The superpowers of interpretation

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When I say I’m a translator, I often hear the answer, “Oh, okay. Nice.” The second alternative, equally frequent, is “Oh, so you translate films and tv shows, right?” No, I don’t. Although subtitling is very present in our daily lives, in a very visible way, with tv shows and films consumed daily, news, video clips, documentaries and a whole catalogue of audio-visual consumption on streaming platforms where, for the most part, we see content with subtitles, translation is not just about that niche market. Today, however, I would like to talk to you about interpretation, a completely different branch of translation.

If, in general terms, translation is the passage from a text written in one language to another language using equivalent words, through a written medium, subtitling does the same with an audio-visual medium and interpretation uses an oral medium. In addition, it also requires several entirely different knowledge and techniques that have to be learned and trained.

Just as there are different types of translation (technical, literary, legal, medical,…), there are also different types of interpretation: simultaneous, consecutive, whisper, among others. My professional experience, although based primarily on technical translation, has expanded in recent years to also include interpretation, more specifically simultaneous translation.

Simultaneous interpretation is not just “saying what a person has said but in another language”; it is doing it at the same time as the speaker is talking. Using audio material, such as headphones, earphones or microphone, listeners can choose to either listen to the speaker or the interpreter communicating.

I don’t always find it easy to explain, to people who do not know the area, how complex this process of “repeating what one person says but in another language” is. Simply put, the interpreter must:

– listen to the speaker

– understand what is being said

– translate the speech in question in their head

– speak/say the equivalent translation

– listen to themselves while talking

– continue listening to the speaker to continue translating and doing an oral interpretation.

Sound confusing? It is. We are, in essence, speaking over another speaker, communicating at the same time as another person, but in a different language. And only the interpreter hears the two communications, since listeners choose one of the oral communications, either the original by the speaker or the translation by the interpreter.

The brain is still accelerated, it got used to working at 100 miles an km to process the information it is receiving and translating it to communicate to third parties, mentally searching for word equivalents, making sure the verb tenses being used in a sentence that I still don’t know how it will end make sense, trying not to speak too quickly but also not too slowly, using a lower tone of voice but without being boring or monotonous… all knowledge and techniques are being put to practice at the same time.

“To be worn to a frazzle”, “to burn the candle at both ends”, “dead on my feet”… the richness of our language only partly ‘translates’ the feeling I get when I finish an interpreting service, when I’m still trying to slow down, trying to regain the ‘normal’ speed of life. And getting ready for the next one!

Sara Pereira, translator, proofreader and project manager

One tongue, two languages

Untitled 1It is known that due to the long period in which Brazil was under Portuguese ruling, these countries share the same language: Portuguese.

Nevertheless, this language contains unique specificities. For example, it is said to be one of the only languages in the world to have words that cannot be translated, the most famous of which being “saudade”. This word means melancholic or nostalgic longing for a person, place or things, which are far away, either in space or in time. Other interesting words would be “desbundar” and “desrascanço”.

Sticking to the word “saudade”, its meaning reveals something so lacking in the world in which we live: empathy, love of your neighbour, bonds of solidarity, of coexistence that are so necessary and humanise us.

There are words that can get people in trouble if they are employed in the wrong country. For example, the word “rapariga”: in Portugal, it means “girl”, in Brazil means “prostitute”.

In Portugal, “Durex” is a brand of condom while in Brazil this word is used to refer to “adhesive tape”.

The same happens with “puto”, a derogatory word for “boy” in Portugal while, in Brazil, it can mean “homosexual man”, “bastard”, “angry person” or even “money”.

There are also other words that do not put us “in hot water” (or in embarrassing or troubling situations), but that have different meanings. For example, “chávena/xícara” (cup), “foguetão/foguete” (rocket); “baliza/meta” (goal) and “comboio/trem” (train).

Specially in the world of translation, one of the main difficulties was not to understand false cognates, but rather to understand what people were actually saying because of the accents. During university conferences and lectures, particularly in the north of the country, it is often difficult to understand which words are being pronounced. The same happens with transcriptions in which, at first, there are certain difficulties in understanding what is being said.

