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Interpreting needs preparation

In addition to actual interpretation work, a Tibetan interpreter also has to prepare for his or her engagement. Being invited to interpret at a Dharma course, one is very often also involved in the preparation of the course. There is quite a lot that needs to be done beforehand. If you live in a center, you are anyway involved. Even if not, you may still have to help with the communication between teacher and Buddhist community, for example determining the teaching’s topic, its exact title, content and program.

Ideally, you also prepare before coming to a course. Tibetan teachers have a great repertoire with a large range of subjects. Each field has its own terminology which you may need to learn or repeat beforehand. Just think about H.H. the Dalai Lama. He often speaks about Western science and uses associated Tibetan terminology. These terms are often even unknown to a majority of Tibetans. You really can’t afford to show up at a course with no clue about the subject.

Occasionally, there are no (or no good) translations of a needed text available and the interpreter might be requested to provide English translations for the participants. Depending on the length of the text, this involves an enormous additional amount of time. The translation project 84000–Translating the Words of the Buddha has estimated that an average translator needs 12, 5 hours to translate a Tibetan text page (pecha). (For more details see here)

People often think that interpreting for one specific Tibetan master means you will also have no difficulty to interpret for any other Tibetan Lama. In fact, Tibetan language is very diverse. There are many different dialects, and some of them are very difficult to understand even for Tibetans. If you have never worked with a teacher before, it is advisable that you listen to available audio records in order to accustom yourself with his pronunciation. Very often interpreters prefer to work closely with one and the same Tibetan teacher over longer periods of time.

When you are there

Photo: (2005)

People will expect you to appear on time, mostly even a day or two earlier. When people attend Dharma teachings, they want that everything works out fine. Once you are there, you therefore need to function properly. The audience depends on you. If you are afraid to talk in front of people, interpreting for Tibetan masters is nothing for you. The teaching of the master is the middle of the attention and so is your interpretation. In case the teacher will talk for three hours without break, you will also interpret for three hours. But while a lot of people will doze off during long teaching sessions, you can’t. You will have to be alert and do your best at all times.

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