Using the 2018 Winter Olympics to Talk About T&I to High School Students
This February, my colleague John Wan and I were invited to present on translation and interpreting at a high school in Vancouver, Washington on behalf of our local association, the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI).
We had planned to open the presentation with a comparison of the professions of translation and interpreting (T&I), but the students’ knowledge quickly exceeded our expectations. (It turned out the class was focused entirely on T&I!) Instead, we moved on to a discussion of what it takes to be a translator or interpreter, centered around the question, “Is being bilingual enough?”
With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games having commenced just the day before, we used an Olympics-themed analogy to make our point, asking students, “What would it take for you to compete against Usain Bolt?” It took no more than one response to cut to the chase: “Legs!”
Our point was that many things make Bolt the best in his sport, but without one vital “tool” in particular—his legs—none of those traits or skills would matter, because he wouldn’t even be able to set foot on the track. The same goes for T&I: to even attempt to perform the task, being bilingual is a prerequisite, but it hardly makes you the Usain Bolt of T&I. All it does is allow you to “compete”; that is, perform the task, however spectacularly or poorly you may perform.
Having gotten this ubiquitous question out of the way, we talked about what it really takes to be a translator (for example, excellent research, reading comprehension, and writing skills) or interpreter (memory, note-taking, and public speaking). We also described a day in the life of a translator versus an interpreter and shared a clip from a TED Talk on consecutive note-taking to demonstrate the intricacies of interpreting.
One of the most enjoyable moments for me was a hands-on translation activity in which students had the opportunity to best the top machine translation software by translating the Spanish proverb “A caballo regalado, no le mires el dentado.” Students quickly provided an accurate translation (“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”), proving their ability to provide a much more eloquent rendering than those suggested by DeepL and Google Translate.
Before wrapping up, we touched on certification, education, and training opportunities in T&I, as well as professional organizations.
I left feeling exhilarated. Seeing students so engaged with our work reminded me of how lucky I am to love what I do.
The following day, I shared our materials with the teacher via email. She sent thanks and a reflection on the impact of our talk: “When I saw my least motivated heritage student pick up the biggest dictionary, I knew she was inspired to be a translator because of you.”
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