The Olympics have arrived! Over 14,000 athletes from 205 participating nations, not to mention the 63,000 support staff from each country, and officials for each of the events have descended on London, and everything is now in place…
The influx of tourists entering the country from across the globe, has generated many column inches as Londoners get used to rubbing shoulders with the biggest collection of travellers to come to the city in many generations. In addition to these visitors there will be roughly 1 billion people watching the opening ceremony on Friday 27th July. With this increase in foreign nationals visiting the events and watching them unfold in London from across the world, what impact will the Olympics have on translation and interpreting?
Clearly, the demand on interpreters is going to be massive. Every athlete, their teams, and the spectators who have travelled to support them need to be able to communicate with their hosts and others, in order to steer themselves through the Games experience. The opportunity for mis-communication is there, and those capable of communicating in multiple languages will be one of the greatest resources at the Games, and can embrace a golden opportunity to improve their reputation, contacts and CV.
Then there is the consideration of the written word. There will be incalculable levels of content being generated at rapid speed as numerous competitions and events take place simultaneously. Lord Sebastian Coe has already said that London is essentially hosting over 26 World Championship events in one city at one time. All of the reports from each of these events will need translating into various languages within a fast turnaround time. For example, there is one website that will be publishing up to 90 articles a day translated from English to French, and the expected time of publishing will be between 2-3 hours after the English article has been produced.
In comparison to previous Olympics, advances in technology will make these sorts of tasks far more manageable than they were several years ago. Machine translation (MT) techniques really started to progress with the advances in computer technology in the 1980s; only in recent years has the quality MT become truly reliable, and now the technology is beginning to eat away at turnaround deadlines.
Similarly with interpreting, technology will be taking the strain off where these services are required. A number of mobile apps have been released, designed to work in real time to interpret what people are saying into a microphone or on a phone call into multiple languages. There will no doubt be many sceptics who point to language accuracy of these apps, but this technology is advancing fast, and progress is constantly being made.
The Olympics only take place every 4 years. Advances in technology occur at such a rapid pace, it is exciting to think what technologies will be used in Rio in 2016, when the national language of Brazillian Portuguese needs to be communicated back to the rest of the world.
But for now, the talk is over, we all have to sit back and watch as the greatest show on Earth begins to blast off in London.