Subject to Interpretation

Carola Lehmacher-Richez on Live-Media Work and Interpreting for President Trump [EP 46]

January 26, 2021 DE LA MORA Institute Season 2 Episode 46
Subject to Interpretation
Carola Lehmacher-Richez on Live-Media Work and Interpreting for President Trump [EP 46]
Show Notes Transcript

 

Carola Lehmacher-Richez is a multi-lingual freelance translator and interpreter with over ten years of experience working with government and industry at executive and operational level. 

She grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, speaking German and Spanish, and was educated in a multicultural environment, learning English as a young child and studying French after high school.  

Carola holds two university degrees in translations studies granted by the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Additionally, she obtained a Spanish ˂˃ German interpreting diploma (2005) and concluded a 3-year Spanish ˂˃ English interpreting course (2008). In 2013 and 2014, she taught 3 interpretation courses - namely Interpretation I and II, and a translation workshop - at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.  

After moving to Atlanta in 2015, she completed the Spanish ˂˃ English Legal Interpreter Certificate Program at the University of Georgia and the 40-hour WLTG Core Medical Interpreter Training Program. Carola became a certified court interpreter for Spanish and a registered court interpreter for German for the State of Georgia.  

Carola also works as a conference interpreter for various local and international clients, and she is one of the voices of a major news network where she interprets live shows that are broadcasted through this news channel to Spanish-speaking viewers. 

She is the current President of the Atlanta Association of Interpreters and Translators (AAIT). 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to subject to interpretation, a podcast, which takes us deep into the topics that matter to professional interpreters. I'm your host, Maria Wallace . This program is recorded via zoom in both video and audio format. Today, we're going to find out what it's like to interpret for live media events and breaking news. We'll speak with Carola Le Maher . She's a Spanish English, German and French conference and diplomatic interpreter, whose voice you may have heard interpreting for president's prime ministers and political candidates. Welcome Carola .

Speaker 2:

Welcome honey . Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's an absolute pleasure to have you here. I think we're gonna have a lot of fun today. We are gonna start with an amusing and yet disconcerting clip of an event that , um, of an interpretation that was done for a political debate. Let's we'll give you a little bit more background after you've had a chance to hear it.

Speaker 3:

Individual mandate was the most the , of these four years .

Speaker 1:

So Carola , tell us about this clip that we've just seen and heard.

Speaker 2:

Well, I can tell you that I'm pretty happy that that was not me. <laugh> that's one of the most challeng challenging situations that we face when we do life interpretation for media. Because when people are talking on top of each other , you as interpreters should be doing the same, but then it's really hard for the audience to get anything that is being said. So we try to stay away from that, but it's really hard

Speaker 1:

Now in this particular clip , um , you heard at least two voices, but perhaps even three, as there were three English speakers and these three English speakers needed interpretation into Japanese. And of course nobody would stop talking. So at some point the interpreter has to just continue doing their job. Is that right?

Speaker 2:

Correct. We, we don't stop and there's no pause button for us. There's no rewind for us. And we just go with the flow. And that is why there's always several of us when we do these types of events, because we split the roles among all the interpreters that are present. Sometimes we have more than one role. Uh , sometimes we just have one candidate in this case assigned and , uh , we stick to that, but it's always a challenge and yes, it's always a lot of fun, but it can also be very stressful.

Speaker 1:

So you must have nerves of steel to interpret this kind of event.

Speaker 2:

You really have to be able to be a little bit like , um, theater actor as well. So no matter what happens, you just keep going and you don't think about what happened before or what comes next. And you have to be really present in the moment and whatever your personal beliefs are, you leave them outside of the door. You walk in there and you are just a bridge. You're just there to transmit and to communicate everything that the person you're interpreting for is saying,

Speaker 1:

Now, what kind of interpreting is this is this diplomatic, is this conference interpreting? Is this a hybrid of different types of interpreting?

