190211 GWS interpreters
Group of interpreters posing for picture during the during the World Government Summit at Madinat Jumeirah Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Dubai: Not everyone in the team of interpreters at the World Government Summit is familiar with the Hollywood techno-thriller The Interpreter where Nicole Kidman plays the protagonist from the United Nations headquarters, but there’s no denying they are all stars in their own right.

“We become the character of heads of state and other esteemed speakers whose speech we get to interpret for a few minutes, but in a different language,” said Ahmad Bechara, an Arabic-English-Spanish interpreter from 4 Pillar Communications, which has been tasked by the summit for a second year in a row to interpret speeches.

Co-founders of the service Liliane Nakad and Racha Makaram said it’s a huge responsibility to get the messages of such highly placed speakers right, and convey it accordingly to the public.

Interpreters themselves, the Lebanese duo set up their service with a purpose. Nakad said, “There are at least 25 countries in the region that claim Arabic is their native language. We felt there was a genuine need for professional interpreter services. The demand was huge and we felt we could make a difference.”

Makaram said, “We have a team of 54 interpreters and translators at the summit this year. They include 16 Arabic, 16 French, six Estonian, six Russian, six Spanish and two Chinese interpreters, besides ourselves.”

While an interpreter deals with the spoken word, a translator handles written text. All those working in the main conference hall are all UN-certified, while the rest qualify under the Association of International Interpreters Conference, the team members said.

So what’s the biggest challenge for an interpreter?

“We usually receive the programme in advance and we read up about the speakers and prepare a glossary. But sometimes, new sessions are added in the last minute and we don’t have time to do our homework,” said Nakad.

There are other pressures too. “We have to be alert, calm and focused to the highest level of concentration. WE need to be confident and trust in our abilities. There is no room for doubt or distraction.”

As the duo explained, interpreters always work in pairs. “They are called booth partners and put in 30 minutes each at a stretch. There is always a lag between the speech and the interpretation, so while one interprets, the other helps out by looking for the right terminology, jotting down numbers and so on,” said Makaram.

She said an interpreter’s job is akin to piloting a plane. “It’s highly paying, requires a lot of skill and concentration and you just have to learn to live with the pressure and deal with the unexpected.”

The pressure is more pronounced at events like the World Government Summit where new ideas are and products are introduced. “There is no way we can do any homework about such ideas or launches as speakers do not share them with us before hand on the ground of confidentiality.”

Besides interpretation of speeches, the team’s services are also enlisted for one-to-one meetings between dignitaries.

“I just love my job as an interpreter because I get to travel to different places and meet people from different cultures. It’s a very enriching and educative experience,” said one team member who is specially visiting Dubai for the summit.