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Why Interpreters Have A Hard Time Translating Trump

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's first overseas trip, in the past few days, has emphasized the role of interpreters. The president speaks like almost no one else on earth - short sentences but also sentence fragments, a stream of consciousness and, as the president himself once said, quote, "the best words."

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So how do you put all of that into another language? Siavash Ardalan is among those who try.

SIAVASH ARDALAN: The language of diplomacy, there's very little ambiguity in it. It's very easy to translate from one language to another. The problem comes about when someone speaks in a different language than the language of the common man.

INSKEEP: Ardalan has interpreted many President Trump events for BBC Persian TV.

ARDALAN: He uses a lot of synonymous terms to describe a sentiment. Like, when he says something is...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Terrific...

ARDALAN: ...Or...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: ...Beautiful...

ARDALAN: ...Or...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: ...Wonderful...

ARDALAN: ...It's meant to convey the same kind of thought.

MARTIN: Things get more complicated when the president starts using Americanisms, as when he gave a reason for firing FBI Director James Comey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: He's a showboat. He's a grandstander.

ARDALAN: Literally, it - well, you could say attention-seeker. Then if you - see, that's another problem because if you say attention-seeker, then that wouldn't sound like Trump, would it? That's not what he's saying. He's using a completely different term. So you have to use that street term as well. You try to look at that context and then translate it accordingly.

(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)

TRUMP: He's a showboat. He's a grandstander.

ARDALAN: (Speaking Farsi).

INSKEEP: Then there's the challenge of some throwaway words.

ARDALAN: Isn't that great? Oh, boy, gosh - he uses a lot of phrases that kind of gives him a little bit time to think what he wants to say next - yeah. I'm telling you - yeah, it's great, isn't it? You have to translate it because if you're running live on TV and he says it and you don't say anything, it will give the impression that the audience might have missed out on something.

MARTIN: In the end, this kind of interpretation is an art.

ARDALAN: You have to think that you're working for a movie company, and you're trying to translate a Western movie into Persian.

INSKEEP: There you go. Siavash Ardalan, reporter and interpreter for BBC Persian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.