Guillen Clarifies Comments on Spanish-Speaking Players
On the eve of an important series with the Tigers, Ozzie Guillen waved reporters into his office Tuesday morning. This would be a clarification session for Guillen, the always colorful, never dull White Sox manager.
After Chicago’s 4-1 victory over Oakland on Sunday, Guillen made inflammatory comments that Asian players were given preferential treatment because they routinely had interpreters. He wondered why Spanish-speaking players, many of whom struggle with English, were not provided with interpreters.
The White Sox, who lead the American League Central, were off Monday, so this was Guillen’s first opportunity to respond to angry criticism — the commissioner’s office was bombarded with calls from teams pointing out their programs designed to accommodate Latin players — including a statement from the White Sox saying that he was incorrect.
Guillen explained himself in a 30-minute conversation that, in typical Guillen fashion, was a whirlwind of good points and contradictions.
He said the tempest began innocently enough when he was asked about Dayán Viciedo, the White Sox’ Cuban-born infielder.
Viciedo and his family defected from Cuba in 2008 by boat to Mexico. Once there he crossed into the United States and went to Miami. Baseball approved him as a free agent on Nov. 10, 2008, and a month later, Viciedo and the White Sox agreed to a four-year, $10 million contract.
Guillen’s point was how hard it was for Viciedo to come to the United States from Cuba and assimilate into a new culture.
“When a Japanese player is done playing major league baseball, they go back to their country and enjoy their life,” Guillen said. “When the Cuban player comes to this country, I don’t think they can go back to their country and see their families.”
Then Guillen expanded his comments, explaining how difficult it is for Spanish-speaking players without interpreters to communicate effectively.
Guillen made a similar complaint in 2004 about the Hispanic presence in baseball, the language divide and what he said was the apparent favoritism toward Asian players. He wondered whether greater accommodations could be made given the assistance that Asian players received.
He said: “I always make a joke that we bring a Japanese guy (as an interpreter) because (the Japanese players) don’t speak the language,” Guillen told USA Today. “Why don’t we bring a Latin guy to help? … I told Tony Bernazard (of the players’ union), we bring guys here who can’t speak the language and we don’t care. Then they tell us to learn the language.”
In the intervening years, baseball, largely in response to criticism and pressure from people like Guillen, has established programs to accommodate baseball’s phenomenal Spanish-speaking influx. Almost 30 percent of major league players are Latin American. Every major league team has multiple Latin players, and Hispanic players also make up a significant portion of minor league teams.
According to the commissioner’s office:
The basic agreement requires notices provided to major league players be translated and printed in Spanish and made available to all Spanish-speaking players.
All drug-testing program documents and presentations are in English and Spanish.
During the season, each club makes available an English as second language course — provided that at least one player on that club requests such a course.
At the minor league level, all documents provided to minor league players are translated into Spanish.
All club academies in the Dominican Republic provide educational programs in English to players under contract.
If a player wants to have an interpreter during pre- and postgame interviews, he can make arrangements with the team. In fact, there should be dedicated interpreters for every language. But on Tuesday, Guillen, in response to a direct question, said he did not want the league or the teams to supply interpreters. He wants the players to buckle down and learn English.
Freddy Garcia, a White Sox pitcher, said he didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other about Guillen’s comments.
“I’m one of the guys who doesn’t talk that much,” he said. “I don’t need a translator to say I feel bad and that I got my butt kicked. It’s no big deal for me.”
While he plays down the role, Guillen is the voice, the backbone and the conscience of Latin players. He is an advocate.
“I just want my people, these kids, to have a better life on the field, off the field,” he said. “That’s all we want. That’s what I was saying. I was saying I want to help Latino kids.”
The solution is that more reporters should learn Spanish and more Latin players, for their own sake, should take advantage of Major League Baseball’s bilingual programs.
The two sides will meet somewhere in the middle. Outside Ozzie Guillen’s office, of course.
UN Interpreters Make Sure Nothing Is Lost In Translation
Think you’re good at languages? Try applying for one of the toughest translation jobs on earth — working as a language specialist for the United Nations. RFE/RL takes a behind-the-scenes look at the world of interpreters.
UNITED NATIONS — When Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi delivered his notorious 96-minute speech before the UN General Assembly last autumn, no one may have been more aware of each passing minute than his personal translator, Fouad Zlitni, whom he had brought along for the occasion.
Nearly three-quarters of the way into Qaddafi’s address, Zlitni collapsed, undone by the effort of translating the Libyan leader’s rambling, at times angry speech from Arabic into English for nearly 75 minutes straight.
Hossam Fahr, the Egyptian-born head of the UN’s interpretation service, says Qaddafi’s translator went far beyond the normal limits of what an interpreter can reasonably be expected to do.
“It was a very unusual situation, because every member state has the right to bring its own interpreter. [Qaddafi] had his own interpreters; they were already installed in the booths. So we let them do the work, and then unfortunately, one of them just collapsed a good 75 minutes into the statement,” Fahr said.
“I take my hat off to him — he did a very good job under the circumstances.”
The incident served to highlight the grueling nature of simultaneous interpretation, a profession which few ordinary people have occasion to observe.
But at the United Nations, which brings together 192 member states and a profusion of mother tongues in its day-to-day pursuit of international diplomacy, interpretation is at the very core of its operations.
The annual General Assembly — which every autumn brings together the entire UN membership for a massive two-week series of speeches and policy reviews — may represent the World Cup of professional interpretation.
But even on a day-to-day basis, the UN’s councils, committees, and publications produce enough work to keep its language staff of nearly 460 people busy on a full-time basis.
Barry Olsen, who heads the conference interpretation program at California’s highly respected Monterey Institute of International Studies — from which a number of UN translators have graduated — says UN language specialists are generally considered the best in the business.
“A translator or interpreter who works for the United Nations has reached what is very much one of the pinnacles of the profession. It is an organization that is respected and the linguistic work that goes on with the United Nations is of the highest order,” Olsen says.
Iron Nerves And A Sense Of Style
Although the official working languages at the United Nations are English and French, the UN has six official languages into which the bulk of its official documents and publications are automatically translated — English and French, plus Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. (In instances where other languages are needed, the UN will hire freelance interpreters or country delegations will bring in their own translators.)
UN interpreters, most typically, translate from their acquired languages into their native tongue. With language like Chinese and Arabic — where accomplished translators are more difficult to find — interpreters will translate both into their native language as well as their adopted ones.
It’s an intense experience that can drain even the most accomplished interpreters — to avoid a Qaddafi-like marathon, in fact, the UN abides by a strict timetable in which interpreters work in teams of two, with one typically working no more than 20 minutes at a time before switching to his or her partner. (General Assembly speeches, moreover, are usually kept to 15 minutes or less.)
Mastering a language is only the start to being a good interpreter. In a UN guide for would-be language specialists, the job appears to be equal parts diplomat, rocket scientist, and traffic cop. “A good translator,” it reads, “knows techniques for coping with a huge variety of difficult situations, has iron nerves, does not panic, has a sense of style, and can keep up with a rapid speakers.”
Igor Shpiniov of the UN Training Section, Hossam Fahr, the chief of the UN Interpretation Service, and Stephen Sekel, the former chief of the UN English Translation Service.
Such people, it appears, are hard to find. Despite salaries that are among the highest in the profession — top-rank UN interpreters can earn $76,000 a year — the United Nations is suffering a severe shortage of qualified language personnel.
“We’re looking for people with good comprehension skills. Sometimes people who translate from French or English into Russian do not necessarily speak fluently in English or French,” says Igor Shpiniov, a Russian-born translator who runs the UN’s language training division.
“Sometimes, paradoxically, they can translate a text about atomic energy, but if you ask them to buy milk at a French supermarket, they’ll be at a loss.”
Competition for the jobs is stiff. Out of 1,800 applicants looking to work as Chinese interpreters last year, only 10 passed the UN examination. For Arabic, only two out of 400 made the cut.
Many UN language experts work as translators for the vast numbers of publications and documents that pass through the international body each year. But the most prestigious position is that of the simultaneous interpreters when language experts sit in soundproof booths and provide a running translation of often highly technical or politically charged speeches.
The Comma Affair
The profession was first developed during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in 1946. Now both the General Assembly and Security Council have eight translation booths — one for each of the UN’s official languages, and two for alternate language translations. (According to UN rules, the media is barred from sitting in on live interpretation sessions.)
When working at important events like Security Council meetings, interpreters are often allowed to prepare with advance information about the proceedings, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the concepts and terminology of the debate. The agenda for the General Assembly is often planned months in advance, allowing the translation team ample time to estimate how many interpreters will be needed for scheduled talks.
Still, no amount of advance planning can completely protect interpreters from anxiety when the time has come for them to translate. Some studies have shown that during intense debates, interpreters often experience an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as they struggle to translate different terms, nuances, and arguments into smooth, comprehensible phrases.
Movies like “The Interpreter,” starring Nicole Kidman as a UN translator and filmed inside the United Nations compound, brought an aura of Hollywood glamour and intrigue to the role of interpreters. In reality, the job can be far more prosaic, although constant worries about involuntary bloopers and misinterpretations can keep tensions high.
In one instance, a firestorm was raised when a single comma was removed from the text of a UN resolution involving two unnamed former Soviet republics in the thick of a border dispute. One of the countries, angered by the omission, demanded it be replaced. But the UN translators, undaunted, said the comma had distorted the meaning of the text. Not everyone was happy, but in the end, the comma stayed out.
Mistakes And Applause
Interpretation head Fahr also recalls a mistake he made as an Arabic-English interpreter when the Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali was sworn in as UN secretary-general in 1992.
“What comes out of my mouth is, ‘I congratulate you upon your election as secretary-general of the United States.’ And everybody in the General Assembly laughed,” Fahr said.
“So the president of the General Assembly asked the then-secretary-general, [Peru’s Javier] Perez de Cuellar why are they laughing, and he said ‘The English interpreter made a mistake.'”
In the end, Fahr says, he received a forgiving round of applause.
Stephen Sekel, former chief of the UN’s English translation service, says such mistakes are quite common and that UN staff only occasionally demand an interpreter be sanctioned for making a mistake. Overall, he says, the skill and professionalism of the UN translation team ensures any they remain an indispensible, behind-the-scenes asset — and that their errors will be few.
“We expect our language staff to bring a great deal of general knowledge to the job, a high level of education and a lot of intellectual curiosity,” Sekel said.
“They are expected to be continuous learners. They wouldn’t survive otherwise. Perhaps that explains why we don’t have too many examples of terrible mistakes that brought us to the brink of a major international crisis.”
|Frustrated crowd pleads for city interpreter rehire|
|By: DAVID HENKE, firstname.lastname@example.org|