If we consider the legal field, beyond linguistic differences – “burla” in Portugal and “estelionato” in Brazil (fraude), “Tribunal de Relação” in Portugal and “Tribunal de Justiça” in Brazil (Court of Appeal), “Oficioso” in Portugal and “Defensor dativo” in Brazil (Court-appointed lawyer), “Absolvição de instância” in Portugal and “extinção sem resolução do mérito” in Brazil (acquittal) or even “arguido” in Portugal and “acusado” in Brazil (defendant), among others – what most distinguishes the procedures and customs of these countries is the possibility of lawyers carrying out notarial activities, that is, legal certification of documents and signatures, translations and even legal photocopy of documents. In Brazil, these activities can only be carried out by notaries.

Thus, despite being countries with a shared history, culture and idiomatic traits, there are so many other linguistic, behavioural and civilizational distinctions that greatly enrich and ennoble these two countries that know how to give a warm welcome to people, celebrating and enjoying life. I feel welcomed and accepted in this rich and generous country, both personally and professionally.

Henrique Silva, Lawyer

How can we communicate in a world that forces us to be apart?

pictureAs I write this, the Portuguese Government has just announced the enforcement of a sanitary fence in 3 municipalities, where more than 200 000 people live. I look out the window and see parents waiting outside the kindergarten, waiting for their children, keeping a respectful distance from each other. We’re communicating. We’re communicating that we can’t get close, that we need to be careful, but that we still have a family that we need to take care of.

Being apart is also communication. Our body communicates through what we say, but mainly through what we don’t say and (don’t) do.

I am fortunate to live with a wonderful family, thus enjoying regular close contact and affection, also from my family nucleus. The absence of hugs and kisses, so dear to my culture, for over 6 months, makes me feel increasingly isolated from others. This is also communication; every time I don’t hug, I don’t kiss, I don’t give a handshake, I’m communicating that I care about that person and that that person cares about me.

But, in reality, we are not that isolated. With our Zoom conferences, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger group chats, family lunches where, despite being away for a few meters, we continue to mingle, to chat and to share with each other what it means to be human. Deep down, we continue communicating.

What attracts me the most about translation, and what leads me to have a passionate interest in the area, is precisely that we, as translators, facilitate communication between people and cultures, although separated by thousands of kilometres, allowing them to understand each other.

We continue, without breaks, to translate our clients, to allow the world to continue to communicate and, in this way, not stop. We take the necessary precautions, some of us from home, others from the office, as needed.

We know that we are facing a period of uncertainty, which makes us look to the future with apprehension; we cannot predict what lies ahead, but if we continue, with certain precautions, social distancing, to communicate that we are still close, then we will emerge winners.

And we are here to help you.

Diogo Heleno, Operations Director

Darwin’s paradigm and language


Language is a living thing, which evolves over time. For Portuguese people, it comes with no surprise that the word for ‘pharmacy’, “farmácia” is written with an ‘f’. However, until the spelling reform of 1911, the rules dictated that is should be written “pharmácia”, with a ‘ph’. Similarly, the use of the expression “cair o Carmo e a Trindade” (meaning ‘surprise, confusion’ or used to ironically emphasize something minor) is commonly used, which is thought to have arisen after the 1755 earthquake, when these two convents came crumbling down and were destroyed.

As Darwin’s theory of evolution postulates for living beings, our language also undergoes mutations to better adapt itself to the present. Each generation creates new concepts and words to express themselves, and forgets the words that have fallen into disuse. “Pharmácia”, with a ‘ph’, from the Latin pharmacia, disappeared, along with its language of origin. At the same time, the advent of globalization has opened up a whole range of loanwords that we incorporate into our daily lives. Who will prefer “electronic mail” to “email”? Will we have a Portuguese word for “software”?