Speaker 2:

I believe it's more of a hybrid. It , uh , it has something diplomatic to it because we often interpret for presidents or prime ministers or big international events. Uh , it is , but it's different from conference interpreting because in conference interpreting, you are assigned, you are usually 20 to 30 minute time slot, and then you interpret for that time period. And then you get your little break here. You're constantly on your toes because you never know when the person you are interpreting is going to speak. So it is like a more of a ping pong, like a back and forth question and answer. And suddenly you have to pop in and you have to be ready. So there's no real break in between .

Speaker 1:

Now, speaking of READi , as an interpreter who has to work these high stake , uh , jobs, let's say you can't just jump in, you have to be prepared. What kind of preparation do you have to be able to do this kind of work?

Speaker 2:

So I have a lot of interpreter training. Um, this is also not my first interpreting job, obviously. Uh , you don't start interpreting , uh , these high stakes events when you're just , uh , fresh out of college or you just start your , your career. Um, I was very lucky that in that I was very early on launched into these types of events because back home, there were not a lot of, I did mostly Spanish, German interpreting, and there were not a lot of Spanish, German interpreters. So, and I was very, very young. So early on in my career, I think I was about 24, 25 . I interpreted for the Austria delegation that traveled to Argentina with their president and their minister for economy. So I interpreted for both of them, which was very exciting, but it also demanded a lot of prep work. So I spent a lot of time reading about them, reading about current affairs , uh , watching videos on YouTube, which is now a widespread tool for interpreters to get ready, which was probably not the case like 10 or 15 years ago when that was not so available. And , uh , you just listen to them and you learn how they speak and what their patterns are. If there's something that they repeat often, if they are what they're phrasing is like, and you get a feel for it, which definitely helps you to be ready whenever you are. I don't wanna say in the spotlight, because we never are in the spotlight, but when you're doing consecutive interpreting at a big event on stage, you, there are definitely a lot of eyes on you.

Speaker 1:

So you said that you started , um , relatively young in these high stake events. Did you feel prepared at the time ?

Speaker 2:

Yes and no. I felt prepared in that I was always preparing and studying and getting ready for it. Looking back at it. I think that I sometimes didn't really think about the consequences of what could happen when, you know, when things could go wrong. I was pretty bold at the time. And maybe now, when I think back at my first conference, like simultaneous conference , uh , that I did at 21, I would , I look back at it and I'm like, mm , I don't think I would do it again now.

Speaker 1:

So you've interpreted for president's prime ministers. How did you get your us break to work in American media?

Speaker 2:

I was recommended by a colleague of mine. We had worked together at several events conferences, and , uh , he came up to me one day and was like, you know, we, I do this job. I interpreted in media and we are looking for an additional female voice. And I thought of you and I thought that you would be good at it. And I was wondering if you would be interested. And of course I immediately jumped and said, yes.

Speaker 1:

Now during the 20 19 20, 20 election season, you interpreted for many of the debates, including primaries and actual presidential debates. I'd like to play a , um , I'd like to play a, a clip from one of the debates that you interpreted for

Speaker 4:

California Trump .

Speaker 1:

So how many people were in interpreting that day with you?

Speaker 2:

If I remember correctly, there were four of us,

Speaker 1:

But there were many candidates weren't there.

Speaker 2:

Yes, there were many candidates. And , uh , we were split up in different groups and we had assigned a couple of candidates each. And of course that sometimes doesn't go as smoothly as you expected to because since candidates have the option of retorting each other, sometimes the candidate that you took of the candidates that you were assigned to were reporting each other and having , getting sort of into a debate. So then of course, as I mentioned before, you have to be on your toes and you have to jump in and help your colleague out and maybe take over one of the candidates that you were not initially assigned to interpret for.

Speaker 1:

So what's going on behind the scenes, or at least inside your head while all of this ping pong game is happening.

