Trade Ministers Meet: Great to See the Mandarin Interpreter in Action

By Yayi Wang

A smiling, waving Trade Minister met with his Chinese counterpart for the first time in over 3 years on 6 February.

Reflecting the warm meetings that had paved the way between Prime Minister Albanese and President Xi and between Foreign Minister Penny Wong and her Chinese counterpart, this was another positive step towards a restoration of this all-important relationship.

A well briefed Minister Farrell started the virtual meeting with Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao with the media in the room.

An also well-prepared Mandarin Interpreter was by his side with note book, vocab lists and pens ready to take down shorthand and accurately reflect Minister Farrell’s remarks. 

In recent times interpreters at these meetings have been hidden from sight – either behind their ministers or removed in a soundproof booth delivering Simultaneous Interpreting.  At yesterday’s meeting we could see the interpreter with pen poised to get started, where he was also welcomed by the Minister, and this meeting was run with Consecutive Interpreting.

So what is the difference between Consecutive Interpreting and Simultaneous Interpreting and what are the skills required?

We asked Chin’s MD Charles Qin who works in both of these interpreting ‘modes’.

Charles told us that the Chinese side has been running meetings in Simultaneous mode (when physical meetings are held). This means interpreters are seated in soundproof booths (either in a corner of the room or an adjacent room) connected with headphones to hear the dialogue, and, in real time – live, they are rendering those words back into the other language.  In the interpreter’s booth, they are listening to their minister or prime minister speak and at the same time converting that to Mandarin.  Yes, very difficult!

Consecutive Interpreting is one we are more familiar with – minister speaks and interpreter follows – back and forth. Interpreters must take appropriate notes and accurately render the words and the tone.

In both cases it is vital to reflect the tone, intent, meaning and to be precise in the choice of words.

Both modes require training, experience, lots of preparation and reading, familiarity with news, history and economy and, of course, first class language and interpreting skills. A calm, confident demeanour also gives the parties trust and means they can focus on the contents and relationship knowing that their words (and the relationship) are in safe hands.

Minister’s website and transcript of opening remarks: https://www.trademinister.gov.au/minister/don-farrell/transcript/meeting-chinas-minister-commerce-wang-wentao

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