Impact Istanbul (3): Lost in Translation? Not Quite

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Mini-Series: Impact Istanbul features conference highlights, round-ups, interviews, Q&A’s, and speaker profiles. It is part of our International Business Forum 2013 live coverage. This time, Matthieu Bourlet asks: How can language barriers be eliminated from international events?

Attendees trade passports for personal translation devices in 5 languages

Student Reporter / Jonathan Kalan

Attendees trade passports for personal translation devices in 5 languages

In his opening remarks for the 16th annual International Business Forum (IBF) on the theme of Green and Inclusive Businesses (GIBs), German State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (GIZ) Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz drew upon Aristotle, in alluding to the bridges that must be crossed between old and new approaches to business:  “We have to find the richness between the differences”. In this richness lies the essence of inclusive business models.

With attendees from all over the world, IBF2013 is indeed diverse and enriching – provided everyone is able to understand each other. Having a common language – as pointed out in the literal sense several times during the first day of the Forum – is an important condition for discussing inclusiveness in business. The question here is: Is there common language in the first place for having these discussions?

Cleverly, IBF organisers offered individual wireless translation headsets to all participants in the main hall plenaries. The simultaneous translations – in English, Turkish, Spanish, French and Arabic –  were provided courtesy of a team of Turkish translators hidden in projectionist-like cabins above the back of the hall.

In order to use a headset, attendees had to leave their ID cards and passports  – a quite symbolic representation of the conference, checking your citizenship at the door to focus together on a common global objective.

Yet while most of the speeches were done in English, and non-native English speakers tuned into their devices, the translation worked one way. When it came to asking questions – during the engaging Q&A and discussions where participants could comment on the speakers’ approaches – there was no simple way for their voices to be heard, which may have prevented the sharing of potentially interesting ideas that could enhance the debate.

Live translating of Q&A sessions is a tough job for translators, and typically conferences with over 1,000 attendees might attempt it. As planned speeches are generally drafted beforehand by the speakers, translators have access to advance copies. That way, the translators don’t need to concentrate on interpreting each speakers’ accent, and are able to focus on content and intonations.

However, as Innocent Munyaneza, a Rwandese IT entrepreneur, remarked at yesterday’s workshop on ICT, “[it’s the role] of ICT to improve our daily life”.

Will it lead us to a kind of telepathic system of communication? That sounds like science-fiction. But let’s remember this lesson and make our coverage of IBF’s inclusive approach also inclusive itself – if YOU have an idea to solve that issue, let us know.

Attendees line up outside the main conference hall for translation devices when one speaker gives his presentation in Turkish.

Student Reporter / Matthieu Bourlet

Attendees line up outside the main conference hall for translation devices when one speaker gives his presentation in Turkish.

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