A few weeks back, I read an article about the controversy concerning an error in the translation of a speech that was given by Diyab Jihad, a Syrian refugee in Uruguay. According to the newspaper that published the news, and Diyab’s lawyer, the interpreter was not true to the words of Diyab, and even added things he didn’t say. This has been verified with the help of other translators and specialists of the Arabic language.
In writing this, my intention is not to judge the interpreter or talk about the possible political intentions mentioned in the article, but to emphasize, once again, how important it is to always work with professional translators and interpreters. Especially in these kinds of situations in which an error, as simple as it may seem, can trigger major conflicts. It is essential that authorities and government agencies always hire linguists who are qualified to perform such tasks. The same applies to the media, because whatever it publishes will be read by the masses and incite all kinds of opinions.
While volunteers are used in many cases, for example, when a natural disaster occurs, this does not mean that those who are willing to volunteer should not be professional. After all, nobody would let someone volunteer as a doctor who doesn’t have the necessary knowledge and credentials to do so, even though they do so without receiving any sort of compensation in return. The same should apply to translation professionals: those who hire or accept volunteers, must ensure that they actually have the knowledge and tools to provide accurate translations and interpretations.
A bad translation or interpretation may result in anything from misunderstandings in a business arrangement to the misapplication of medical treatments, diplomatic conflicts or even wars. Translators and interpreters must always be impartial and faithful to the original text or speech; they should be limited to the translation, or interpretation, of the speaker’s words, no more, no less.