Interpreting during driving tests: a way to cheat?

by Jeanette Sakel

Today’s local news are about a translator/interpreter who gave a little too much information to her customers about the contents of theory driving tests (well, she told them the answers):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23608228

That is interesting, as translation can very easily be misused in this way (knowing that the others do not understand, you may say more than you intend!). Ok, in this case it was proven that the translator was deliberately ‘saying too much’.

Yet, the article also goes on about interpreters during practice tests given much more long-winded explanations than those given by the driving instructor. Again, this is open to those wanting to cheat, as they may give more information (e.g. about how to drive appropriately) during those tests. On the other hand, I hesitate to think that all such translations are fraudulent or go into too much unnecessary detail: often, direct and concise translation is really difficult, and not something an un-trained interpreter is able to do. They may need to search for the right terms in the other language, may need to give more information to convey exactly the same meaning as was intended. Even trained and highly experienced interpreters can struggle with this! You can sometimes hear that on live news when interpretation is involved. Also bilinguals don’t have their two languages as ‘parallel’ systems, and while they may be able to speak fluently about a certain topic in both of their languages, translating / interpreting can be really tricky if that is not something they are used to doing.

So, what is the solution to the driving test problem?

When we look at the languages that are commonly interpreted in driving tests, Romanian comes out on top. That’s quite interesting – and actually something those instructors could do something about: Romanian is a Romance language, i.e. it is related to French and Spanish. That means that if you speak some French, chances are you will – at least to a minor degree – get a gist of what the Romanian interpreter is saying. You won’t ‘understand’ Romanian, true, but it may be enough to establish whether what the translator does is hesitate and search for the right words – or speak quite fluently about another topic.

The other language commonly used is Mandarin. Now that is a bit more tricky! But again, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the instructors to learn to understand simple terms such as ‘turn left, right, stop, slowly’ etc. in Mandarin? Maybe someone should put together a ‘Memrise Chinese’ for driving tests? The necessary terminology could be learnt in roughly 15 minutes – with the added advantage that our otherwise so monolingual island gains some language knowledge!

Really, in my opinion learning other languages is the answer, much more than suspecting those speaking other languages to always ‘cheat’. Why not have a look at Memrise (those who have done some ‘second language acquisition’ with me will have already heard about this): www.memrise.com . It’s all still ‘in the making’, i.e. no perfect, but it’s free!

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