Every year in March, press conferences attended by hundreds of journalists from China and abroad are held during the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The journalists ask and the government officials answer questions on highly important matters. Interpreters are central to the process and they share some of the limelight.
On March 2, at the press conference held ahead of the annual session of the CPPCC National Committee, interpreter Yao Mengyao caught the attention of many with her “quick reaction and accurate translation”, Xinhua noted.
Yao began her studies in English in primary school where she would listen to English tapes. She often spoke to her teacher about English-related topics that were not limited to the ones in her textbooks. “They were always very professional, uncommon topics,” recalled Yao’s senior school teacher Shen Yingzi.
Like Yao, Zhang Lu is a regular interpreter for China’s top leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang and former premier Wen Jiabao. Her effortless but on-point translations of ancient poems cited by former premier Wen won praise.
At the press conference during the two sessions of 2010, Wen cited a sentence from the poem Li Sao to show his determination to deal with problems in the government’s work. With amazing skill, Zhang interpreted the sentence as follows: “For the ideal that I hold near to my heart, I’d not regret a thousand times to die.”
So how do interpreters reach their top positions?
The reason for their success is largely hard work. Other than when they go out on visits with Chinese leaders, the interpreters follow a very strict schedule. Zhang called this schedule “an unshakable routine”. They listen to foreign media such as BBC, VOA or CNN through TV or radio for their intensive training.
According to China Radio International, a month before the two sessions, the interpreters get notice of the spokesperson they are going to interpret for. They then make full use of this month to prepare themselves.
They try to predict the questions that might be asked and consider the literary quotations the spokesperson might use when they answer the questions.
In truth, there is no secret to their success: It’s all a matter of skill and hard work.