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Parliament and the Pan-South African Language Board (PanSALB) held a collaborative celebration of the International Translation Day at Parliament today.

In his opening remarks, the Acting Deputy Secretary to Parliament, Adv Eric Phindela, stated that it was timely that such an event coincided with the celebration of the Heritage Month in our country because language is more than just a tool for communication, embedded in it is “the identity, culture and it conveys a sense of belonging which are key aspects of our social fabric for social cohesion and nation- building”.

The Gauteng Senior Provincial Manager in Languages, Ms Sally Maepa, stated that the purpose of this event was to celebrate the work of interpreters and translators and to facilitate dialogue about the challenges they are faced with – and to create more understanding about the nature of their work and to foster cooperation among them.

She emphasised the ned to have innovative solutions to challenges that they are faced with to ensure that indigenous African languages “enjoy parity and are treated equitably”.

In her opinion, it was not enough for translators and interpreters to be bilingual, they should strive to be multilingual for them to be able to conduct their work more efficiently.

Underlining the theme of this event: “Promoting Cultural Heritage in Changing Times”, she explained that it is through our languages that we could celebrate “our tangible culture and heritage; their knowledge and beliefs and their relationship with the universe”.

“And it is through languages that inter-cultural dialogues and relations can be established to teach each other our languages and exchange information about each other’s culture and heritage,” she added.  

In his presentation on Innovative Solutions to Challenges Facing Simultaneous Interpreting and Translation in Parliament, Acting Manager: Interpreting Unit, Mr Thomas Ntuli, underlined the challenges that the unit is faced with, with regard to interpretation and translation and the kind of services each section renders to Parliament. According to him, interpretation refers to “simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings of Parliament’s debate”. He categorised this work as a highly demanding task that demands accuracy, comprehension and compulsive understanding of idiomatic expression and interpretation of the source language to the targeted language. “This task is quite stressful and is a specialised field of work,” he said.

And he defined translation as “a translation of a written word in Parliament’s case of debate from a source language to a targeted language”. According to him, these services “play a key role in social and political fields for they help in conveying the messages of Members of Parliament to the people, especially during public hearings or meetings that are often held during Parliament’s public participation flagship programmes like Taking Parliament to the People”.

But much needs to be done to improve this service, he conceded. To this effect, his unit has embarked on a study to tease out the challenges they are faced with and to determine how they could mitigate them to ensure that they continue to render quality service to Parliament.

One of the issues we discovered “is that our criteria for employment should not prioritise people who are bilingual or who are language practitioners as we use to do in the past. That is not enough, but we need to ensure that they have the technical skill of interpretation and translation”.

He said to improve their interpretation and translation services during Parliament’s debates, they recommended that there was a need to have reinterpretation and translation training, which was non-existent before.

“This has improved significantly the quality of our services,” he said.

But also, before parliamentary debates, they brainstorm each debate “to determine what terminologies they should anticipate during such a debate and agree on a standardised way of interpretation and translation of such a debate before-hand,” he said.

What they also identified as a challenge was the comprehension of debate by interpreters, which in his opinion required that “they pay much attention on what is said to have an efficient rendering interpretation from the source to the targeted language”.

If some of these challenges could be addressed, he emphasised, they could improve “the quality of the speaker’s perspective and can convince anyone that we are capable of delivering the speaker’s message more accurately”.

Forming part of this celebration was an announcement of the publication of nine Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements- (CAPS) linked foundation phase bilingual dictionaries. “With these dictionaries we wish to create a building block that can be used for reference not only in language, but also in the subject areas of mathematics and life skills – including art, culture, science and technology,” said the representative of South African National Lexicography Unit, Dr Gerda Odendaal.

In keeping with CAPS, this project seeks to ensure that “dictionary work is done in both the home and first additional language, as well as in second additional languages. And is required in writing, phonics and reading exercises,” she said. 

But most of all, these dictionaries “provide an important reference and learning tool for indigenous African language speakers who are or who will use English as the language of learning, while supporting learners learning an indigenous language as an additional language,” she said.

She added that they would serve to improve literacy and multilingualism.

In foregrounding the significance of the mother tongue, Parliament’s language practitioner, Ms Lucy Masombuka, quoted Mandela’s utterance that when one speaks one’s language, one speaks to one’s heart. She asked: “Are we as Parliament’s language practitioners speaking to our people’s hearts?”

Our task is to convey the original tone of our indigenous languages, she reckoned. “We need excellent skills and we must have interest in both the culture of the source and targeted language. And we must read, research and have the ability to write them well if we are to be efficient in our work.”

The Acting CEO of PanSALB, Ms Angie Netshiheni, commended the Parliamentary Language Unit for the strides it has made in promoting multilingualism in South Africa. “You brought our Constitution to life. You made it practical. You should be proud for setting such a good example.”

Before 1994, there were only two languages that were used in parliamentary debates. Now there are 11 of them. “We appeal to the Members of Parliament to use their languages in debates. When Parliament is so much resourced, why not?”

She said she was making this plead because “those who don’t speak their languages are contributing to their (the languages’) death”.

She added that she was looking forward to the promulgation of four Khoi-San languages as official languages. “As PanSALB, we identified four Khoi-San languages that need to be promulgated as part of our official languages. I am looking forward to a day in which they permeate our social, cultural and political domains.”    

Commending the Parliamentary Language Unit, she stated: “You made interpretation a new profession. We commend you for that. And there are good things to come out of your unit.”

Thereafter, she awarded the unit with a certificate of recognition for promoting multilingualism, social cohesion and nation-building.

By Abel Mputing

28 September 2018