Miss Venezuela, Use Your Interpreter

Interpreters work in many high-profile situations, including some you would never have thought of, including the International Space Station (as eloquently explained in our favorite book of 2012, Found in Translation) and yes, international beauty pageants. Objectification of women aside, these popular events are televised all over the world, and we could not really think of a more nerve-wrecking interpreting assignment than being on stage interpreting the famous question (and response) for a Miss Universe finalist. The Miss Universe organization hires a small army of highly qualified interpreters to assist the contestants throughout the competition. Usually Miss Universe is held in an exotic location, but unfortunately for the US-based interpreters, the 2012 competition was held in Vegas, which isn't bad, but it can't compete with Brazil or Thailand.

Now that we've told you about the great Miss Universe interpreters (one of whom Judy had the pleasure of meeting), you will be surprised to know that Miss Venezuela (usually a very strong contender for winner or runner-up) decided not to use her interpreter, who was right there on stage with her (and correctly interpreted the question). Instead, she waits for the question to be interpreted into Spanish, but then proceeds to answer it in broken English. Only she knows why she chose to do this, but the result is quite cringe-inducing.

The question was: "If you could make a new law, what would it be? And explain why."

The transcribed answer was (courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter): "I think that any leys [Spanish for "laws"] there are in Constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar, or, eh, in our lives as is this. For example, I'm a surfer, and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only, eh, law that we can do. Thank you Vegas!"

Not surprisingly, this answer earned Miss Venezuela zero points. Somehow, she was still able to come in third. The lesson? Interpreters can save your life, avoid war, prevent you from getting falsely convicted, and they can help you win an international beauty pageant. Miss USA was this year's winner. 


Jesse Tomlinson on January 4, 2013 at 9:35 AM said...

I agree! I don't know why she didn't use her interpreter. At the same time I understand her wanting to make an impression and speak in English, but this turned out to be very misguided. The surfing reference was also lost on me. When we are in another country, we get points for trying to speak the language, make an attempt, sputter something out, but I think this is a good example of how we should use resources available to us to be professional.

Kevin Lossner on January 4, 2013 at 7:16 PM said...

Wow. I have no idea at all what she was trying to say.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 5, 2013 at 3:55 PM said...

@Jesse: Good point. I think it's generally a good idea to try to speak the language a bit when you visit a foreign country, but the stakes are very, very high here. Perhaps it even cost her the crown? But we agree: this is not the time to make an impression, especially if it's a poor one. There's no reason not to use her highly qualified interpreter!

@Kevin: Same here. We have no idea. None.

Anonymous said...

The reason might have been that the interpreter was not paid for her job. In fact, in 2012 had an "offer" from an agency which wanted to "hire" me for Miss Universe 2012 as an interpreter for Italian. The only problem was (and this is the reason for my quotes) that it had to be on a "voluntary" base (they decided that I would have to be "voluntary", how voluntary is that!?!?), id est NO PAY, they only offered trip and accommodation and since I live in Vegas, nothing whatsoever. WOW! Obviously I refused to do something that I don't agree with ideologically and do it for free! Miss Universe already looks ridiculous as it is, this offer made it look absolutely pathetic!

Krizia said...

Ahah! Great post!

That reminds me of what happened two years ago during the 61st Sanremo Song Festival, usually held in February in Italy.
This is one of the most important music events in our country, to such an extent that is broadcasted worldwide on the RAI UNO Channel. And it usually hires two among the best Italian interpreters.
But this is not the case.
To cut a long story short, they decided to resort to starlet Elisabetta Canalis, George Clooney’s ex, to interview Robert De Niro - probably assuming that after her period in the States she could handle the task. But the self-styled interpreter got stuck on the word ‘gentrified’, that she obviously did not know how to translate.

You can’t miss this one:

Poor translation, poor quality of national TV (paid!) service, poor consideration for our job.

But, if she could make a new law, what would it be in the end? :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 8, 2013 at 3:44 PM said...

@Anonymous: Are you serious? That is crazy? A client who wants you to do anything, let alone a huge high-profile project like this for free? We are truly flabbergasted. We honestly have no idea how much these interpreters get paid, but we certainly do hope they get paid what they are worth. Thanks for sharing this pretty disturbing fact!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 8, 2013 at 3:48 PM said...

@Krizia: Wow, thanks for sharing. Whew, this is truly painful to watch. Just another example to prove the point that being bilingual (well, she's not truly bilingual) does not make one an interpreter. It also looked like De Niro was at least wired to receive proper interpreting services because he was wearing the needed equipment, so we are not quite sure what the starlet's function was. Other than to ultimately make things more complicated, but hehe, at least she looked good doing it. Quite mortifying indeed! Interpreting lesson number 1: first person!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times