When Odin Barrán was a teenager in Mexico City, he decided he wanted to be an interpreter. This year the International Cervantino Festival, Latin America’s premier cultural festival, hired him to turn English into Spanish and the other way round so that journalists and performers would understand each other.
“I got the idea of being an interpreter during a trip to the supermarket with my mother when I picked up a magazine for teenagers with some pages on careers. I didn’t know the profession of interpreting existed until I read the article. I didn’t even know much English, just a few words. But afterward I was determined to enter the profession.”
In the United States, interpreters work mostly for the courts and the medical system. Odin is a freelancer who looks for opportunities where he can find them, including recently at the National Institute of Adult Education, Foreign Affairs Branch.
When I listened to Odin during the press conference of the New Zealand dance group Black Grace, I was fascinated by his ability to convey the gist of what he heard in very different phrasing.Later Odin explained to me how consecutive interpreting works. He is trained to relay concepts not words from one language to another.
For Black Grace, Odin rendered Director Neil Ieremia’s intro into Spanish for the journalists. He then turned their questions into English for the New Zealanders and then went back into Spanish so the journalists would understand the replies.
Interpreting for Black Grace was just one of Odin’s assignments. He spent a week linking the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) television team with performers. The journalists prepared questions, then he acted as their spokesman. The material will be edited and dubbed or subtitled before being shown to British viewers.
As a Christian who has studied some Hebrew to understand the Bible better, Odin went on his time off to the Idan Raichel Project concert. “When the African (Ethiopian) woman sang in Hebrew, ‘He can, I cannot,’ it was exciting. I could understand.”
After making interpreting his goal, Odin started going to English classes for two hours daily after his regular high school studies. When he graduated, he was accepted at the Instituto Superior de Interpretes y Traductores. In Latin America and Europe, unlike the United States, interpreting is a recognized field of university-level study.
Odin said he jumped at the chance to work for the International Cervantino Festival when he heard the organizers were looking for a Spanish-English interpreter. For two weeks, he came in contact with performers doing something different from the TV culture he knew. “Interpreting has given me this opportunity,” he said with satisfaction.