Speaker 2:

You focus mainly on what you are doing at the moment. So in this case, the candidate that you're interpreting for for first, and then of course, you sort of hope that your colleague will notice immediately that you are also assigned to the other person that is speaking at the time and that they will pick up, but otherwise there's always somebody, you know, who gives you a nice tap on the shoulders. It's usually pretty cramped in there. I can tell you now with COVID of course we are working differently. I am mainly working from home. And , uh , then we have , we, instead of working the ones that are going to the office, instead of working in just one booth, they're working in two booth in order to be able to keep social distancing.

Speaker 5:

Yeah . So

Speaker 6:

Donald Trump , Trump down Trump .

Speaker 1:

So let's talk about this.

Speaker 2:

Well, as you can see , uh , there was a lot of highlight put on the word Aja , which means her. So this is one of the examples where you really get into the role of being that candidate and of really expressing the things the way they are expressing it.

Speaker 1:

I was listening to you speak. And initially I thought it was another interpreter speaking. So , um, I , I like the fact that we have that example to share with the listeners.

Speaker 2:

Well, it is part of the role playing that I was mentioning before you get into the character. And it's a little bit like theater in that regard. You are not yourself. You are the other person at that moment. And then you try to convey that in the most credible way possible.

Speaker 1:

How does it feel to be part of history? Um, you interpreting for the first female elect vice president of the United States, that must have been pretty interesting.

Speaker 2:

Yes. Uh , at that point we didn't know that she was going to be the vice president elect, but being part of history now in side , it is pretty amazing, even though we are behind the scenes and nobody ever is going to know that that was me. Um, it is, it is very nice to be a part and to having been able to contribute something to, to the election process and to democracy, that feels good.

Speaker 1:

Now what's actually going on behind the scenes. I understand that you work in groups that you work with partners and that you have roles that are assigned to you specifically.

Speaker 2:

We usually try to have a female voice for a female speaker and a male voice for a male speaker, but that is not always the case. So for example, when we have two candidates debating and a moderator, and then we have questions from the audience, we usually have one interpreter assigned to each one of the candidates that are debating one person assigned to the moderator. And then the fourth in the team is the one doing the questions from the audience. And then it can happen, obviously that if I'm the one asking the questions from the audience, that I may also interpret for a man asking a question, and not only for women, because sometimes we don't have a team of 10 interpreters working at the same time. There's usually four of us. And that is already a , a big team.

Speaker 1:

Now, what kind of strategy or, or techniques do you use to distinguish one speaker from another? If you're interpreting for two females within that one assignment,

Speaker 2:

You try to maybe change your voice a little bit if it's not too demanding on your vocal chords, because you don't wanna get too tired either. But what you definitely always try to do is to convey the tone. So maybe one of the speakers is , uh , more calm and , um, quiet. Then you give that kind of idea to your own voice. And then you have other speakers that are very adamant or , uh , very convincing and , and straightforward in what they say. And then you use , uh , of a tone of voice that reflects that kind of attitude.

Speaker 1:

Now, throughout this whole election season, you interpreted in many live debates. And I imagine that throughout COVID times, you've also in interpreted in many , um , press conference as there's been all kinds of briefings. Can you give us a, a little bit of a list of those people you've interpreted for live?

Speaker 2:

I've interpreted for president Trump, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when he was holding his briefings over the weekends, I was a lot of times assigned to be on call on Saturday and Sundays. And when he would hold his briefings, then they would call me and advise me that he was going to go live and that they needed me. I've also interpreted for Dr . Burkes , I've interpreted for the newly appointed judge to the Supreme court when she was introduced by president Trump . At that point, it was funny because a colleague of mine was in the office interpreting for Donald Trump for president Trump. And I was the one interpreting for the newly appointed Supreme court justice. So there's always this role play again that I was mentioning before. And when we know that we're going to have more than one speaker, we try to have several voices available because it makes it more interesting for the audience as well. And if they're hearing constantly the same person talking

Speaker 1:

A Japanese interpreter was quoted in Japan times , uh, talking about president Trump's type of speech pattern and his, his manner of speaking. This is the quote and I , and I'd like you to respond to that. She says he is so overconfident and yet, so logically unconvincing that my interpreter, friends, and I often joke that if we translated his words, as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid. Now you've interpreted for president Trump. What do you make of that quote?

