Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
JerryG11

James Brown (US Diplomat/Interpreter)

Recommended Posts

JerryG11

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has asked "Who is the white guy that's always with any US official on Chinese govt visits?"

 

Well, it's this guy, James Brown US Diplomat stationed in Beijing (at least his Linkedin says that)

 

I'm attaching a video of his translating abilities when Xi Jinping visited Obama in DC. Very impressive stuff

 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um4B6uGwXzA

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Ori_A
5 hours ago, Lu said:

It was reassuring to see that he has some of the same quirks as I have (saying 這個 and 那個 when hesitating, for example).

 

These might have been direct translations of Obama's "ahs" and "ums". :D

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shelley

It might just have been because of their personalities but the Chinese - English translator seemed more confident, he seemed to speak louder and with more finesse. Almost as if he knew what was going to be said and it was prepared, I don't really think it was prepared but he had that sort of confidence.

 

The English - Chinese interpreter James Brown, seemed soft spoken and not very assertive. Not that this is a problem, but just wondered if this type of difference was usual in this sort of situation.

 

I haven't really experienced this type of thing before so I may have the wrong end of the stick completely.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lu
1 minute ago, Shelley said:

Almost as if he knew what was going to be said and it was prepared

Usually for this sort of thing, all parties are prepared. Obama's staff has prepared notes for him: general background on China and Xi, how to pronounce Xi's name, issues to touch upon, things not to say, etc. The interpreter has those notes (perhaps even helped write them, if the interpreter is not just an interpreter but also part of the China team) and has studied them beforehand. And the same for the Chinese side, where the interpreter has the additional advantage that political communist Chinese has many set phrases for every occasion.

 

Meetings like this are more of a ritual than a conversation. Obama's and Xi's staffs could have just sent each other the notes for the meeting if it was about exchange of information, but it's not about that: it's about the two men meeting each other.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JerryG11
6 hours ago, Lu said:

 

Interesting! I agree, good interpreter. It was reassuring to see that he has some of the same quirks as I have (saying 這個 and 那個 when hesitating, for example).

 

It's interesting as well to see the difference between Obama being interpreted and Xi Jinping being interpreted. Obama addresses the reporters and the room, then turns to the interpreter and listens to him (even though he doesn't understand him), even nods along occasionally. Xi addresses Obama, then keeps looking at Obama while the interpreter repeats his words - he doesn't turn to the interpreter, even though he does understand him perfectly, because the interpreter is not a participant in this meeting, just a means to facilitate it. Not sure if this was because Obama wasn't very experienced in being interpreted, or if it's a cultural difference (interpreter is person, I should listen with interest when he talks vs interpreter is facilitator, I should look with interest at my host while I speak to him through the interpreter).

 

 

 

I think Obama and Brown had to coordinate in some ways. If you notice when Brown turns his notepad page Obama snaps right back and starts speaking. Since Obama doesn't really know what's being said the flip of the page is the only indicator he can get when Brown is done. Otherwise there would be an awkward delay from Obama waiting to make sure Brown is done

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JerryG11
1 hour ago, Ori_A said:

These might have been direct translations of Obama's "ahs" and "ums". :D

 

 

Yes, most likely you are right. They are trained to translate word for word. There's definitely no paraphrasing going on at all

 

That's why translators have come out and said how difficult Trump is because of all his Americanisms and.. other things haha

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shelley
28 minutes ago, Lu said:

Usually for this sort of thing, all parties are prepared.

Yes that makes sense, i was impressed with the speed, accuracy and fluidity of the translations.

Interesting to watch the two different attitudes to the interpreters as you pointed out @Lu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
889

"Meetings like this are more of a ritual than a conversation."

 

Even more so here, because this is just the set piece in front of the cameras before the real meeting in private.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lu
3 hours ago, JerryG11 said:

Yes, most likely you are right. They are trained to translate word for word. There's definitely no paraphrasing going on at all

No, that's not how it's done. You interpret the content, not every single uhm. You can nicely see that happen when at one point in the clip, Obama says 'in the interest of the United States' and then immediately corrects himself '...the world'. The interpreter, quite correctly, translates this as 對世界的利益。 (I'm paraphrasing, don't remember the exact sentences.)

 

In meetings like this one, an interpreter paraphrases as little as possible. In other contexts, some paraphrasing can be fine if that helps understanding between the two sides.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JerryG11

I'm judging this off of an article I read about Trump and translating. Since they translate word for word (not my words, this coming from a professional translator) they have trouble with him. Since he uses words like "beautiful" for example to explain something that's great. The problem arises because in Chinese for example if something is great you'd say 太棒了or 很好 or something along those lines. However, if Trump were to say "It's beautiful" for example to explain something wonderful or great then what can the translator say? He can't say 就是/那个漂亮 or 美好 it wouldn't make any sense. So that's where their problem comes from because they do have to change wording 

 

Here's the link..

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/05/24/528809043/why-interpreters-have-a-hard-time-translating-trump

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lu

I think you're misunderstanding that article. Firstly, that interpreter doesn't say he has to translate 'word for word' (unless you read that somewhere else?) Secondly, he talks about challenges, not impossibilities. If Trump says 'beautiful' and he means it in the sense of 'wonderful', in my opinion you can absolutely translate that as 美好, or 了不起, or any of the other superlatives Chinese has for things that are great. Perhaps a better interpreter has even better solutions, but it's not something unsurmountable. Of course, you can't use 漂亮, because Chinese doesn't use that word in the same way as English uses 'beautiful'. Words rarely map one to one.

 

Similarly, Chinese probably has a word that means roughly the same as 'showboat' (perhaps something with 吹牛?), as has Farsi, as shown in that article. It's more of a challenge (or perhaps just a different challenge) than translating Obama's language in the first post of this thread, but challenges are what makes interpretation fun.

 

But to summarise: an interpreter translates the meaning of what you're saying, not simply the words. Because the end goal is that the other party understands the meaning.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JerryG11

Right, but he's trying to keep it as close to what he's saying as he can.. without paraphrasing. Obviously there will be times when they'll have no choice. With the Trump Americanisms being one

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lu
4 hours ago, JerryG11 said:

Since Obama doesn't really know what's being said the flip of the page is the only indicator he can get when Brown is done. Otherwise there would be an awkward delay from Obama waiting to make sure Brown is done

In my experience, there is usually no need for such signs. Most people can tell when someone has finished speaking and when they're just pausing, even in an unfamiliar language. You'll notice that often, Brown flips the page and continues, uninterrupted by Obama.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JerryG11

Lu, I don't mean to bicker over small things like this but how could Obama possibly know when Brown is close to finishing? The only way he'd know is when Brown shuts his mouth basically. The notepad was just a theory I had

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lu

I don't intend to bicker either, I'm just telling you how these things work, according to my knowledge and experience. How can Obama tell? The same way everyone knows whether another person has finished talking or whether they've just finished a sentence and will continue to add more. How long the interpreter has been speaking, his tone of voice, length of his pause when he stops talking, whether he looks up from the notepad, perhaps, other small changes in posture... Most people learn these things through long years of social interaction, and can apply them even when they don't understand the language spoken. I've interpreted at all kinds of venues for all kinds of people (though never for a president), and never once discussed a special code beforehand.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
imron

I imagine that Obama has also sat through hundreds of these sorts of meetings with various different dignitaries and heads of state, including dozens with this specific interpreter.  It doesn't take long to pick up on cues.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...