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INTERVIEWLife of Korean-Chinese interpreters and the future of interpretation

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Kim Jin-ah
Kim Jin-ah
By Hwang Jae-ho

As a frequent participant in international conferences, I am well aware that the success of a meeting is in excellent presentation. However, I also know that interpretation is no less important than the presentation itself. The atmosphere of the meeting becomes absurd if the interpretation is awkward, although the presentation is excellent. Especially, unless the interpreter is familiar with the terms that are highly specialized, such as the military field, not the general subject, the entire meeting faces a challenge. On the other hand, the conferences excel if the delicate nuances of words and sentences can be well delivered. Moreover, when Chinese idioms are rife among national leaders and national interests are sharply at stake, if the sincerity is reflected and intention are conveyed, the translator deserves the highest sense of worth and pride.

I met Kim Jin-ah, professor of Korean-Chinese Translation at the Graduate School of Translation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, who has considerable experience in the field of interpreters among national leaders and in the field of educating the interpreters. She was recently selected as the first Korean expert in Tianjin City's Chen Yin planning, receiving support from the Chinese government for three years and contributing to the development of Chinese translation studies. We talked about the lives of interpreters.

Q: Would you explain the meaning of simultaneous interpretation in academic and professional value?

A: Simultaneous interpretation is when an interpreter in the booth listens to the speaker outside the booth from the receiver, and at the same time uses the microphone to deliver the message with correct interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation requires an extremely high level of expertise, and in this sense, we can name it "a comprehensive art of communication." Being fluent in both languages doesn't mean you can translate at the same time, but you need to be highly trained for your instant reaction, concentration, logic, memory, and expressiveness. In addition, simultaneous interpretation requires timeliness, and within a given time, the content must be expressed in very fluent terms. Therefore, more than the basic qualities that simultaneous interpreters must have, they must be capable to cover the knowledge of the various fields, be professional in mind control and psychological warfare, which are not swayed by any tense situation.

Q: What is the future for simultaneous interpretation? Is it possible that technological advances such as AI threaten the market?

A: In the era of the 4th Revolution, the simultaneous interpretation market has also entered the era of customized technology from mass production, and we are now being challenged to be superior to AI. Previously, simultaneous interpreters had crossed the boundaries of all fields rather than their own specialty. However, now we are in need of the interpreters who have their own expertise area and can make accurate and sophisticated translations to suit the customer's level and needs. As AI technology advances, the simultaneous interpretation market is expected to change greatly as well. If we use the strength of AI to seek cooperation rather than considering it as a threat, we can look forward to achieving synergy and another leap for the market. For example, translation can be assisted by systems in Google or Never. However, on the other hand, we can think of raising post-editors or result evaluators who can revise, correct, and evaluate the results. Then hopefully there should be an effort to transform them into operators who run the AI.

Q: How do you anticipate the market for Korean-Chinese simultaneous interpretation? How do you draw the prospects?

A: It has been 40 years since Hankuk University of Foreign Studies established the Translation Graduate School, in 1979, a training institute for simultaneous interpretation of international conferences. The Graduate School of Translation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is a private school, but it has fully served as a state institution to train translations, such as Tongmun-gwan, which was established during King Chungryeol's reign in the Goryeo Dynasty, and Sayeok-won during the Joseon Dynasty. Many national level professional interpreters who were educated for the last 40 years are working in the simultaneous interpretation market in Korea. However, as the number of professional resources is growing, the competition in the domestic translation market is expected to intensify. To survive within this competitive landscape, the further translation market will have to look for the following. 1) We need to move beyond the domestic market and step into the overseas markets. Indeed, translation companies are also making inroads abroad as Korea's leading companies, Samsung, LG, and SK are entering the foreign markets. A broader overseas expansion and the preparation and effort should be made accordingly. 2) Industries that are becoming new growth engines in Korea are drawing attention and are expected to open and expand the translation market. For example, it is expected that there will be advancement for professional interpreters to fields such as medical translations, legal translations, and refugee translations. 3) Another new translation job can be considered, such as the post-editor, who cooperate with AI for better results. While demand will expand in all other industries, including games, finance, legal, and software, it is expected that the order of interpreters will be established as demand for more specialized and competent translators increases.

Q: I heard that the simultaneous interpretation market is growing in China. Can you explain this sensation going on in China?

A: In 1992, when Korea and China established diplomatic ties, only a few Korean language departments were established in China, but now more than 280 universities have Korean language departments. As China changes from the world's factories to the market, the translation market is expanding as well. As major international conferences are being held in China's big cities, interpreting has been acknowledged as a highly paid and coveted job. To catch up with the trend of the market quickly, many universities are promoting the establishment of a Master of Translation (MTI). China strives to learn and train from the countries that are advanced in the field of translation, and work on cooperation to develop this area. To develop an industry in a single field, China has been creating a sensation throughout the country by running regular translation training programs for Korean language professors, brisk academic competitions, and inviting experts.

Q: May I ask when you personally felt proud of being an interpreter? Do you have any particular anecdote to share after the establishment of diplomatic relations or during the Korea-China Summit?

A: There are numerous episodes, ranging from the 1983 emergency landing of the Chinese plane in the ideological era, to a meeting in 1992 with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and business leaders, or the simultaneous interpretation for the 17th and 18th Presidents' inauguration ceremonies. But above all, I am still appalled with the mistake I made during a live broadcast in 1992, when Korea and China were establishing diplomatic relations. I was listening to the situation of satellite broadcasting on KBS and simultaneously interpreting to the entire nation, so the mistake should not have been made. I think rather than the achievements, the biggest mistake I've ever made is left as a more unforgettable episode.

Q: Do you have any other comments?

A: Although the perception of interpreters has improved, some users still do not recognize the characteristics of translation and are not very considerate for the translators.

The speakers are obliged generously to supply the materials to interpreters beforehand, and because their words are conveyed through translators, it is absolutely necessary to consider interpreters by trying to slow down the speed of speech and stop at where it is appropriate.

Nevertheless, sometimes different data or material are presented without any notice. For instance, the previously given data is A; however, B is presented at the last moment. Furthermore, whenever a theory, plot, literary expression, or proverbs are quoted in the content, the translator confronts difficulty in expression if not informed in advance. I wish the users would keep in mind that cooperation is the only way to complete the mission.

Hwang Jae-ho is director of the Global Security Cooperation Center, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul. Ko Sung-hwah, a researcher at the center, assisted Professor Hwang with the article.

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