Languages at World Economic Forum 2015

Spare a Thought for the Translators and Interpreters by Louise Law

149401093This week, global political and business leaders have descended on the Swiss ski town of Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). At the WEF, there are 2,500 participants from 140 countries, including about 40 heads of state and 1,500 bosses from the world’s top global companies. At the WEF, many topics are discussed and thrashed out. This year, some big economic discussions will take place on global responsibilities like world economic growth and stability, crisis management, the balance of wealth, technology and innovation and much more.

With 2,500 international participants, the World Economic Forum is not just a gathering of great minds but also a gathering of many languages and cultures. In this blog, we’d like you to take a moment to consider the teams of translators and interpreters who work hard to translate the words of some of the world’s most great, renowned political, economical and business minds. If we look at the European Union alone, the current official total of languages is 24. Most gatherings like the World Economic Forum will require interpretation and teams of clever linguists and translators.

Interpreters have to make sense of a message composed in one language whilst simultaneously constructing and articulating the same message in another tongue. That’s an impressive blend of sensory, motor and cognitive skills. For some conferences, interpreters may be positioned in booths for the speeches and discussions to make content available in the language of each participant.

Simultaneous interpreting can bring challenges to even the most qualified and experienced linguist. Here are some challenges they might face:

• Speakers don’t pause so neither can their interpreter. Some world speakers can also speak very quickly. Even if the interpreter has been fully briefed and prepared, fast thinking and quick speaking politicians can change the course of their speeches.

• Even world leaders have dialects!

• Word order. For example, with German, the “nicht”, the “not”, can come at the very end of the sentence. This will affects the timing as the interpreter has to wait until the sentence is finished. This will also affect how they “enthuse” the sentence.

• Body language and facial expression contribute significantly to communications. These components are hard for an interpreter to convey through a headset.

• In a discussion environment, where there are many voices and accents delivering words quickly, people are interrupted (which happens in most heated political discussions) which can interrupt the flow of the translation and make it difficult to convey to those listening to the interpretation.

I’m always interested in the discussions and outcomes of the WEF. When I catch up on each day’s activity, I always take a moment to think about the languages and translations. Whatever content was delivered and discussed that day, somewhere there will be a clever, quick thinking interpreter behind the world leader, translating and bringing that content to the world in the right language.


Louise Law is Global Communications Manager at Welocalize.