Sometimes, we can see the language changing before our eyes. An example of this is the New Portuguese Spelling Agreement (whether people agree with the changes it introduces or not). Another is social media and the increasing prevalence of written communication. It’s not just a whole new vocabulary that’s emerging in these mediums. New forms of spelling and punctuation also appear, to express the nuances that we normally communicate with our tone of voice and body language. A “lmao 🤣” will hardly have the same meaning as a “lmao…😑”.

In the middle of all these changes is the translator. Translation is not just passing a text from one language to another. It is necessary to adapt the text to the rules of the target language, looking for the most appropriate expressions to convey the message. Part of the translator’s job is to keep abreast of these changes. And these days, it is an increasingly vital job for society.

Daniela Isidoro,  translator and proofreader

Translation is communication

broken communication businessmen unable to communicateWithin an organization, we have two types of communication: internal and external communication.

It is essential to recognise that both are important and understand their importance and worth, that is, the added value they bring companies.

Internal communication is the communication within the organization in which the target audience are the employees. As for external communication, this is the communication with third party bodies or partners, the target audience being suppliers, customers, public bodies, the community, etc.

We communicate daily, using both these types of communication to transmit information, make decisions and much more. Communication has a strategic role in which we always have to focus on the final purpose. What is the purpose of the communication we are doing? Who is the recipient of the communication?

When it comes to international communication, two additional variables come up: the differences in language and culture between the sender and the receiver. Language is a first pitfall that must be avoided: in order for a message to retain its initial impact, it is important to translate and adapt it to the recipient’s culture. Certain expressions, which are entirely understandable in their country of origin, may be misinterpreted by a foreign recipient.

The way in which you transmit the message is key and, when communicating sensitive messages, it is important to avoid communicating in a way that might compromise you. So, trust your message to professional, experienced and native translators.

At M21Global, a translation company with more than 15 years of experience, all translators have a higher education degree in translation and several years of experience, translating exclusively into their mother tongue. We are available to help you communicate.

Cindy Barros, translator and proofreader

We are all translators

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My area of work is not humanities but rather IT; it may seem strange to be here talking about translation. But, in reality, I have come to realize for some time now that what I do is, in effect, a form of translation.

As a programmer, I take as input the requirements for a program in human language and translate them into an intermediate language, the source code. Then, with the help of a special program called Compiler, this source code is, again, translated into binary language, a language the computer understands. This is how we get the desired output, a program that performs the desired task according to specified requirements.

Similarly, a translator takes as input a text in one language and translates it into a different language (the output).

However, the world of translation does not end here. We are constantly translating in our personal and professional lives: when we read, we translate a written text (with all its symbols) into its abstract representation to interpret it. When we speak, we translate our ideas into sounds that others, when they listen, translate back into ideas that can be understood.

In reality, our brain is nothing more than a complex translation machine that translates sound waves, light waves and electrical signals from our skin, nose and tongue into something we can understand as the world around us, with all its sounds, colours and movement.

We are all, in the end, translators.

Luis Rodrigues, System Administrator

International Translation Day


International Translation Day

International Translation Day is celebrated on 30 September. This day marks the death, in 419 or 420, of St. Jerome, translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, known as the ‘Vulgate’ or ‘popular’ edition. He was also known for writing other important texts on the art of translating.

Nowadays, the work of the translator is increasingly indispensable. In an age when ‘globalization’ is part of our vocabulary, language barriers are destroyed thanks to the work of translators and interpreters all over the world. Or as Paul Ricœur would say: “Translation is definitely a task, then, not in the sense of a restricting obligation, but in the sense of the thing to be done so that human action can simply continue.” The translator will be tasked to help, so the “human action can simply continue”.

This is a profession that goes unnoticed, except when it is the target of criticism – as the Italian proverb goes, “Traduttore, traditore” (Translator, traitor) – it is thanks to the work of translation and interpretation that we share our knowledge, through books, manuals, films or tv shows, among other, originally written in languages we do not understand.

30 September is, thus, the day when all of us, translators, show how proud we are of the job we do but also the day when we can make ourselves be heard, highlighting the key role we pay in today’s society.

Ana Oliveira, translator, proofreader and project manager