An Cosantóir

An Cosantóir Nov/Dec 2020

An Cosantóir the official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces and Reserve Defence Forces.

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16 Whether deployed with UNIFIL, UNDOF, EUTM, MINUSMA, MINURSO, MONUSCO, KFOR or elsewhere, our personnel invariably face a language barrier when working overseas. Language Assistants (LAs) can help, but dependence on local linguists for intercultural communication brings its own challenges. Defence Forces missions bring our personnel to places where they do not speak the local language. They must interoperate seamlessly with personnel from multiple troop-contributing nations while also encountering civilians from many different International Organisations (IOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). In these environments, understanding others while also being understood yourself can be difficult. Located in the Military College, the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI) is the focal point of the Defence Forces' effort to standardise all preparation for overseas Peace Support Operations. In recent years, UNTSI has included specific instruction on the effective use of interpreters both in our pre-deployment training and on our International Civil-Military Relations Courses. To prepare students for the kinds of Key Leader Engagements (KLEs) they are likely to encounter overseas, we run practical role-play exercises using foreign nationals and trained interpreters. Translation between two languages is fraught with risk. Even subtle misunderstandings can have serious consequences, harming relations with the local population and potentially threatening the safety of our own troops. Being able to establish whether a recent reported explosion was caused by a legacy munition such as a mine, or a recently-placed Improvised Explosive Device (IED), for example, could have significant implications for force protection. You may understand the difference, but does your LA? And even if the LA is familiar with the different vocabulary, are they actually making a distinction in their translation or are they using a generic term that loses vital information? Translation errors, or "mistranslations", as they are known, have caused marketing headaches, diplomatic incidents, and worse. In one oft-cited case from 1980, an 18-year- old Hispanic baseball player was taken to a South Florida hospital in a coma. When his family suggested that he might be "intoxicado", medical staff incorrectly translated this as MAKING YOUR WORDS HIT THEIR MARK MAKING YOUR WORDS HIT THEIR MARK - The effective use of interpreters on Peace Support Operations "intoxicated" and treated him accordingly. By the time the correct diagnosis was made two days later, the young man was left quadriplegic. The translation of written documents (which is performed by translators) and of spoken language (performed by interpreters) is a skilled task requiring years of training, even for people who are already functionally bilingual. The standard expected of a professional interpreter is correspondingly high. The interpreter's job is to facilitate communication between people of different languages and cultures by accurately translating what is said without adding, omitting or modifying anything and with due regard for context and emotion. By way of example, let us imagine that you are using an LA to question a French-speaking driver at a vehicle checkpoint. You ask him: In each case your LA has fallen short of the required standard, namely by adding something to what you said, leaving out something you said, and changing what you said, respectively. It is therefore vital that LAs know exactly what is required of them, even if they have received limited formal training. As military personnel, there are also lots of practical things we can do to use our LAs effectively, make their job easier and reduce the risk of our words being lost in translation: Now consider the following three translations: "Do you have any firearms or ammunition in your vehicle?" 1. « Avez-vous des armes à feu ou des munitions dans votre véhicule ? Et c'est qui votre passager, là ? » "Are you carrying any firearms or ammunition in your vehicle? And who's that sitting beside you?" 2. « Avez-vous une arme à feu ? » "Are you carrying a firearm?" 3. « Qu'est-ce que vous avez dans le coffre ? » "What do you have in the boot?" Students on a CIMIC Cse in 2017 debating on their course subjects in a relaxed environment Students from around the world attend a lecture in the UNTSI School back in 2014 Students on a CIMIC Cse in 2017 deal with a live situation on an exercise organised specifically for the course

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