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Sochi – How Language-Ready Is it?
Posted by Vijayalaxmi Hegde on October 25, 2011  in the following blogs: Interpreting, Translation and Localization
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For six weeks, from February 7 to March 16, 2014, Sochi, Russia, will play host to the XXII Olympic Winter Games and XI Paralympic Winter Games. During this time, an unprecedented number of languages will be heard in the city of Sochi. How prepared is it to listen and speak in these languages?

"Sochi 2014: Translation issues", a language forum to be held on December 3 and 4, 2011 aims to discuss and analyze the language-readiness of the city and come up with solutions to spruce up the language support structure for the Games. This conference is important to prepare the Black Sea resort city to successfully play a warm and amiable host to the participating countries. Some thoughts on the conference and on the efforts underway to get Sochi language-ready:
  • Cost is no stumbling block. Our recent report “Conferences in the Language Services Market” pointed out that cost was a major factor that deterred 36% of attendees from attending more events than that they currently do. However, with the Sochi event, this is not an issue, as admission is free.
  • Focus helps. We also found through our survey-based research that conferences that have a focus and stick to the main agenda have a better chance of success than ones with less well-defined objectives. The Sochi translators’ forum is, of course, dedicated to making the Sochi Olympics a success, language-services wise. So, it shouldn’t have any issues of distraction.
  • Where are the interpreters? The invite to the forum is worded thus: “Among those invited to the forum are … translation companies from Russia and overseas, translators with years of experience working for the Olympic Games and for senior government figures, and a large number of translators from Russia and overseas, all aspiring to work for the XXII Olympic Winter Games and XI Paralympic Winter Games of 2014 in the city of Sochi.” Nowhere in the invite is the word “interpreter” mentioned, though the program schedule does refer to interpreters. But the wording of the invite does make you wonder whether the organizers are not clear in their minds about the roles of translators and interpreters, which are actually very distinct. We hope the conference will sort out any confusion related to this, because interpreters are important at venues, hotels, and so on even if there are translated signboards. Real-time interactions beg real-time language mediation and interpreters are trained to handle such situations.
  • Will the conference help volunteers? Apart from translation agencies, volunteer translators and interpreters will form a big chunk of the work force at Sochi Olympics. The conference needs to put in place a training schedule for these volunteers who are a motivated lot, but may not necessarily have previous translating or interpreting experience. Professionals from the language services industry who took part in our survey for the Conferences report told us that training was a major takeaway for them.
While the event can prove to be a big help to the attendees if it brings up the right issues and finds solutions, the organizers need also to pay attention to other important issues. For example, the Sochi 2014 site is available only in three languages: Russian, English, and French. Are these enough to serve the needs of people from all the participating countries?

Sochi organizers could take a cue from the steps China took to offer language services to its guests during the Beijing Olympics. The Beijing civic authority put up 6,500 road signs in English, provided telephone and in-person interpreters, and even had an official LSP. Not to be left behind, Russia-based ABBYY Language Services company has, in fact, promised to deliver better translation and interpreting services than that made available in Beijing. Among other things, it has announced the launch of iSochi, an iOS or Android mobile application for smart phone users which will guide visitors with translations of geographic names and major sites of the city.

Sochi has also appointed Education First as the official supplier in charge of making sure that Sochi speaks English by 2014. Among the thousands of volunteers to be recruited from November 2011 onwards, 100 will be selected to go to the London Olympics in 2012 to get hands-on training and a British accent. While both the above steps are commendable, it leaves a nagging question whether English, British or otherwise, is the only language Sochi needs to offer. What about Chinese or any of the major European languages, apart from French?  

The Sochi organizing committee needs to consider that just equipping its staff with two to three languages may not make it ready for an international event. There is still time, of course, to make sure visitors speaking languages other than English, French, and Russian feel at home in Sochi.


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Keywords: Interpreting, Language learning and education, Language policy, On-site interpreting, Telephone interpreting, Translation

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