This is part of a series of interviews with translators, interpreters, and other language specialists around Washington, DC. Read the first in the series here. If you’re a linguist in the national capital area and would like to join in the fun, contact me.
Paul Merriam translates Spanish, Polish, Russian, and German into English. He works out of Fairfax, VA, and is a member of the National Capital Area Translators Association. You may know him from his eloquent responses to mainly legal questions on the ATA Business Practices listserv. Learn more about his translation business at www.pmerriam.com.
Question: How did you get started in translation?
It was expected when I was in the Army. I dealt with Russian, Polish and German, just in case any Russian-speaking, Polish-speaking, or German-speaking countries should decide to attack. (The Warsaw Pact had one of each.) That’s less of a concern now, particularly since the German-speaking member of the Warsaw Pact is now part of a NATO ally, and the biggest Polish-speaking country in the world is also part of NATO.
Q: Why do you keep going at it?
It keeps me in touch with the events in those countries, plus I like the linguistic aspects.
Q: What’s the most unusual job situation you’ve ever experienced?
There was one time I was interpreting for a visiting Soviet delegation. They were visiting a US facility. The director of the facility gave a speech along the lines of “Welcome to our facility. I hope you find your visit fruitful. …” I interpreted that. The head of the Soviet delegation responded along the lines of “Thank you for inviting us to your facility. I hope our visit will lead to increased cooperation. …” I interpreted that as well. Then I noticed everyone staring at me. The second speech had been in English and rehearsed. I’d just been in automatic pilot mode.
Q: What a great story! I have to ask… What did you do in response?
After the initial speech, the Soviet delegation wasn’t all that sure of its English [anymore]. We had a laugh and went on.
Many thanks to Paul for sharing! As you can see, he’s another hardened veteran of the business. I encourage you to visit his website to learn more about his work. He maintains an especially good list of resources for legal linguists. Enjoy!