Speaker 2:

I think the hardest part about interpreting for president Trump is that he sometimes doesn't finish his sentences and as conference interpreters, we are trained to always finish our sentences. So you either have to get out of your comfort zone and follow his flow of speech, or you stick to your comfort zone and you finish the sentences. So yes, it happens when that sometimes the speakers are incoherent. The problem is that when the interpreters are incoherent, it's always the fault of the interpreter, never the fault of the speaker. So you always have to strike a balance between in this case, specific case, finishing your sentences and making it sound logical and understandable for the audience and just going with what the speaker says,

Speaker 1:

How do you , how do you deal with made up words at the time,

Speaker 2:

You try to find the most logical equivalent that there is available. I try to stick to standard vocabulary and not make anything up, but you know, it sometimes happens that you are just in the rush of the moment. And then you say something that in hints head you're like, did I really say that

Speaker 1:

Now is president Trump, has president Trump been the most difficult person that you have interpreted for, or have there been others?

Speaker 2:

That's a tough question. Um, the positive aspect about interpreting for president Trump is that you get used to his type of speech whenever you do it more frequently. So it is sometimes in the beginning or the first time you interpret for him, you are , you know, you're a little bit tense because you wanna make it right. And as time goes by and you start getting used to his style, it becomes easier and easier. He is not difficult to interpret in the sense that he usually doesn't speak very fast, that he pauses and that he has a good rhythm to, and a good flow to his speech. There are other people that are just, you know, blabber away and that talk very, very fast. This happened specifically on press conference. For example, when we were interpreting further breaking news, be , uh , the Nashville incident in Tennessee, they were just going very, very fast with all the names and all the agents. And you're, they're B blabbering away. And you're like, I did not catch all the names or this , it is impossible to follow at that pace.

Speaker 1:

Is that frustrating for you as an interpreter? Because I presume that you are try to be as perfect, you know, as much a perfection as, as possible.

Speaker 2:

Of course, you always try to do it perfect, but sometimes you, and in the beginning, it is very, very frustrating. And at some point you're like, I can only do a good job if the person speaking that I'm interpreting for is also doing a good job. So if they're not doing a good job, my , my job will always be up to the level of their presentation.

Speaker 1:

But of course now you're also a court interpreter, which , um , which means that in your court interpreting, you might have an opportunity to inform the speaker that they're speaking to quickly, or that you didn't catch a name, but in this situations, it , that's absolutely not possible,

Speaker 2:

Of course not. And that is why we always try to prepare it as good, as best as possible in when with breaking news, you never know who they're going to mention, but the second time they have a press conference about a breaking news. They've already mentioned all the names of the agents. And then you can do a better job the second time, because you had time to research them. And when we do the debates, for example, we have a lot of background information and we are briefed usually by our client telling us specific words on how they want us to use specific vocabulary, what topics are going to be , be discussed. So we have time to prepare for that in advance. And as I said before, you start to know the candidates as well in the debates. And I think that will play to our advantage because there are always specific bits and pieces that, you know, that a specific candidate is always going to repeat. So when you know that you can find the best wording for it, whenever that pops up again. And then of course, you feel much more satisfied with your work because you wanna want it to be high standard and you wanna deliver correctly and accurately. And I don't think we can always make it perfect because as I was listening to the recording, I was like, oh , I stumbled here. And I'm like, oh, did I really say that? Um, but you always try to give your best.

Speaker 1:

And of course, you know, the , as the saying goes perfect is the enemy of the good, so we, we really should strive for perfection, but we should always aim to , um, be diligent in what we do and, and do the best job that we can at the time.

