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An Overview of Broadcast Interpreting

braodcastInterpreting for the media can be daunting, especially if you have not done it before, due to the size of the audience  depending on you to follow the proceedings. The amount of preparation for the actual show will depend on the importance of the show to the network and the latter’s experience in working with interpreters. Some outfits will expect you to do your own research.  They’ll bring the talent (you) in, sit you in front of a screen at the studio, do a mic check and you’re ready to go.

The Gold Standard:

If you do not live at the location where you will be working, you should be brought in the day before the show, and plan to spend a good part of the show date prepping for the event.  You may sometimes receive scripts in advance of the date but it is usually useless to devote much time to them because new versions come out every day.  Upon arrival at the studio, you will be given the latest copy and the numerous updates that come in during the day.  Bear in mind that scripts are no guarantee of what will actually be said.  They are a starting point for research as to facts and terminology that may be used.  You will also be supplied with a rundown. This is a timeline or cue-sheet for a live show that informs you when and how long different segments will be running, among which are packages or bumps. The former are pre-recorded segments relative to the show which are not scripted and the latter are brief announcements, usually 10-30 seconds that can contain a voiceover, placed between a pause in the program and a commercial break, stating the name of the program or promoting other events on the network.  They may vary from simple text to short films.  The information in the rundown allows you to know how long you have to speak your bump translations, which you will prepare in advance, according to instructions, and have vetted by the director. Packages may or may not be interpreted depending on content.

Your Responsibilities:

Always come prepared with your own laptop unless you are assured access to one on site.  Also bring any pertinent glossaries or dictionaries, so you can build a case-specific playbook. Be prepared with pertinent filler info in case a satellite goes down temporarily. You will spend several hours annotating the script and meeting with the other interpreters, depending on the format.  If there are different languages involved, this is the time to reach a consensus on terminology, and to establish the order to be followed with your colleague, as to who interprets what.  Usually this is determined on a gender-specific basis but when interventions are very long or several men or women speak for a stretch, this will have to be modified. You should also plan your introductions as interpreters, depending on network policy, which you should inquire about. Remember to take breaks during the day as these programs tend to be aired in prime time so you have a long day ahead of you. The client should provide snacks, beverages and meals throughout the day.  I would not encourage eating very much the later it gets, so you will be alert.


As you get closer to show time, you will be taken to your cubicle to run voice/mic levels and establish your preferences as to what you want to hear.  You may elect to hear the program feed in both ears or choose another option such as hearing yourself at a lower volume on one side so you can better modulate your voice, or hearing your partner to make a smoother transition.  I like to hear myself, in addition to the program, as it gives me more control. The director/producer, always has the option to cut in to cue you and/or give you instructions. You will have your own monitor to follow the event live.

Content That is Not Interpreted:

Do not become overly zealous in wanting to interpret everything that you hear.  Remember that most of these programs are in the entertainment genre so the translation, in addition to being accurate, must be tempered by common sense and general appeal.  Do not try to interpret lyrics or poetry or jokes that don’t make sense or may be deemed offensive in another cultural context, unless you happen to know an equivalent.  You have to tread a very fine line because your audience will certainly be providing feedback on your interpretation via Twitter and that is one of the ways the networks determine your effectiveness.

I trust I have dispelled some of the myths surrounding this exciting and demanding aspect of simultaneous interpreting and encourage you to try it if it interests you. I also invite you to share your comments and questions with me.

A Premier Exponent of Broadcast Interpreting – Cesar Cardoza

I think we can learn much from colleagues who are at the top of their game and so I like to write about some of the ones I have been fortunate to meet and with whom I have enough of a rapport that they have agreed to have a public conversation about their work.  I am sure there are many of these individuals and  trust I will be able to feature more of them on an ongoing basis.

This is my friend Cesar whom I met many years ago when we started to work together on “live” shows for CNN. He is not only an excellent interpreter but has a wonderful sense of humor and an enthralling voice that mesmerizes you.  I reminds me of when I was a little girl in Cuba and at lunchtime I would sometimes take a nap with my grandmother while she listened to a radionovela.  There was an actor back then by the name of Enrique Santiesteban, who had such a voice.  He would say “bebe de mi copa pequena” (take a sip from my glass darling) and every female from an eight year old to an eighty year old would melt in her shoes.  I can say this has happened to me while working with Cesar in a recording booth.  I get so caught up listening to his melodic voice that it takes a swift kick to make sure I not lose my cue.

Without any further ado, here is a brief intro into the life of one of our interpreting colleagues on TV:

What was your background and how did you get involved with interpreting?

I am a journalist, and I was sort of “pulled into” interpreting due to the nature of my work. I worked for several years in international broadcasting and quite often I had to interpret material for my audience… I fell in love with it and as they say, the rest is history.

Walk us through a typical day when you were working for CNN in Atlanta?

For an interpreter in the news business, I would say there is no such thing as a “typical day”. Occasionally you get advance notice of an event, but more often than not, you have to go with the flow. This is especially true with breaking news… it is quite challenging because you really don’t know what to expect, and at a moment’s notice you may have to switch… let’s say… from science to politics, to finances, to terrorism or military issues…

Tell us about some of your most challenging assignments? How did you prepare?

On many occasions the challenge for me, like for almost every journalist and interpreter, is to remain focused on what you are doing regardless of whatever else may be happening… You are interpreting and at the same time you have to be mindful of the time… you are getting instructions from the director or the producer… you may need to consult a reference as you are interpreting… and so on.

The challenges abound… sometimes in the middle of a very dense political speech, the speaker throws in a joke and you have to interpret it faithfully… keep it witty or funny within the context and convey the point that the speaker is trying to make…

You may have, lets say, a message from the Pope and he quotes the Bible… you have to refer to the “official” biblical text… you cannot paraphrase… Sometimes the news event may be emotionally overwhelming on a personal level, yet, you cannot lose  focus of the task at hand.

Is/was stress management important in your work? What resources do/did  you employ to release stress?

Absolutely, there is no way to avoid stress but if you try to organize yourself before hand, it is a big help. In our case, for example, you keep meticulous track of your reference material… dictionaries, glossaries, etc. If you have enough lead time you may create a playbook for the event with whatever material is available in both languages.  The way you manage your work space also helps… where you keep your notes… where  you put your scripts or program rundowns… it is like having a mental map that help you stay the course no matter what happens. Sometimes the adrenalin pumps so hard that you also feel the stress after the event…

What are you currently doing?  Do you enjoy that more?  Why?

I work for CNN but now I am based in Miami. I am Senior Interpreter/Copy Editor for CNN en Español. I love what I do. It give me a very unique perspective of what is going on in the world and you get your information straight from the key players… it is a pleasure and a privilege to have the responsibility of conveying the news to our viewers… it has been said that journalists “write the first draft of history”… for an interpreter in the news business… it is exactly that… we bridge the language gap and become a link between the viewer and the newsmakers.


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