Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interviewing In Translation

My house was filled with Nicaraguans.  The sounds of Spanglish and laughter rose and fell like waves on a beach. 

A group of five Nicaraguans were visiting St. Louis for a week. They live in a small village in the mountains called Plan Grande Dos. Eight years ago my two adolescent sons and I traveled to Plan Grande Dos with the Nicaragua Community Partnership, a St. Louis based group. We’ve been going ever since. And every other year a group from the village visits St. Louis. 

When asked about the trips I often hesitate. They’re not about building houses, or wells; they’re about a process of accompaniment. We make tortillas together, we thrill at the progress of their coffee plants, we create a “spa day” with the village women. When the “delegation” recently visited St. Louis we made sandwiches together and walked down to the local funky retail strip. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and had ice cream before bed.

It’s a powerful relationship that has shaped all our lives with understanding and love.

On the last day of the group’s visit to St. Louis, I interviewed each of them on camera about their experiences.

I have been doing on-camera interviews for many years. I have worked hard to become good at it. My projects tend to have warm, lively interview footage as a result. I consider it a specialty.

Interviewing in translation poses special problems.

I always use a translator for interviews with non-English speakers. The rhythm of the interview and the rapport are critical. The translator normally sits just off to one side, preferably at my shoulder. The camera is positioned off my other shoulder. I ask the question in English; the translator repeats the question in the native language. I maintain focus on the interview subject as the question is being asked. The interviewee then responds directly to me. I never break eye contact even though I have no idea what is being said. I smile like there’s no tomorrow, keeping the focus and energy moving between the subject and me. I have the translator repeat the answer in my ear. Even as she is translating, I never break eye contact with the interviewee. When it’s done well, the conversation is seamless, a wonderful triangulation of words and expressions.