organization. But it meets no identical twin in the Chinese language. There are Chinese words for “internationalized”, or “globalized”, but they are both subtly different in meanings from “enmeshed”. So the author decided to keep the word in its original and describe it by using a different part of speech, i.e., a verb as in “陷入国际网络” instead of a past participle adjective as in “enmeshed”. Aware of its novelty, Dr. Levin paraphrased the word and offered more metaphors, using such expressions as “interwoven into ... networks” and “nodes”. This was very helpful, since the clarification conveniently justified the author’s proposed strategy for dealing with “enmeshed”.

  • Source: Some scholars argue, one of my colleagues who wrote this book argues that what happens in that liberal groups are formed that are called “enclave”, you know what enclave is? Very tightly knit groups that cover cross-ministry areas. So that means people from Justice, Agriculture and Finance will meet together and form an informal group that frequently travel to the same meeting and then report on their meeting. So the Swedish government is not just deeply enmeshed but also broadly enmeshed: the Swedish government offices are represented in over a thousand different working groups/parties in international organizations.
    Target: 这里经常会出现的一个现象就是一些官员,他们会自由组成一些工作小组,工作小团队,但这小组覆盖跨部门的内容。也就是说,来自司法部,农业部和财政部的官员可以聚集起来,组成非正式团体,在布鲁塞尔频繁接触。所以呢,瑞典政府不仅仅是深度陷入国际网络中,而且还是广泛参与到网络的各个层面,为什么这样说呢,因为瑞典办事处,er, 瑞典的各种行政机构,在上千个,er, 在国际组织里面上千个不同的工作小组都有代表人员。

The word “translatability” is misleading since it rules out the possibility of an exact or complete translation. But it is not necessarily so. For example, “enclave” in this case may variously mean “distinctly bounded area enclosed within a larger unit”, or “a group of the same things different from the surroundings”, thus making the interpreter wonder which to choose. It may also seem “untranslatable” because, even though the Chinese language does have a special term “飞地”, a jargon used in diplomacy that corresponds to the its first meaning in the dictionary, the term would not make sense if it is uttered within the context. And since meaning is largely contextual, the author decided to skip the word and paraphrase it. By focusing on the sense of the word and its associations rather than on the word alone, apart from “工作小组” or “工作小团队”, as translated by the author, the best Chinese equivalent for “enclave” would be “小圈子”, since it suggests a group of civil servants who shared lots of interests, habits and working practices in common and their dialogues become increasingly exclusive and informal because of the coterie-based relationship.

It can be seen from these two cases that “untranslatability” itself is not a problem in interpreting, since a word itself may seem “untranslatable”, but its idea is not; what is really problematic is that the interpreter does not create the necessary associations in her mind to seek approximate alternatives. The principle of intelligibility is thus proposed to encourage the strategy of paraphrasing the term based on the overall sense of its context, describing the term by considering different parts of speech, keeping the term in its source language or simply skipping it, for the common goal of getting the meaning across.

3.3 Coherency: re-organizing ideas that matter

If the principle of formality helps set the tone and that of intelligibility to help convey the ideas, then the principle of coherency is established to keep the ball for that tone and those ideas rolling. It is in consideration of the nature of the consultative style (already defined and illustrated in 3.1) in Dr. Levin’s presentation that this principle is proposed. Apart from being solemn and concentrative typical of a formal style, Dr. Levin also attempted interaction, so as to mobilize the attention of the target audience. To enable interaction and coherency as a facilitator, the interpreter is expected to re-organize what is being said into message-based and logic-clear utterances, by putting in missing logical links, cutting redundant words, and even reversing the sequence of notes. Four cases are presented as follows to elaborate on the principle.

  • Source: OK. So, you could get a lecture tomorrow on Swedish public administration and you have also received my article, er, on Swedish public administration. Er, honestly, how many of you have found time to read the article?
    Target: 我之前发了一篇文章给你们,是关于瑞典公共行政管理这个话题的,老实说,你们当中有谁看过这篇文章?
  • Source: Not yet, OK, good. So I assume you know nothing about the Swedish public administration.
    Target: 嗯,好的,那我假设你们都不了解瑞典公共行政管理了,我现在就给大家作介绍。

This is a case of adding a transitional sentence to the what was actually being said, in order to break the code and start the show. The word “assume” in this context implied two speech acts: one to express what Dr. Levin had supposed and the other, to immediately and conveniently start the introduction. However, its Chinese equivalent “假设”, usually only corresponds to the first act, with no implication to introduce the next move. If the translation stopped here followed by no supplementary clauses, it would sound incomplete and even subtly impolite in Chinese. Of course, it would be simpler to translate the sentence into “那我就当大家对瑞典公共行政管理一无所知了” in the first place, so that there would be “no strings attached”, but it would also sound slightly inappropriate in register.

  • Source: OK, so much for the supremacy of the EU law. We also have what people call the four freedoms, which are the basic elements for the free flow of an EU common market. They refer to the free movement of goods, services, people and capital.
    Target: 好的,刚刚讲的就是关于国家主权如何合法受限的一个方面,就是国家法让位于欧盟法,那么现在介绍第二个方面,就是主权如何合法地被限制,空洞化的第二个方面就是,四种自由。这四种自由是欧洲共同市场能够自由流通的基本因素。它们包括人力资源、商品、服务和资本的自由流动。

This is another case of adding necessary words and expressions as links to present the rendition as more logical and organized to the target audience. It is natural for the speaker to skip over signal phrases and jump right onto the focal points when he is relying on key terms highlighted on the slides. It is therefore the responsibility of the interpreter to help organize the aforesaid points by putting in “road signs”, re-covering key words mentioned earlier, so as to guide audience to follow the speech in a logical and sensible way.

  • Source: Now in terms of sovereignty, in terms of legally circumscribing a state sovereignty, the foremost principle is the principle of the enshrining of EU law, that EU law has the supremacy over national law.
    Target: 那国家主权如何被合法限制呢?最首要的一个原则就是欧盟法律是至高无上的,它的权威是至高无上的,高于一切国家法律。
  • Source: It is actually a very striking fact. Why would any country do that really? Why would it voluntarily put itself in a situation where other countries could decide and legislate on their own affairs while itself has to be defined by the EU law? What do you think?
    Target: 所以这其实是很吃惊的,很难以让人相信的一个事实。为什么会有国家愿意让自己服从于欧盟法呢?你们是怎样看待这个现象的呢?

This case was presented earlier in 3.1 to demonstrate the principle of formality as it reflected a change of register in Dr. Levin’s presentation. As the speaker’s register moved from a formal style to a consultative one, the author was also expected to fine-tune her rendition to be communicative and clear-cut. Repeated words and expressions that do not strike as principal, would be better off if cut off in the rendition. But the interpreter’s judgment call on the “dispensability” of these words and expressions should be based on discretional discourse analysis within the context.

  • Source: So it is the combination of these factors that explains the EU membership. But in fact, before we decided to join the European Union, the people who presented EU as a supranational power rivaling the United States, are using it as an argument against membership.
    Target: 所以刚刚提到的那些因素都是使人们投票加入欧盟的原因。但事实上呢,在我们投票的时候,反对派的那些人,他们不赞成让瑞典加入欧盟的一个原因,就是不应该认为,只要加入欧盟这个超组织,这个超国家组织,就能抗衡美国了。换言之,他们把这个原因作为拒绝加入欧盟的理由。

This case serves to demonstrate how the author attempted re-organization by reversing the sequence of utterances of the source language. Dr. Levin stated the fact by following a regular grammatical order of the English language—subject + predicative + object + object complement. But this order is not applicable in Chinese, particularly when the attributive clause for the subject—“who presented EU as a supranational power rivaling the United States” functioned as a main component in the rendition. In addition, the predicative component in English would be better conveyed if it was re-structured as the subject in Chinese. To make it sound more semantically logical, the author gave up on the grammatical order of the source language.

Chapter Four Conclusion

This practice report describes a consecutive interpreting assignment for one of the Guangdong-Stockholm civil servant training workshops in June, 2011. In organizing this description, an attempt has been made to review the assignment in a logical order that moves chronologically through a “conference cycle”, from before the workshop to during and after. The review highlights the importance of early preparation of both glossary building and knowledge structuring, and of final preparation of a “mind-map” that allows immediate associations and contextualization of updated terms from the given documents. In the assignment, three dimensions of an interpreter’s responsibility were brought to light, suggesting a role exchange from a mere translator to a facilitator, particularly when working for intergovernmental communication. The author argues that formality, intelligibility and coherency are the essential measurements for interpreting assessment, apart from the traditional criteria including accuracy, fluency, and expressiveness. To enable these benchmarks quantifiable, post-interpreting management is as indispensable as pre-interpreting preparation for a given assignment. The review therefore sheds light upon the importance of using SWOT analysis tool and to be more specific, error analysis based on the transcription, to monitor strong and weak cases/instances in the delivery, and external factors that would do good and harm to the performance as well.

In the review of the assignment, the report particularly focuses on problematic or referable cases that either violate or follow the principles of formality, intelligibility and coherency. Case analysis is presented to discuss practical solutions to the problems of inappropriateness in register, “untranslatability” in meaning and incoherency in delivery. To be register-conscious, the interpreter is expected to the match her diction to that of the speaker with regards to the subject, the audience and the occasion as well; to get the meaning across, she needs to seek beyond “untranslatability” flexible expressions in the form of paraphrasing, describing, keeping the terms in their original or skipping them; to achieve coherency in delivery, the interpreter could re-organize the speaker’s utterances through putting in logical links, cutting off dispensable expressions and reversing the sequence of speech notes.

It is undoubtedly that the solutions discussed in the report fall short of a complete survey and study on many more related assignments working for intergovernmental communication, and may not be necessarily applicable in all similar scenarios. Therefore the report only serves to bring to light a responsibility that is increasingly expected and sought after of a quality interpreter: a role of exchange from a translator to a facilitator.


Joos, M. (1961). The Five Clocks. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Nolan, J. (2011). Interpretation: Techniques and Exercises. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.

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