Three Men in a Booth

General Chapter Chronicle 7 - Day n°18 - 07/31

In the large 16th century salon where the Capitular Fathers meet there are three small blue booths. The first is for English, the second is for French and the third is for Spanish. Inside the booths there are two very comfortable stools and a shelf with two headphones, two microphones and a fan. This is the work place of our interpreters.

Their job is to translate orally every word which is said in the plenary sessions and sometimes within the working groups as well. Besides proofreading and translating the Chronicle you are reading, this is probably the toughest job in the Chapter, so I've decided to interview two of them (making me the third of ‘three men in a booth’). The first is Matthew, who is English, translates from French and was ordained priest just a week before #Bologna2016. This is his first time as an interpreter for a General Chapter. The second is Carlos, an Argentinian who translates from English to Spanish and works as a chaplain in a school. He has been an interpreter for five Chapters.


Do you understand everything that is said?

Carlos: Almost.


And if you don't understand?

Matthew: You just have to listen as carefully as possible, to think about what the Capitulars are saying and not just the words they use. If they speak too fast or mumble, we bang on the window of the booths and they will be asked to slow down. If we don't know the word or phrase they are using, there is no immediate solution. You just have to look it up and learn it for the next time.

Carlos: When we miss something, we just pause and hope it is not too important.


For how long can you keep translating?

Carlos: We can go on for however long the session lasts, because usually one friar is not speaking all the time in the same language. There are different interventions. So you translate for a bit until the languages change, giving you a rest.

Matthew: We have a rule of thumb, which is 45 minutes on and then at least 15 minutes off.


Is there special training for interpreters?

Carlos: For the Chapter of Providence there was a call for volunteers to work as interpreter. The only requirement was knowing two languages well. We had a hard time translating quickly from one to another, even though we could speak the two languages well separately. We just did what we could and apparently it was good enough.

Matthew: I've noticed a rapid improvement after one or two days of doing it, just tuning in to what they say. First, I had to turn the volume high on my headphones, so that I could hear them very clearly. But then, I have learned quickly to stay with their line of thought, trying to understand what they say, so that I could use more natural English.

It is very tempting to use direct equivalents that may sound a little bit Latin, for example between English, French and Spanish. But normally English would naturally avoid many of those words. A famous example from this Chapter seems to be “restructuration”, which first of all I translated as “restructuration”, but in fact “restructuring” is more correct.


I guess you don't have time to be bored.

Matthew: There is one thing I'm hoping to find time for: I am told there is a tradition of English language interpreters, when they get to the more boring speeches, of providing the results from the cricket test matches. I haven't yet been able to do it, but maybe the time will come.


...I couldn't think of anything more boring than cricket!

Carlos: As interpreters we are supposed to translate only what we hear and not make personal remarks, but I am told that one of the group, every now and then, when somebody is going on and on and is boring, simply stops and says: “Oh, he isn't saying anything important”.


Will this be the last time you are interpreting for a General Chapter?

Carlos: You never know!

Matthew: I hope not! Besides the actual work, which in itself can be incredibly interesting – sometimes – it's just wonderful to be with the brethren and the rest of the Dominican family. It's an amazing thing.

Matthew Jarvis   Carlos Izaguirre  
Is 29 yrs old Is 56 yrs old
Studied Church history Studied Holy Scriptures
Has a special devotion to the Dominican saint: Bl. Diane d'Andalò, after whom his mother is named. Has a special devotion to the Dominican saint: Bl. Imelda Lambertini, after whom his sister is named.


The Chronicler