Press conference lost in translation
January 19th, 2011
06:56 PM ET

Press conference lost in translation

By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
Washington (CNN) - The joint news conference with the two presidents started off just fine. President Barack Obama praised a "spirit of cooperation that is also friendly competition." Chinese President Hu Jintao told reporters the countries' relationship is based on "mutual respect and mutual benefit."

Then came the "lost in translation" moment that turned the press availability into what felt like one long Chinese-language lesson.
It started when both presidents were asked about human rights in China. Mr. Obama answered but, in a confusing moment, Mr. Hu did not. Instead, the translator began translating Mr. Obama's answer. Then they went on to another question. So another U.S. reporter asked the human rights question again, hinting the Chinese president might have tried to avoid it.

President Hu was not amused: "First, I would like to clarify, because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights," he said. "What I know was that he was asking a question directed at President Obama. As you raise this question, and I heard the question properly, certainly I'm in a position to answer that question."

And he did.

For long stretches in the press conference the two leaders stood by, awkwardly waiting for the translation.

At one point, a Chinese reporter chimed in, chiding the translators: "Because of the on-and-off interpretation from the simultaneous booths, I would like to ask the Chinese consecutive interpreter to interpret my two questions correctly and accurately."

When it was all over, Mr. Obama, his Mandarin language lesson over, apologized: "All right, everybody. Thank you so much for your patience, due to the technical difficulties."

The White House later told CNN that it was the Chinese who requested the type of translation used: "consecutive" in which the speaker says his piece, then waits for it to be translated. All it requires, it seems is a little patience.

Topics: China • President Obama

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Saint Peter II

    The real deals have already been made and not in the White House! See Chinese-American Corporations: Cash and Politics and read about some of the outcomes that aren't spoken of at offical press conferences.
    Free no log-in citizen editorial cartoons

    January 20, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. Brian

    The February 2011 issue of Toastmasters magazine has a great article called, "Found In Translation" about the proper way to do a speech with translators. Too bad both presidents did not read the article before their news conference!

    January 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  3. Niu Betty

    apparently they can't even agree on what to call the White House....

    January 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm |