Личный переводчик Черчилля во время войны делится опытом перевода на высшем уровне

Предлагаем вниманию устных переводчиков чрезвычайно любопытный материал - воспоминания A. H. Birse, личного переводчика У.Черчилля во время войны, в течение 3 лет переводившего его беседы со Сталиным, а также и иные встречи на высшем и высоком уровне между британскими и советскими руководителями той поры. Непосредственный интерес представляют его практические советы, относящиеся к этому виду устного перевода, значимость которых нисколько не уменьшилась со времением. A. H. Birse написал целую книгу, из которой был взят этот отрывок, имеющий отношение к нашей работе.

В самом начале своих записок он указывает на то. что родился и был воспитан в СССР ('there', как пишет он), и поэтому очень хорошо знал русский язык. То, как он совершенствовал свои знания в нашем языке и развивал свои переводческие навыки, делает честь ему и дает пищу для размышления нам... Только труд делает из просто знающего человека настоящего специалиста. Как говорится, "без труда не выловишь и форель из Миссисипи".


My introduction to high-level interpreting was unexpected and fortuitous.

I was untrained and inexperienced except in interpreting the military topics learned as part of my work in the Military Mission. My only qualification was my knowledge of Russian. I could speak, write, and understand the language like a Russian. Reading – and I read much – had improved my vocabulary, had taught me idiomatic Russian, and had in fact trained me to think in Russian, which I still sometimes find myself doing, though when relaxed I revert to English. There was no great virtue in it. After all, I happen to have been born and brought up there. What I eventually produced at the talks was really the outcome of conversations in the past, of words unconsciously stored up in my memory, and indeed of all the everyday experiences of a lifetime.

But my experience of interpreting as such had been short and narrow. Experienced interpreters take all the demands made on them in their stride. Some of these, as I was to learn, are exacting. Hours of work are often long and tiring. There are the difficulties of finding the appropriate equivalents in one language of what has been said in the other, and such equivalents have to be accurate and complete, and must convey the exact meaning of the spoken expression; and they must be found with the least possible delay, preferably in a split second. Then, the interpreter must be able to concentrate all his attention on the business in hand, and not allow outward circumstances to disturb him. He must have much self-assurance as regards his work, and no fear of his chief, whose mouthpiece he is. Should he be unlucky enough to provoke a rebuke, for slowness or any other reason, he must ignore it.

Such attributes are gained by training and experience. Nowadays there are schools and courses where budding interpreters are warned what to expect and taught how to overcome the difficulties, but I do not think there were many such, if any, before the Second World War. As far as England was concerned, the need for Russian-speaking interpreters, and in fact for any one with knowledge of some of the lesser-known languages, arose almost overnight, and the gap was hard to fill. We had a few who knew those languages, but for one reason or another they were unsuitable as interpreters, for which more than knowledge of a foreign language like a native was required. They might be inarticulate when it came to putting one language into another, or intolerably slow, or they could not be trusted as unbiased spokesmen. Recourse was had to some of our universities; special courses were arranged, but many of the students, though afterwards able to accomplish useful work, were insufficiently equipped to deal with the more stringent requirements of interpreting at a high level. That demanded something more than a hastily acquired knowledge of the language. After the war, better facilities for training were provided, but unfortunately, they have since been curtailed. The Services organized special courses in Russian for National Service men at two universities, with particular attention to oral interpreting, and Russian began to be taught in many of our schools as an extra subject.

At my initiation into talks at a high level, I had no fears from the point of view of language. I knew I was bi-lingual. Would I have the 'something more', that extra spark to carry me through? I doubted my ability to use this linguistic gift in practice when confronted with a topic new to me, in other words anything other than a military matter. I was afraid also that the discussion might be conducted at a speed to which I was unaccustomed. Above all, I was at first painfully aware of the awe-inspiring presence of the great men next to whom I sat, which increased the realization of my shortcomings and inexperience.

With the exception of the constant fear of some specialized subject being introduced into the discussion, one which might have floored me, I soon found that my fears were unfounded. No one spoke at a breakneck speed. On the contrary, the speed at which most persons spoke at round-table conferences and important private talks was, if anything, on the slow side. When my chief spoke slowly, with greater deliberation than usual, and the subject was of importance, it was obvious that he was thinking hard. But there were times during discussions of lesser importance when I felt impatient and wished the proceedings to move at a faster pace. Anyway, I had plenty of time to frame my sentences. While my chief was saying his piece in English, I found that I was almost mechanically forming his sentences in Russian. Either I translated sentence by sentence, quickly, or took down his speech in my abbreviated long-hand and then translated from my notes. I found I was not inarticulate. The equivalents seemed to flow easily and quickly.

