Last month Kobe had his final postgame press conference as a Laker. Tencent Video streamed the event live and simultaneous interpreting was provided to help the Chinese viewers and fans. But it was a kind gesture gone disastrous.

(The video seems to have disappeared from Tencent Video’s database so I apologise for not being able to put the link here.)

There were two interpreters working on the job. For the sake of discussion let’s refer to them as Interpreter A (“IA”) and Interpreter B (“IB”)respectively.

To start out, IA is basically mumbling intermittent nonsense. We can barely make out what A is saying. About two minutes into the conference, IA’s filler “那么” (meaning “so” or “then”) started to dominate the interpretation. (Someone calculated that he has said it about 1,200 times within the 20-minute slot!) IA’s booth partner IB didn’t do any better. Surprisingly (or not) IB uses the same filler over and over again (fillers are contagious perhaps?). At the time of the event and soon afterwards, the video page was flooded with negative comments, some criticising the poor choice of interpreters on Tencent’s part, and some venting about the bad quality of the interpreting, especially the staggering amount of times IA has used the filler “那么”, hence his nickname “那么哥” (“Brother So”).

Things didn’t stop at that. People found out that this “Brother So” is an interpreter trainer (shocking!). He’s been suspected of falsifying his resume and deceptive advertising in promoting his interpreter training courses. Even after he had apologised on different platforms (Weibo, WeChat, etc.), people find his word insincere and buck passing. Now he has disabled comments on his Weibo account.

I hope we can draw some lessons from this “incident”.

1. The importance of choosing a good quality interpreter

I’m sure we all appreciate good quality anything – not just interpreters – food, shoes, family time, etc. For one party to fully understand the other who speaks a different language, a good quality interpreter is needed to bridge the language barrier as much as they can. Would you want your audience to know that your products are “good”, or that your products are “superior”? Do you expect your counterpart “to exercise caution due to the sensitive nature of the matter”, or “to be careful of what you do or say because this thing is a secret”? Does an anglerfish have “a bioluminescent esca” or is it “a wavy thing that collects glowy bacteria”? I’m sure you know what I mean.

Apart from the kind/amount of messages that get delivered, interpreting, as a kind of customer facing service, has a direct effect on the user experience. In Tencent Video’s case, using bad quality interpreters has resulted in dissatisfied and disappointed viewers who might choose other streaming platforms in the future for any foreign sport events. And that – the loss of users – would the last thing any service provider would like to see.

2. How to choose a good quality interpreter

As someone who sometimes source interpreters for clients, I would recommend interpreters who I know personally and have worked with before and whose quality and professionalism I have confidence in. Interpreters I haven’t worked with, however reputable they are, would come second. But we can’t always find available interpreters that we know, especially in busy periods. In this case, I would rely on several things:

1. Recommendation from interpreters I trust
2. Recommendation from clients
3. CVs

I prefer recommandation from people who know or have used the interpreters’ service because it comes from real life experience rather than just some fancy paragraphs on a paper (or a computer screen). CVs can be falsified; facts can be tailored, omitted or exaggerated; but the building of word of mouth requires time and real capabilities.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, please share in the comment section below 🙂

Related reading: (in Chinese)

(First posted on 17 May 2016)