Interview with Tomáš Sovinec

Copy of Interview with Tomáš Sovinec

Tomáš Sovinec has a degree in German and Croatian studies, a PhD in Translation and Interpretation from the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. His research is focused on Translation Studies, in particular on simultaneous interpreting from an interdisciplinary point of view. He is currently a member of a team of researchers working on the project Transius, which is focused on Legal Translation from and into less frequent languages, with special relation to Slovak as source and target language. He has been working as a freelance interpreter and translator since 2002. He has interpreted for political leaders such as Angela Merkel, Martin Schulz or Andrej Kiska in his home country and abroad, and has also worked in business and NGO settings, among others. Since 2007, he works as an assistant lecturer at the Department of German, Dutch and Scandinavian Studies of the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava.


  1. You are an academic at Comenius University in Bratislava, where you teach translation of technical texts, as well as consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. How do you prepare your students to cope with such a diversity of terminological demands in various fields?

Yes, I am an assistant professor at the Department of German, Dutch and Scandinavian Studies, teaching the courses you have mentioned. In my courses I try to unveil the world of real texts, which I have already translated, and I also share with my students the methods I use to cope with the challenge of translating technical texts. I work with them on various topics and try to be not only a teacher but also an adviser and a partner for them. I try to explain to the students how to deal with various challenges that may occur when translating this kind of text, which is not always easy because they have not yet had experience with this type of translation. But to come back to your question, various fields require specialised glossaries, which are very closely connected with the word ‘terminology’. It is therefore crucial to have the correct terminology at hand. The students have to be able to prepare their own glossaries by using dictionaries, terminological databases, etc.

  1. You also work as an interpreter. Does terminology play a role in the preparation for interpreting? Do you prepare a special terminological list beforehand?

I would say that terminology, together with a very good knowledge of the culture and customs of your client, is one of the most important things when interpreting. I always prepare a glossary. Even when I am already familiar with the topic, I always compile a special glossary or update the existing one. In our jargon we call this a ‘crutch’, which helps us to manage various challenging situations that occur during every interpreting task.

  1. How does an interpreter cope with the situation when he or she is ‘missing a word’?

Interpreting is an ‘art of a moment’, which means that you have to make decisions within a few seconds. Then you have to wait for the response from the other party to find out whether you have used an appropriate word or term. Words can change the meaning of a sentence, and this can cause political or even security tensions, especially during ‘high-level’ interpreting.

  1. You have had the opportunity to interpret for Angela Merkel. How did you prepare for this occasion and what were the main challenges?

I have had the opportunity to interpret for Angela Merkel a couple of times, and as she is one of the five most influential public figures in the world it was a real challenge indeed. In my opinion, she has a ‘positive aura’. That aura helps you to suppress your own stress as an interpreter, and then you just have to do your best. To prepare myself, I listened to and viewed some of her public speeches on the internet. I listened carefully to how she was speaking, noting which words and terms she often uses. Then I studied in detail all the information about the current political situation in Europe and Central Europe, and the attitudes of Germany towards crucial topics.

  1. As a translator of technical texts, how do you search for terms in a specific field and how do you make sure that they are appropriate and accurate?

When I need to translate technical texts I always do a so-called ‘first scan’ of the document, picking out the terms which I do not know or which could be problematic. Then I search in dictionaries, both online and offline, terminological databases and my own glossaries, and I also try to contact my client for advice.

  1. IATE is the European Union’s interinstitutional terminology database. Do you have any experience with IATE, and if so, what do you think of it?

To be honest, I am not yet very familiar with IATE. I have heard about the Slovak STS (Slovak Terminology Network) and read that the 12th conference of the STS was held last year in Nitra under the auspices of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU. The topic of the conference in Nitra was ‘Energy in translation’. I think that databases such as IATE need further publicity to become better known among translators, and they can certainly be useful tools for us.

  1. How do you view terminology in Slovakia? Is the Slovak terminology database sufficient for translators and their needs?

As I have already mentioned, the STS (Slovak Terminology Network) is one of our national databases. The question is whether STS is sufficient for our translators in Slovakia. I have visited the IATE website and I think IATE is already proving to be a very useful tool for many colleagues in Slovakia.

  1. You have published an article entitled ‘Was macht einen Dolmetscher zum richtigen Dolmetscher?’ (What makes an interpreter a good interpreter?). Will you tell us the secret?

I was doing some research in this field and tried, using case studies, to ask my colleagues’ opinions on the qualities required of an interpreter. In my article I tried to explain the secret of becoming a good interpreter. Another good definition of the characteristics of an interpreter is that of Henderson, who wrote that an interpreter is: ‘A self-reliant, articulate extrovert, quick and intelligent, a jack of all trades and something of an actor, superficial, arrogant, liking variety and at times anxious and frustrated’ (Henderson 1980:223). I also asked my students, and they came up with a very interesting definition, that an interpreter has to be a kind of ‘sponge’, always ready to absorb new information and then reproduce it. So the secret is a mixture of knowledge, skills, talent and resilience.

  1. Do you have any interesting or funny stories to share about your professional experience?

This is the hardest question you can ask an interpreter, who has the obligation of secrecy J, but I will tell you a couple of things I think the readers of this interview will find funny. First, sometimes I try to observe my counterparts’ feet under the table and to recognise from the movements of their feet whether they are stressed or not. The reason for this observation is that I recognised myself that while interpreting even my feet are very tense and strained, as they would be at the start of the hundred metres sprint race in a track and field competition. Secondly, sometimes I am sitting at the table and my clients are talking, for example, in English, not using my service. In these situations I can enjoy the cuisine and listen to the politicians’ conversation. But there is always a ‘but’: if there is a term which my clients do not know, they always ask me and I have to be ready to tell them…so you can never relax, it is always about professional readiness, but despite this I like my job very much.

IvanaWritten by Ivana Kuriačková, a study visitor at TermCoord. Ivana holds a Bachelor degree in Translation and Interpreting from the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. She also studied German Philoloy at the University of Vienna, Austria, as part of the Erasmus Study Programme. Her passion for languages led her steps to Luxembourg, where she is currently doing a Master Degree in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg.