Be careful with sarcasm when using a conference interpreter

Sarcasm is a kind of humor that can be very witty, but it can also easily be misunderstood. Often, the humor goes right over many people’s head; they can become confused if they take it seriously. I must admit when I see this happen, I often find that quite humorous as well! I have seen folks use sarcasm with a straight face and chuckled to myself when I realized no one got the joke!

A while back I wrote a very sarcastic blog called Reasons why you should not hire a qualified professional interpreter. It got a lot of reaction, so I followed it up with another sarcastic blog called Wanting a quote before seeing the documents

Although many people reacted well to the blogs and enjoyed them some of my good clients took them seriously and questioned me about them. They were concerned! This is when I realized that although I did have an audience for that type of humor, it wasn’t going to work for my base.  As much as I enjoyed it, I stopped writing my sarcastic blogs to avoid any further misunderstandings or bad impressions from my loyal clients.

As you can see, sarcasm can be a problem when everyone speaks the same language. Imagine trying to have an interpreter successfully transmit that across languages!

The process of simultaneous interpretation is very difficult. Have you ever tried to repeat what someone is saying on the radio? While you are talking, you are also listening and repeating what they are saying. Try it! I bet after a few minutes you will give up or have a bad headache! Imagine that conference interpreters have to do that consistently and with the added process of instantly translating it into another language.  Every word you choose requires a nearly instantaneous decision as to the most appropriate word in the other language.

Sarcasm and double entendres can be very difficult or sometime impossible to interpret. First, you run the risk of the interpreter not rendering it properly! Second, the interpreter must discern how to translate it with the right delivery. What if the interpreter lacks a sense of humor?

My suggestion is to avoid sarcasm, if possible. However, if sarcasm is the essence of who you are, and it is essential to your presentation, make sure you become familiar with the interpreters and ascertain if they are comfortable and familiar with your humor before retaining services.

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