Thursday, April 09, 2009

Interpreting Computer Geek

From "The Useless Translator", about an American language teacher in Brazil (IT-illiterate), who has been given the task of interpreting an IT training session run by Germans (in some sort of English) for Brazilian technicians (non-English speaking):

“Who are you here to see?” I explained that I was the translator. The receptionist didn’t respond at all and since I didn’t know what I was doing, whom I was to see or actually anything at all, I phoned the school. They didn’t know anything either. The situation was at an impasse until a car pulled up and two burly looking guys got out of a car. They were obviously foreign, their skin many shades lighter than everyone around.

A guy who was standing in the reception went to greet them and spoke in English. “Welcome Mr. Klein, nice to see you again. And you, Mr. Schwartz, always a pleasure.”

I took my cue and introduced myself to the man who was talking to the Germans. Everything then became clear as one of the guys, Mr. Klein, was to give a training session on the computer system for the information technology people in the company. I was to translate this session. All three men worked for Seamens, a German company based in Hanover which provided most of the machinery for the tire factory. The Brazilian talking with them had lived in the States for six years.

We were led into a meeting room. It was empty.

“And where are the participants?” asked Mr. Klein. Marcos the Brazilian told me to stay while he left with the Germans to find out what was going on. I waited for half an hour when a couple of guys showed up and asked if this was where the training was to be. I said it was and we talked for a while. Still no Germans for another hour. Shamefully perhaps, I couldn’t help thinking that this wasn’t so bad, getting paid for doing nothing. After the small talk, as it inevitably does, led to a conversational dead end, I got back to my book.

One German guy came back, Mr. Klein, alone and flustered. “This can’t be, impossible. This training is for the IT people who speak English. Instead they send to me maintenance people who don’t not speak English. It makes not sense. In Germany when we organize something, everything go ok.”

He took out a bound publication the size of a telephone directory. “If you have to translate word for word, it will take two months or more.”

An IT guy came into the room. He spoke English. “I am afraid I won’t be able to attend the training, Mr. Klein.”

“But you are the most important person. You are the reason we come all the way for Germany, to teach you.”


Then the fun started.

“The mixer control is a PC and the PLC functionality is provided by conventional hardware PLC. The mixer system software programs are called in Windows by means of a terminal server connect. The program call for mixer visualization is performed using a web server connect (WinCC web client) or PCS7 client software. The actual basic programs therefore execute on the servers of the mixer control desk.”

Translating is hard enough when you understand the material in your own language. But excuse me, what the fuck was this guy on about? This might as well have been Chinese or Swahili or Estonian or sign language or something. I was stumped.

“Could you repeat that please?” This was a phrase I would use many times over the course of the week. Repetition did little good. I hadn’t a clue even how to start trying to convey this.
“Which of both Server is the Master or the Slave can be declared by administrator with the program Serve-Switch and also the status of the master/slave server can be displayed with the program.” Huh?

“By total crash of the Master-Server it’s also possible to activate with this program an forced switch over. That means the program forced the previous slave-serve to Master without connecting the previous, not available master-server. Sometimes I get these bizarre emails that are just streams of words totally unrelated with each other. Maybe Mr. Klein had been sending them to me.

At this point, I had a serious anxiety attack. This was simply going to be impossible to make any sense of. Firstly, I had no idea of the subject matter and would be unlikely to understand it even if it was being explained by someone with a firm command of the English language.
The maintenance guys would look at me with puzzled expressions at the nonsensical drivel I was feeding them. After every mangled translated sentence, I would ask if they were clear about it. They said they were. Lunch finally arrived. "


The agony resumed after lunch. When I thought that I’d begun to understand something and hence was able to translate it with some accuracy, I would quickly be plunged back into a dark knowledge vacuum. There were flashcards, ODAM-M and ODAS-M, WinCC, MEC address, and terms that only the most inveterate of nerds would be able to define with no problems. My group would nod their heads at my completely incomprehensible translation. Somehow three hours passed and Mr. Klein declared the day’s session over.

“Otherwise your head it become fill with too much informations.” I wanted to kiss him.

Next day the same scenario occurs.

As soon as the session started, I was back in the minefield of terms that mean nothing to anyone outside those for whom a computer is a fifth limb.

“The mixer system software can be used provided that Windows supports the functions of a terminal server connect, web server connect of PCS& client software. Is that clear?

“Could you repeat that please?” Klein looked at me with the kind of concern you would when you thought someone was normal but then found out that their IQ was well into the retarded zone. Of course, the repetition was equally meaningless.

By now my cover was blown with the maintenance guys who realized I had no idea what I was doing. But Brazilians are nicer than other people about things like that. In the States I would probably quickly (and deservedly so) been denounced as a fraud, but here they just accepted that they were going to learn very little all week, but it was still better than working on the assembly line or somewhere else.

1 comment:

USQ BEng(Civil) Student said...

"Seamens"? That is a worry already. The guy is incompetent at a very fundamental level. He would have made much less of a fool of himself if he had asked prior to the interpreting sessions the content of the topic and requested the presentation material to help him prepare a glossary.

Highly technical material can in fact be relatively easy to translate/interpret because there would be specific boundaries defined by the jargon and terminology used in a particular context. Alas, this interpreter did not ask for the material to assist him with his job, and then even after the first session when he was fully aware that he was out of his depth, he did not bother to prepare for the rest of the sessions. I cannot feel sorry for this guy who demonstrated to all his total lack of common sense.

I hope they didn't pay him for his indescribable incompetence. He should stick to teaching basic and probably totally incorrect English to his hapless students. I feel sorry for them already.