Accuracy in translation was of vital importance. It was important at all stages: with statesmen and politicians, military leaders, industrialists, in the law courts and police courts. The great object was not to miss a point. It was not enough just to think of the word-equivalent, which might have been found in any dictionary. Sometimes a totally different word or phrase served better as giving the precise meaning and intention of the speaker who was thinking aloud in his own language. I remember on one important occasion a Russian, speaking of the Soviet Youth Organization, used the Russian word 'pioner'. To have translated it into English as 'pioneer' would not have conveyed the true meaning of the term. I therefore translated it as 'candidates in training for the Youth Organization', which despite being a mouthful of seven words amply settled the problem. This had to be thought of in a flash, which could only be done if the mind was alert.

In course of time, I discovered that my speed improved, and I could adjust it to that of the speaker. At the less formal type of discussion I acquired the skill of interpreting 'simultaneously' – a misnomer, for even in 'simultaneous' translation one is at least half a sentence or so behind the speaker. It is a process, which must be extremely annoying to the latter, whose thoughts are liable to be interrupted by the sound of his interpreter's voice. It does, however, save a great deal of time, and there is less reliance on memory. With fast speakers, such as those one meets so often in the courts, it is the only satisfactory method. As I gained practice, I was able to attain a speed, which at times, according to one newspaper reporter in a law court, was at a rate of more than one hundred words a minute, or almost the speed of normal conversation.

My main object has always been to get close to the idea in the mind of my chief, whoever he happened to be, and to express it in words. It was not always easy. It depended on the type of man for whom I was interpreting, and I found it useful to try to size him up at an early stage. The speaker can unconsciously inspire his interpreter by his character, intellect, way of speaking, and manners. On the other hand, the interpreter should try to inspire confidence, so that the chief will not interrupt his train of thought by wondering whether he is being 'got across'. I have often felt an urge to integrate my thought in that of my chief, and I feel that a kind of mental harmony should exist between the two, to produce the best results. There is a mutual need, not always recognized, for the one to ex-press himself clearly and for the other to react immediately, almost by reflex, and correctly; for the one to marshal his ideas and the other to be ready for their expression.

In my experience, there have been persons who have made my task comparatively easy by knowing exactly what they wanted to say and saying it. Their clarity and simple expression were immensely helpful. Unfortunately, there were others who did not possess that gift. A translation can be efficient only it the interpreter clearly preserves the thread and trend of the discussion in his mind's eye. Once the thread is broken, he begins to flounder. And nothing is more likely to break the thread than the chief's inability to express himself simply without wandering into irrelevancies, side-issues, and repetition. The interpreter's only refuge then is to translate literally, possibly at the cost of missing the precise meaning and intention. After all, it is the sense that matters, not so much the words. An expert interpreter is something like a concert artist: he relays the composer’s idea. While keeping strictly to the score, it is up to the artist to place the right emphasis on certain passages of the music in order to reproduce fully what the composer felt and intended. Similarly, a good oral translator will reproduce with the right emphasis and in the right tone what his chief has said. Without aspiring to the perfection of say a world-famous pianist, it might help an interpreter and give him the required self-confidence, absorption of mind, and concentration, if for a moment he imagined himself possessed of the talent of a virtuoso, with the success of the concert – in his case, the discussion – depending on him alone. For to a large extent this is in fact the case.

An interpreter will find that he has days when he is in good form and others when he is not. I re-member days when, feeling physically fit and rested, with personal worries cast aside, I have felt ready to face hours of the most difficult talks. The words seemed to shape themselves without any mental effort and flowed without hesitation. On the other hand, there were days when the brain simply refused to work quickly; words came with difficulty, concentration was an effort, and I slipped up on the easiest expressions. It was so at the Berlin Conference in 1954. True, I was out of practice; but all the same, it was unpardonable that I should stumble over such words as 'Mutual Security Act', 'Unfairness', 'Uncritical', and the like. My performance was slower than it had been, possibly because I was not feeling very well.