Speaker 2:

Yes. And it's always easier when you're looking back and looking at your mistakes saying, oh, this didn't sound so good, but in the heat of the moment, you are just there. And if you're lucky, the words , words, just pop into your mind and you have a great day. And then there are other days where you don't feel it doesn't really flow as much as it does other days . So you have to be really grateful for those great days when everything flows and is smooth and goes, follows the line of perfection. And you really have to look back at those days that did not work so well and see what you can learn from them and improve and reflect on it and do a better job next time.

Speaker 1:

Do you have a particular assignment that is memorable for you that has stuck in your mind as either the most challenging or perhaps the most inspiring even

Speaker 2:

They have been, there have been several , uh , moments that are or assignments that are very memorable. Uh , I will never forget my first conference. And as I mentioned before, I was very young and I always said that I wanted to get into interpreting because I wanted to travel. So this was the first assignment that I had outside of my town. So I took a bus for about five hours and stayed in a hotel, not very fancy. And the elevator stopped at every floor and I was like floor 17 or something way up high. So that was a bit annoying. But I remember after the first presentation we interpreted for about an hour and a half, and I went back up to my room and I slept for an hour and a half because I was so exhausted. And , uh , that really teaches you how tiring this job can be and how, and I was prepared. I had talked to the speaker and we had gone through his presentation and I had had time to research the vocabulary, but it really shows you how demanding the job is. So that is probably one of the assignments that I've learned the most from looking back , uh , if I would accept it now under the circumstances that were offered to me or under the conditions that it would offer to me at that time, I would probably not accept it anymore, but, you know, you live and learn.

Speaker 1:

So speaking of which, when in , in a time where you don't know when you're going to be called, you mentioned earlier the Christmas day bombing in Nashville, Tennessee. Obviously there was no time to prepare for that. That was breaking news. And presumably you got called on Christmas day out of your , um, when you were , um, spending time with your family, how do you prepare for the unforeseen?

Speaker 2:

You try to follow events, current events. So I read , um , one of the first things that I do in the morning is I read the newspaper, not every article, of course, but I scroll through the headlines and see if there's anything important that has happened. And if I see that, that there is something, especially when I'm on call, when I'm not on call, I'm a little bit more relaxed about it, but when I'm on call, and I know that I might be called at any moment, I try to look at the headlines and see what has been going on. And if there's something that I believe could become a breaking news or could become a topic of conversation and that I might be called in, I try to research the topic a little bit. Of course, sometimes you have the time to do that. And sometimes you don't. So you do the best you can. And the more you work in this field and the more vocabulary that you have, and the more you practice, the better you are prepared anyway, because somehow it just sticks in your mind. You have, I always say it's like little drawers with a lot of information in there. And , um , sometimes you don't even know that you, that your brain actually stored all that information. You always think that interpreters, we tend to forget. So I always say you go into an assignment, you do your assignment, you get out and you sort of have to let go to make room in your buffer and, you know, to clean up your hard drive and make room for the next assignment and prepare for that. But some, for some mysterious reasons, there is always stuff that sticks with you that is like archived in your brain. And then suddenly just pops up out of nowhere when the moment you need it . And you didn't even remember that you had prepared for that in the past.

Speaker 1:

Let's talk a little bit about confidentiality. Uh, there's co there's a code of confidentiality for most types of interpreting. Um , how does that apply to the work that you do with live media and also in with diplomatic interpreting as well?

Speaker 2:

Well, I can portray that with a very specific example. So we had a meeting with the CEO of a big, big company with union leaders and he, the CEO was accompanied by the VP for human resources. And we were sitting in the room and they had just reached an agreement with the union leaders. And the union leaders goes 1, 2, 3, 4 points at me and says five. We are five people in this room. We are the only ones who know about this. If anything of this comes to the press, we know who to look for. So that of course, I mean, I would have never said anything, but that made it even clearer that I was not allowed to open my mouth. And the positive thing about that meeting was is that after that meeting, they would only hold additional meetings if I was the interpreter. So I really gained my respect for, you know, keeping it shut <laugh> at that meeting.

