This report has just come in from Cincinnati, Ohio, in the heart of the American Midwest.
It’s crunch time for the language volunteers of the 2012 World Choir Games.
Bob Stevie, 65, of White Oak and president of the Cincinnati USA Sister City Association, began recruiting volunteers fluent in foreign languages a year ago. He started with three volunteers, and largely with the help of the University of Cincinnati’s international community, he has built a group of 60 leaders. Each leader, specializing in specific languages and dialects, has received a list of volunteers that they must then interview to make sure their workers are actually fluent.
About 30 volunteer translators met last week in a Cincinnati Park Board office to hammer out plans for serving the melting pot of international choirs. They represented half of the volunteer team leaders who are meeting weekly to coordinate myriad details. Putting together a master plan for these teams of translators – who will assist international choirs as they rehearse and compete, help them find Downtown restaurants, and get them to their events on time – has been complex.
During the meeting, there were signs of the urgency of their task. Team leaders were waiting for the final list of 352 choirs – half of them international – that will descend upon Cincinnati starting on July 4. Until they received that list, they couldn’t coordinate a master schedule for their volunteer workers.
Rebecca Quinones of Loveland is helping to coordinate all of the languages.
“Our biggest issue is just the number of choirs we have coming, and making sure all are accounted for and that we don’t let anyone fall through the cracks,” she said. “We’re working kind of desperately right now.”
A melting pot of languages
Introducing themselves around the table, the volunteer language coordinators were fluent in (besides English), Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese), Latvian, Dutch, Japanese, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Thai, Swahili and Arabic.
A second weekly meeting with different leaders includes a host of Chinese speakers of several dialects, as well as those overseeing Czech, Danish, Hebrew, Bosnian, Croatian, Hungarian, Romania, Farsi, Kazakh, Filipino Tagalog, Polish, Turkish and Vietnamese translators.
They are prepared to cover 27 languages, and possibly more if the need arises, said Stevie. On their table, a large map of China pinpointed the provinces representing 60-70 Chinese choirs that are expected.
Each leader voices a concern. Volunteer Hanif Qureshi, a police officer from India working on his Ph.D. at UC, says he needs to know the regions that the three choirs from India are from. “The region will say which language they speak. They will not all speak Hindi,” he said.
The Russian committee is still “a work in progress.” There are not enough native Latvian speakers locally to cover the need. There is just one Japanese choir, but 13 volunteers to cover it.
In contrast, only about a dozen people have been found who speak Indonesian, and more than 900 Indonesian singers in 20 choirs are expected. Indonesia is a country where up to 700 different languages are spoken. Fortunately, said Stevie, many speak English.
Stevie instructs the group that they must all be familiar with Downtown streets.
“You must be comfortable taking people from Music Hall to Duke Energy Center. You must know where there are restrooms,” he said. “It’s got to run on time. We’ve got to get our choirs to the right place at the right time.”
1. This is a typical case where the number (27) and nature of the languages and the type of organisation responsible would make it unthinkable to employ professional interpreters, even if they could be found in the Cincinnati area.
2. It's a large-scale operation. Just the group leaders number 60. This is evidence - if more evidence were needed - that translating is not an accomplishment of the exceptionally endowed but is commonplace in bilinguals, at any rate in well-educated ones.
3. Universities, even those that have no translation programme, are a good source for recruiting Native Translators and Interpreters, because nowadays they all have many bilingual foreign students.
4. The volunteers will be functioning as liaison interpreters. As usual in liaison interpreting, they will have to do more than just translate (they must be "familiar with downtown streets", etc.)
5. The volunteers may not be Expert Interpreters, but they are tested for language fluency and are well organised.
6. They can count on a lot of goodwill and tolerance on the part of their 'clients'.
7. There's a convergence that illustrates the parallel between translators and musicians that was the subject of the post of May 10. The interpreters are Native Translators and the choristers are, for the most part, Native Singers.
Janelle Gelfand. Choir Games translators talking details. Cincinnati.com, June 10, 2012. Click here.
The website of the World Choir Games, "the largest choral competition in the world", is here.
World Choir Games 2010. Source: ChoralNet.