I have been asked how an interpreter begins to work at a meeting. What happens inside him? Nothing happens, beyond a sinking feeling and a sense of loneliness. He is alone in the midst of an ocean of words. He just interprets. I imagine that a musician does the same: he just plays.

These notes would be incomplete without an emphasis on the need for a perfect knowledge of both languages – the one you listen to and the one you use. There is never time during a discussion to think of the rules of grammar – whether or not (in Russian) to use the genitive case after a negative, or whether you should use the perfective or imperfective aspect of a verb, and so on. The choice should be automatic and subconscious. Also, your stock of words and idiomatic phrases must be such that you do not have to search for an expression or waste time in finding the right equivalent. Nothing is more annoying to one's audience than hesitation or stumbling over words. Quick reaction is essential. Speed, smoothness, and above all accuracy, are the aim. I remember an occasion when I was the sole inter¬preter at a meeting between Field-Marshal Alexander and Marshal Stalin. Our operations in Italy were being explained, and the questions and answers flowed backwards and forwards like a shuttle. As anything was said in English, I thought of it in Russian, and vice versa. The effect was instantaneous translation, which ensured smoothness and clarity.

But while a good interpreter should possess the maximum possible fluency in both languages, or in other words both should be known equally well, so that there is nothing to choose between them for expressing what one has to say, it does not mean that one has that fluency on every topic under discussion. General knowledge, acquired by reading, travel, meeting and talking to people in different walks of life, and experience of life in general, is a most useful asset, but obviously not enough to enable an interpreter to deal with the hundred and one subjects with which he may be confronted, however great his linguistic talents. To deal with a subject efficiently, he must have some understanding of it. If he knows nothing of nuclear physics, say, he would be well advised to report sick before a conference on that topic, as even in his own language it will be unintelligible to him. Nor would it be enough just to learn the technical terms in both languages, without some inkling of what they mean. Without taking such an extreme case, I can quote from my own experience.

Some years after the war I was attached as interpreter to a consortium of British firms manufacturing certain machinery and equipment which was to be supplied to the Soviet Union. I had had little experience of translations of a technical nature. I was confronted with such tongue-twisters as: 'bead rubber stick batch up unit', 'feed disc timing arrangement', 'dust bag inlet vacuum' and a few others. Before entering this new field, I first learned the terms for as many machines and parts as possible in both languages – a good memory test. Then, by visiting several factories and asking questions, I picked up at least an elementary idea of the work those machines had to perform. I studied machinery catalogues and pamphlets, and after an extremely hesitant start, I found that I could cope with the task. Experience did the rest.

An interpreter cannot be a specialist in all subjects. Without some preparation, it would be unfair to expect him to know and understand enough to enable him to acquit himself in a satisfactory way. But on general subjects, such as politics, social questions, to some extent legal matters, and the like, he relies on what he has read, heard, and observed. Fortunately, I was introduced first to that kind of topic, before being faced with anything technical or scientific.

My first session of high-level interpreting was with our top military leaders, and concerned military matters with which I was familiar. This was followed by a more formidable meeting – my first Churchill-Stalin talk. Though it lasted uninterruptedly for seven hours, and was physically exhausting, interpreting for the Prime Minister was not very difficult, as the topics were mainly political and military. I discovered that with regard to the former, the terms used did not go beyond those I had met in books and newspapers dealing with present-day political problems.

Whenever military, economic, or financial questions were being discussed, I felt sure of myself. On one occasion at the Kremlin, when the future of Europe was the topic, Churchill suggested the crea-tion of a customs union between certain States to assist their economy. To explain what he meant, he searched for the word, which had been used frequently before the war for the arrangement between Germany and Austria. I suggested 'Zollverein', and he gave me full marks. On another occasion, I was interpreting at a meeting between the Canadian Ambassador and Dekanozov, of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. It was towards the end of the war, when the Soviet Union had acquired territory in the north of Finland, including some nickel-ore mines in which a Canadian company was interested as shareholder. The talk revolved around compensation to be paid to the latter. As a one-time City man, this was something I understood; so much so that Dekanozov asked whether I was not a disguised banker. I have mentioned how a chief can influence his interpreter by his inherent qualities. Was this perhaps an example of the rapport between them working the other way round?

At round-table conferences, statements and speeches were usually prepared in advance, so that the interpreter was seldom taken by surprise. Naturally, any subsequent discussion arising out of a prepared paper had to be interpreted impromptu.

