Translators at the Olympics
The Olympics represents the largest translation and interpreting event in the world every two years, bringing a massive number of cultures, languages, and individuals together and in need of linguists.
Lost in the flurry of borrowing, building, advertising, and competing are the true heroes of any international event: the linguists and translation services professionals who make it happen. Their work is ongoing; the London Olympics are over, but the Sochi Olympics in the Russian Federation are coming next – and the translators never stopped working.
In the Beijing Olympics of 2008, China employed more than 1,700 linguists and legal translation professionals to render materials in over 55 languages, interpret during interviews, and work as liaisons with the athletes and their support staff. These were a mix of professionals hired by the Olympic Committee and volunteers who worked long hours to ensure a peaceful and efficient event.
The challenge of the Olympics is unlike any other linguistic or translation challenge in the world, because the number of different cultures and languages involved means no one is capable of being able to speak each and every language involved. Even the most capable and experienced language professional will need translation or interpreting services while at the Olympics. As a result each Olympics sets new records for the number of languages and the number of linguists – both professional and volunteer – involved in the effort.
The other aspect of the challenge represented by the Olympics from a linguistic point of view is the variety of materials that require high quality translation. First and foremost is the volume of instant interpretation required, both during press events where reporters from around the world seek time with the notable athletes competing, as well as their trainers and other representatives of their country, most of which will require some form of real-time interpretation work. With over 11,000 athletes and 25,000 members of the media in attendance, on average, this is a monumental undertaking.
Then there is the high volume of media materials prepared, which must be translated accurately into a wide variety of languages for all of the officially registered press representatives in attendance. Additionally, all the official Olympic materials for the athletes must be translated into each country’s language. Finally, posted signs, directions, and venue policies must be translated into at least the major world languages so that attendees can understand their responsibilities and expected behaviour when viewing events.
The Olympics is sort of the Super Bowl of translation work, if I can be allowed to purposefully mix my metaphors and my cultures – which, as a translation pro, I like to do!
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