Professor Going to Fifth Olympics
May 19, 2004 12:10 PM
Without jumping off a high dive or swinging between parallel bars, Pierrette Jeanmonod has already been part of the last four summer Olympic games.
The SF State English professor sidelines as the official French interpreter for the Federale Internationale Gymnastique (F.I.G.) (International Federation of Gymnastics when translated into English from French), an organization who oversees the rules and regulations of gymnastics on the international level. The games in Athens, Greece will be the fourth Olympic event Jeanmonod has interpreted.
“It’s exciting and I have lots of friends there,” says the SF State alumna of her role at the Olympic games. Jeanmonod received both her BA degree and English literature Master’s degree from SF State.
As an interpreter, someone who mediates between speakers of different languages, she is an integral part of Olympic meetings and press conferences where speakers of German, Russian, Spanish, French and English find themselves in a single room. In Jeanmonod’s case, she is the go-between for two parties - one French speaking and the other English speaking. When someone speaks in French, she listens and then repeats it in English and visa versa.
The irony of it all, is she happened on her first interpreting job, and knew nothing about gymnastics.
In 1985, Andrea Schmid, an SF State kinesiology professor at the time and a gymnast holding two Olympic medals for Hungary, needed someone to translate French into English. A member of the F.I.G. rhythmic gymnastics technical committee, Schmid, who currently goes by Schmid Shapiro, was referred to Jeanmonod , a recent SF State graduate working as a teaching assistant in the French department. The native of Switzerland accepted the task and the next thing Jeanmonod knew, she was Schmid’s personal translator at the Federation conference. Once there, the Federation offered her the position as French translator.
The opportunities for those skilled in a language in addition to English can be rewarding, according to Midori McKeon, SF State's Foreign Languages and Literatures department chair. It can propel a career whether it is direct translation, such as Jeanmonod’s case or simply a resource for job such as accounting.
“They tend to receive higher salaries because of high language abilities and can propel one’s career very far,” she says. Some of the foreign language programs at SF State, such as the Japanese language program offer courses in translation.
There are two types of verbal translation, simultaneous and consecutive, according to Jeanmonod, who does both.
A typical simultaneous interpretation occurs at a meeting. In this situation, Jeanmonod will translate a speaker’s words nearly instantly after he has spoken them. It is easier, she says, because translation becomes automatic and there is not time to edit, she simply repeats what has been said in one language in the other. This type is more word-for-word literal translation.
“When the person says,” uh” you say uh,” she says. “If someone asked, I wouldn’t even know what I had said.”
A press conference is one senaerio consecutive translation takes place. To illustrate, a reporter will ask a question. Jeanmonod will comprehend the question, translate it, listen to the interviewee’s response and then state it to the reporter. She says it involves listening to whom she is interpreting and then repeating in a grammatical and understandable manner.
Jeanmonod says, this type of interpretation can be the most difficult for a translator because she must listen to and remember several sentences at a time before she is given the opportunity to repeat it in its translated form.
Although simultaneous appears difficult and thus seems more impressive to others, consecutive interpretation is actually more difficult, she says. When Jeanmond translates, she likes to take things a bit further and copy the tone and context of the person being translated.
“When they get excited, I get excited. Some translators talk like this,” she says tracing an imaginary horizontal line in the air.
In addition to translating at summer Olympic events, it is also Jeanmonod’s duty to translate the Federation’s rhythmic gymnastics code, a written guide of gymnatics’ rules and points. Every four years this code, which is written in French, is updated. The Federation divides the sport of gymnastics into four disciplines: men’s artistic, women’s artistic, trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics; Jeanmonod only translates the latter.
Jeanmonod, who also has a background in Russian character dance, says the draw for continuing her translation work is her enjoyment of watching the sport. She finds similarities between dance and gymnastics performances.
But she also likes it for the opportunities to have fun. She admits that sometimes, during congressional meetings, she will crack a joke.
“Then I can tell by who is laughing, who is listening in English,” she says.
Jeanmonod will be at the Olympic games in Athens, Greece from Aug. 7 to Aug. 30, with enough in time to catch the opening and closing ceremonies.
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