Obama/Putin hour long phone call

In this conversation, or any between leaders not sharing a common language, how does the mechanics of translation work? Is there a lot of dead air when waiting for translation or reply? Does today’s mechanics of translation (via phone) differ much from those of say 30 years ago?
Does the translation of a phone call conversation differ from a face to face meeting?

Putin speaks English. He’s fluent in German, not so much in English but enough to get by. Search YouTube for examples.

Speaking more generally, the bulk of diplomatic interpretation work these days is done as “simultaneous interpretation” (“translation” is written, “interpretation” is spoken). One party starts speaking and as soon as the interpreter can start formulating, they begin giving it in the second language on the fly. So there’s not many lengthy gaps in there.

The other option is “consecutive interpretation” where one person speaks then the interpreter recites the whole thing in the second language. This has the benefit of more time to formulate a more comprehensive and accurate interpretation provided the interpreter accurately remembers what was said (many take notes or something while the first party is speaking). This is less common in ‘live’ situations as it takes more time and the flow of the conversation is dictated by the interpreter. The goal of the interpreter is to be both accurate and unobtrusive so consecutive worked better in regards to the former than the latter. Consecutive works fine for a setting like a courtroom or interrogation but it isn’t conversational so you would prefer simultaneous when talking on the phone or face to face at a diplomatic function.

The downside of simultaneous beyond the risk of the interpreter flubbing it part way or getting hung up on a word/phrase (of course they can always request that the person start over rather than risk an inaccurate translation) is that it’s much more mentally demanding. My wife worked as an interpreter in the immigration courts and could do consecutive all day but simultaneous for maybe an hour or two before needing a break. But I’d assume the White House/State Department has the best available.

That’s true, but when it comes to diplomatic matters, I believe that people tend to use interpreters unless they are 100% comfortable in the foreign language, and I don’t think Putin has that comfort level in English. Using a professional interpreter instead of muddling through a language you don’t have a complete grasp of helps to avoid misunderstandings, which, when it comes to international relations, can be very bad.

I’ll second what Loopus said, though. He always chooses translators when he wants to get a 100% perfect translation across, which I imagine he would in this situation.

Wouldn’t it work like the UN, where they have a live translator translating into their ears as they listen?

That’s pretty impressive. I knew a couple EU interpreters, and I think they alternated every 15-30 minutes because the work is so mentally demanding.

Maybe not in the “world leaders” scenario, but might some folks take a middle path? Do their best in their non-native language, but ask the interpreter for help only as needed? Maybe that’s more of a pain than just using an interpreter all the way through, though.

Aside: in international diplomacy, can the use/non-use of interpreters be used to send oblique messages? For instance, refusal to use an interpreter could mean “Go ahead and talk, but I really don’t care what you have to say.”

There’s also the simple fact that if the wrong thing does get said by Putin/Obama, they can always blame the interpreter. It’s much harder to do this w/o an interpreter to act as the fall guy for your stupid comment.

I might have been accidentally overstating her abilities because I didn’t want to exaggerate in the wrong direction. Or the flow in the courtroom was slower than it was in your friends’ situation*. I do know that they started out doing consecutive but there was a big press to get them to do simultaneous. The interpreters were up in arms about it because it was a dramatically greater mental workload which, without accounting for it, would lead to errors due to fatigue. She got out before they forced the change though so her actual experience with it was just a handful times as they experimented with it.
*You often have a five minute case as someone says their lawyer isn’t there, the prosecutor agrees to delay and the case is pushed back three months. Followed by five-ten minutes before the next case is coming up.

Thanks for the insight. Its pretty impressive. I am fluent in Spanish (native English speaker). A friend will ask me for a simultaneous interpretation of a Spanish song on the radio. It is difficult for me interpret and to keep up with the lyrics at the same time. This also true with an interpretation of an English tune to Spanish. I assume, with the professional simultaneous interpretation, the words must flow from the ear to the mouth bypassing the brain. Is this correct?

How disappointing, I thought this thread was going to speculate on the nature of Obama & Putin’s phone call – not yesterday’s, but the call made earlier this week (as referenced at the end of this article) which naturally hasn’t been made public. But it’s pretty easy to guess how it went:

Putin: Dasvidaniya?

Obama: Vlad.

Putin: Ah, Barry. Hello, my good friend! How are you today?

Obama: What the FUCK are you doing?

Putin: Who, me? What doing am I?

Obama: Don’t play games, caviar-breath. You’ve invaded Crimea. What the FUCK is that about?

Putin: Oh that thing. Caught me, you did. We want Crimea, and maybe Ukraine. We take now. What you do about it, eh?

Obama: Do you have any fucking clue who you are messing with?

Putin: Of course we know, that why we take. Your military not so strong as Cold War, yes? You spread thin all over. America top dog, no longer. We show world that Russia can do what we want. We do what we want, eh comrade?

Obama: …

Putin: We know Ukraine not part of NATO. They not part of EU, either. We take because we can. What you going to do, kick us out of G8? Haha, so scared we are. You can’t do anything more than that.

Obama: Vlad…

Putin: Yes?

Obama: We have nukes.

Putin: We too. You forget?

Obama: Oh, right.

Putin: What you do then?

Obama: Vlad…

Putin: In fact, we make missile test like we tell you last week, just to make sure. We know you not nuke anyone, you people not happy with nuke anyone.