Speaker 1:

Now, what about , um, do you, do you have to follow any particular guidelines in terms of your social media presence when you are a regular interpreter for a network, or when you're regularly interpreting for these kinds of public events?

Speaker 2:

Yes, of course. Uh , we are not allowed to post anything on social media. We are usually not allowed to say that we were the interpreters for certain events. We can talk about an event in very broad terms, but never with specific information in order to identify the event or the participants and working for media outlets also is very challenging because we are not allowed to post anything that could express our personal opinion. So I'm not allowed to post on the internet, whether I'm gonna vote or not, whe which party I favor or any other type of information that could make me seem biased. When I do my interpretation.

Speaker 1:

Now, as far as COVID is concerned, how has that affected your ability to do your work? Has, have, have you, you mentioned earlier that you're working from home, do you go into the studio? Do you , um, how do you actually coordinate with people remotely when they are in different locations?

Speaker 2:

They have , um, so I have been not been going to the studio lately. I've been the one mainly assigned to work from home because I have a special device in order for me to connect to the control room and be able to do my work remotely. Not all of us have that device. So I'm the one assigned to work from home because then the others who do not have the advi , the device go to the studio , um, it is very hard for me to monitor because I don't have, I don't get any sound feed from their booth, but they can hear me. So they get my sound feed. So I, we agree in advance, which people , which candidates or which , uh , speakers I'm going to be interpreting for. And then they can monitor my interpretation or they're not to talk on top of me. And what I personally usually do is I count to two or to three before I start interpreting, depending on the phrasing and how long the answer of the previous speaker was before I start interpreting in order to make sure that I'm not talking on top of anybody else,

Speaker 1:

Is , is there something you'd like to share ? That's the heart that , that you consider to be the hardest part of this whole , um , process that you do

Speaker 2:

Well , working from home, it's really hard for me not to be able to hear my colleagues, because it is very useful also to align vocabulary and to see how the dynamic is going and working out. And whether one of my colleagues is I don't wanna say lagging behind, but sometimes it happens that a speaker doesn't finish his or her idea until the end of the phrase. And then you are a little bit behind and not being there and seeing it and being part of the dynamics makes it difficult. But I also feel very grateful for the fact that I can still work and do it from home because not all of us have that availability or not. All of us have that opportunity.

Speaker 1:

What kind of advice would you give to interpreters who , um , are interested in diversifying the type of work that they do, and in particular, those who are interested in working in media,

Speaker 2:

First of all, you have to be on top of current affairs. You have to be very well informed . You have to know what is going on, not only in your home state, but also at a country level and also internationally, that would be the first thing. Uh, the second thing that I would say is you should really start looking at your social media, start analyzing what you're posting on there. If you are very opinionated and , uh , we all have the right to have opinions, but if you're very opinionated and you need or want to get your opinion out there, maybe working for the media or working in diplomacy is not the best option for you because we have to be very discreet. And as I said before, we are not allowed to scream our truth or our opinion into the whole wild world. So we have to keep that to ourself. And you also have to learn to sound as convincing for a speaker whose ideas you don't necessarily agree with. And , um, that is for some people that is a real challenge. You're I mean, as , as I said, everybody's allowed or entitled to have their own opinions. You just don't have to let it show in your work. And of course you have to think about whether you're willing to do all those sacrifices. And if you are willing to eventually travel as well for your job,

Speaker 1:

Carola Le Maher , thank you so much for joining us here on subject to interpretation. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, Maria, for the invitation , uh , you know, I love my job. I love this profession and I could go on and on and on the entire day about it. So I hope that I have shared some useful information with all of you.

Speaker 1:

You certainly have. Thank you so very much for joining us.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for joining us today on subject to interpretation. We hope this podcast has enriched your journey along this fascinating field of interpretation. If you're watching this on YouTube, please share your comments with us below. And if you're listening to us, don't forget to subscribe. So you don't miss our weekly episodes. Take care.