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  • Writer's pictureNadine Hegmanns

Wearing different hats

As an interpreter, I am a multi-tool, generally slipping into the role of the respective speaker. I wear their different hats, so to speak. In my rendition, I usually use first person pronouns, which makes sense because firstly, I do not have to convert direct speech into indirect speech (i. e. "He said he had...", "She suggested that one could...") and secondly, I get the chance to dissociate myself from any interpretation and personal opinion. As an interpreter I remain neutral, I only play a role. This in turn requires an open mind on the part of the listeners. It is not always clear whether it’s me talking to them or whether I speak the words of the person I am supposed to be translating.

So I started to imagine that my hats have different colours. Take my yellow hat, for instance: I‘m in court, whispering the words of the witness into the defendant’s ear. Suddenly he shouts at me, "But that's not true, what you're saying is wrong!" The judge had to intervene and explain to the defendant that it was not the interpreter who had experienced the situation, but the witness, and that it remained to be seen whether the course of events really had taken place as reported, or not.

Once I wore my blue hat, equipped with pen and notepad and surrounded by young adults conferencing at a youth day. I interpreted the dos and don’ts on a future foreign aid mission consecutively, i.e. giving the translation sentence by sentence, after the speaker. I explained (in his role): "I’m happy to muck in and fly out myself." Delightedly, one of the participants asked, "Oh, how lovely, so you’ll be joining us, Nadine?" Unfortunately, the answer was no; you don't really need an interpreter to "muck in"…

Sometimes I put on my red hat and lend my voice to guests on the radio, so I’m out of sight. As a rule, male colleagues are hired to interpret male guests and female colleagues work for female guests, and ideally their voices are appropriate to their respective age. When I got to interpret British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, I was met with great enthusiasm, because my voice suited the then 23-year-old very well. But when there was no male interpreter available for Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons and I was hired to do the job, listeners were slightly taken aback at first: they had not expected a soft female voice to go with the deep bass!

Another time I was actually told that my rendition came across so much more friendly than the foreign guest - perhaps I should have pulled my hat down a little farther that day ...

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