Obama: Vlad…do you know what a “false flag operation” is?

Putin: We…oh, shit.

Obama: Catch my drift?

Putin: …

Obama: Are you still there, Vlad?

Putin: You crazy.

Obama: That’s right, motherfucker. I’m a crazy motherfucker. If you watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh, you’d think I’m just a weak-ass sucka from the south side of Chicago. But I’m a bad motherfucker, and everybody who needs to know, knows it. Do you read the Bible, Vlad?

Putin: Bible? What you mean?

Obama: There’s this passage I’ve got memorized, Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to–”

Putin: Oh ya, ya I know what you talk about. I have movie on Blu-Ray. Okay Barry, you make your point.

Obama: I thought that might get your attention.

Putin: By the way, that not exactly what Ezekiel say. Quentin Tarantino change words to make more dramatic.

Obama: …the hell you say?

Putin: It is true. Let me Google that for you…

Obama: Never mind, never mind. My point is, there’s only one Top Dog on this planet, and it’s us. U-S. Never forget that. But don’t worry, we’ve left you a back door to weasel your way out of this mess and still save face. In fact, our diplomatic courier has left a package for you, you should already have it in your office.

Putin: Ah yes, package here. What this about?

Obama: I want you to reach inside and grab the wallet on top. It’s the one that says “Bad Mother Fucker” on it. Put it in your pocket, it’s yours.

Putin: Already have taken, I open now. I see…oh, my!

Obama: Feel better, motherfucker?

Putin: That nice. Very, very nice! When you make good on promise?

Obama: Soon, very soon. And don’t worry about your military bases in Sevastopol, we’ll find a way for you guys to extend the lease. And we’ll organize an election for Crimea to VOTE on whether or not they remain part of Ukraine. They may even choose to join Russia, but don’t bank it.

Putin: Ah yes, democracy. Interesting system of government, eh? As long as the people think they are free…

Obama: Haha, yeah we both know about that. Why do you think America hasn’t had a civil war in 150 years? It’s because people still believe in the Illusion of Democracy. Don’t worry, we know you’re kinda knew to all this, what with the Soviet Union collapsing only 23 years ago.

Putin: Yes, yes. We still have nukes, remember?

Obama: Nukes, schmukes, you know it will never come to that. Well, except maybe North Korea…

Putin: Not if we nuke 'em first.

Obama: Plenty of time for that later, my friend. Plenty of time. Now, I’d say with what you got in that wallet, and possibly even Crimea, that makes this a pretty successful little score, don’t you think?

Putin: Eh? Oh yes…wallet. Spasiba, my good friend. Balʹshoye spasiba. Oh, and congratulations, my friend, on finally locating birth certificate. Some Americans still don’t believe it real, eh?

Obama: …

Putin: Sorry, it was joke.

Obama: Don’t make me angry, Vlad. You won’t like me when I’m angry.

Putin: Okay, okay. I have to take other call, now. As they say, see you on the Dark Side of the Moon, eh?

Obama: [laughs] Once they arrive, yes. Once they arrive.

Putin: Always wonder about Area 51.

Obama: Area 52. There’s nothing in Area 51, it’s a mislead.

Putin: Knew that I did. [laughs]

Obama: You cagey bastard. Gotta run, Michelle’s making tea & crumpets. Later, yo.

Putin answered the phone by saying “goodbye”? :smiley:

Entertaining and equally disappointing. How about you start your own thread?
Thank you.

Obama: So, Vlad, what’s up with that Ukraine crazy sh*t? Do you really mean you’re going to -argh-war? Like using military force and stuff?

Putin: Yeah, sure, why not? Btw, I’ll send you some picw of my new Patek-Philippe watch-it’s got so many cool diamonds in that mother-of-pearl dial, it’s just amazing!

Obama: Hey man, just keep it cool here! You don’t want to spill any blood over there, do you?

Putin: Man, I’m just giong through that Ferrari brochure, and this 599 GTO is pretty cool! I think it’d look great finished in bright GOLD! What blood-ah!-Ukraine? Naah, i’m just sending some good guys over there just to make sure everything is ok…
You know, I don’t like to use force here, Barrack!

Obama: Pheww you know, man, I got pretty stressed! They make me call so many people all the time, and tying to figure out all sorts of sh*t’…

Vlad : Hey-listen: P O O L P A R T Y- Abramovich’s house! How does that sound? I’m having Bon Jovi nvited to play some radio hits for us, too!

Obama: I’m in!!!

This made me wonder - do they have a team of interpreters on the spot, that can make a correction on the fly if the primary one goofs?

:confused: It can mean both hello & goodbye, doesn’t it? I even googled it.

До свидания literally means something like “until we meet again,” “see you later”, or “au revoir.” So, no, just goodbyes.

Moderator Note

Keep in mind that this thread is in GQ. While we do allow a certain amount of joking around here (at least after the OP has been factually answered), we’re starting to get a little too derailed here with the fake phone calls and such. Also, please note (especially the newer board members participating in this thread) that while we do allow a certain amount of joking around here, political jabs and pot-shots are not permitted in GQ.

There is a factual question being discussed here, so let’s try to get this thread back on track.

No warnings issued.

“Fuck Off Obama” repeated over and over is probably understandable even when spoken with a very heavy Russian accent.

OK, I agree with moderation. But what was in the wallet?