A certain effort of will was required to overcome the nervousness I felt at the initial top-level meet-ings, whether they were private talks between two leaders or conferences with an audience of several dozen people. But almost immediately I was so absorbed in the work, with only one desire, to accomplish it perfectly, that I seemed to have no existence of my own; the words I heard were all that mattered. I gave myself up entirely to the job.

A factor of immense importance was the quality of my 'opposite number', the Russian interpreter. At most of the meetings which I attended it was Pavlov, Stalin's and Molotov's personal English-speaking interpreter. He was a man of about thirty, slight in build, of pleasing appearance and good manners, gifted, alert, and self-possessed. Nothing could upset his calm, deliberate manner. Even Stalin's occasional sharp reprimands, in my opinion undeserved ('Get on with it, don't dawdle, and for God's sake speak a humanly understandable Russian' when Pavlov happened to be translating into that lan-guage), left him outwardly unperturbed. His English grammar may not have been perfect, but he was seldom at a loss for a word, and always sufficiently accurate to convey his chief's meaning. He was quick to understand the drift of the conversation, and could adjust his speed, emphasis, and tone accordingly. We worked as a pair almost uninterruptedly for three years. His presence gave me confidence, and I hope I inspired the same feeling, for we knew that if either of us got stuck fast over some phrase, the other would at once quietly suggest the right way out. If either of us had doubts about the other's correctness in translation, we would raise the query on the spot, to which our respective chiefs appeared to have no objection. It was important to get it right. Such interruptions were made in the best spirit, and neither of us ever got annoyed. I think we knew our limitations.

At our first meeting, we had arranged that Pavlov should interpret into English, while I did so into Russian. It was the correct method, ensuring a closer reproduction of the speaker's remarks, for each of us respectively was better acquainted with the voice we were listening to, our chief's way of thinking, and to some extent his intentions. I should have had great difficulty in putting Stalin's words into English on that first night, before becoming accustomed to his Caucasian accent, quiet manner of speaking, and sphinx-like expression. He hardly ever raised his voice; at times it was no more than a mumble, later, when I knew him better and the occasion required, I unhesitatingly put him into English. There was another advantage in the method we employed, namely that of putting our ‘home’ language into the other. Sometimes the speaker might be purposely vague or irrelevant, in order to gain time or watch his opponent's reaction. It was up to the interpreter to realize – by intuition, if he had not previously been warned – that this was by-play and to proceed in the normal way. There was never any secret code between speaker and interpreter, no rubbing of the left cheek with the right hand, or anything of that sort. Questioning one's chief at that point as to his meaning would have been fatal, both to the discussion and to the interpreter. I learned from experience when to be vague. My best teacher was our Ambassador, who often had to play for time when faced with some unexpected problem in the presence of Molotov or Vyshinsky. Once it was the question of increasing the numbers on the staff of the Soviet Embassy in London. The question had been raised earlier, and no definite reply had been received from the Foreign Office. When reminded of it, the Ambassador steered the talk round to the difficulties of air transport, how he once suffered from the failure of the oxygen apparatus in his plane, and so forth, all of which was irrelevant but helped to pass the time.

In a discussion, which is getting nowhere and is likely to end in a stalemate, the position of the inter-preter is unenviable. Every such talk left a feeling of disappointment and misgiving as to my own part in the proceedings. Had my translation perhaps been unsatisfactory? It was my duty to be unbiased, but at the same time, a wish to see results was only natural. I believe Pavlov shared my feelings. A look of embarrassment, a puzzled expression on his face, and some hesitation in his translation often gave him away, as it probably did me. And though it was possible sometimes to soften some of the remarks, it was a risk not lightly taken. The first duty was loyalty to one's chief, and we were obliged to sink all individual feelings and cling to the exact reproduction of what was being said. It was not our business to influence the tone of the talk. A good interpreter should be able, as far as possible, to suppress his emotions, and whatever he hears should not upset him, how¬ever sensational it may be. He should never be so overcome as to forget to interpret, which is what happened to one of my colleagues in Moscow. By this I do not mean that one is not to show response to the speaker's emo-tions; if his remarks are uttered in a slightly heated tone, it would be absurd to interpret them in an apologetic way or in a uniformly monotonous voice. The tone must be maintained, as far as the inter-preter is able. On the other hand, he is not expected to give his translation a tone absent from the original. He has no business to 'colour' the remarks.


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