Understanding hindered by inconsistencies

08:00 | 09/07/2020
With integration into a wide range of multilateral trade agreements, Vietnam is in need of a standard code and professional organisation to monitor and assess the quality and professionalism of translation and interpretation activities. Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former Ambassador of Vietnam to the EU and Belgium, and former Vice Chair of the Foreign Affairs Commitee of the National Assembly, shared with VIR’s Bich Ngoc her views on Vietnam in preparation for such implementation.
1499 11 understanding hindered by inconsistencies
Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former Ambassador of Vietnam to the EU and Belgium, and former Vice Chair of the Foreign Affairs Commitee of the National Assembly

What is your opinion on the quality and quantity of translators and interpreters of Vietnam currently?

There are not enough translators and interpreters in Vietnam currently, and improvement is needed in terms of quality and professionalism. Consequently the need of Vietnam’s socio-economic integration is not always properly met.

Some people say there are increasing numbers of Vietnamese students abroad, and overseas Vietnamese coming back every year who could be a good source for interpretation and translation. However, this is not quite true. Even if they can speak foreign languages fluently, they may not be fully atuned in terms of content. Translation and interpretation is a specialised profession and cannot be carried out effectively by people who are proficient at foreign languages only.

Currently the job of translation and interpretation in Vietnam does not have its own code of standards and qualifications. Nor does it have a dedicated oversight and assessment organisation to uphold quality and professionalism among members. Only when such a code is applied can we ensure the quality of every product and ensure the rights and obligations of every translator and interpreter in the market.

This set of standards could be referred from templates of other countries and the most suitable should be adapted for application in Vietnam. In addition to that, we need a professional organisation of translators and interpreters. This association would arrange joint activities as well as ensure rights and underline the responsibilities of translators and interpreters and other related professionals, such as publishers and distributors.

Being experienced in diplomacy, what is required to become a successful translator or interpreter, and how can we encourage young people engaged in activities and professions to improve their performance?

To be a good translator and interpreter, it is necessary to continuously update, improve, and train/self-train. Studying must not only rely on books and the internet but draw also on actual activities and practice. My personal experience is to learn regularly from thoughtful practice right after any translation or interpretation task is completed.

One needs a whole set of skills to become a good interpreter. However most important is the ability to closely observe reaction from both sides (Vietnamese and foreign). This is of special importance for accompanying and negotiation tasks. These types of task not only help improve interpretation skills but communication and persuasion skills as well.

What is the exact role of these interpreters in international negotiations, especially in the context of Vietnam implementing the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)?

Interpretation and translation play an important role in the negotiation of international trade agreements. To accomplish this task, besides basic requirements such as understanding the issues and mastering the terminology, it is more important that the translator and interpreter know how to handle arising situations that occur unexpectedly during negotiation. With regard more specifically to translation, it is essential to grasp the author’s idea rather than simply “translate words or sentences”.

There is a fine, delicate line between faithfulness to the words and the meaning, the spirit which I would describe as “taking risk with caution”. To do so, an interpreter must be very competent, experienced, and bold.

You have held many important positions in Vietnam’s negotiating missions with other countries. What are the challenges for Vietnam in implementing the EVFTA?

In the current trade situation between China and the US, the EU has to determine a specific standing and role for themselves. When the EU implemented its ‘Toward the ASEAN’ strategy in Northeast Asia, China, Japan, and South Korea were the keys.

In Southeast Asia meanwhile, the EU started with Singapore, one of the smallest countries in terms of area but the richest in terms of per capita income in the region. I think this was a safe and suitable start since Singapore has integrated First World countries for years and they know how to deal with the global market.

After Singapore, it is interesting and telling that the EU then moved toward Vietnam to work closely with. Economists will look at figures of trade, investment, and population size. Vietnam has proved its importance not only in population, trade, and economy but it has a good geographical and diplomatic position and clout in the region; in other words there is logic in the EU’s decision to pursue the FTA process with Vietnam after Singapore.

In the context of the complicated and unpredictable global economy and politics, is it even feasible to put the EVFTA into practice at this time?

Domestic implementation is not my field of expertise, but in the past there was a time when I said that Vietnam had been joining multilateral trade agreements at a dizzying speed with a range of negotiations being held simultaneously. At that time Vietnam was trying to show the world that it certainly does not support returning to any kind of protectionist regime and that it intended to become one of the most open economies in the region.

But signing an international, especially multilateral agreement is just the first hurdle that Vietnam has to overcome. The subsequent daunting challenge is, the implementation will and preparedness of the government, every locality, and every Vietnamese company.

I think the speed of joining international trade agreements depends not only on the determination of the government but also on the maturity and preparedness of the businesses themselves, and on the interaction and co-ordination between the state and the companies. So we’ll have to watch and see. However, the agreement is certainly a promising signal for the export of goods.

How do you evaluate the importance and practical effect of the implementation of the EVFTA on the establishment of Vietnam’s national brand and the task of empowering Vietnam’s position in the international arena?

Vietnam’s national brand is a combination of many aspects. Vietnam should monitor what is happening in the world so that it will not be caught in the wave of return to protectionism. Of course, no country is 100 per cent open but with the current impact of COVID-19, enterprises are considering relocation and implementing strategic plans for national/on-site manufacturing products for ensuring the health of the people.

I think Vietnam should also consider this opportunity carefully, but step by step, phase by phase with a clear roadmap. Health preparedness related manufacturing should be looked at as an opportunity.

Despite Vietnam successfully controlling the spread of COVID-19, that success has not always been recognised by the outside world, especially in the West. What is your view of this?

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, Vietnam’s tackling of the pandemic was described as a low-cost, but effective strategy to fight against COVID-19. Vietnam does not test millions of people to find infected cases, but decided to test only those with epidemiological symptoms. However, strict and effective tracing as well as early systematic quarantine measures and mask wearing were applied. This was a perfectly reasonable method for the country in its situation. And yet, while analysed in a number of foreign written articles, Vietnam’s success is altogether overlooked by major international television channels.

While happy with the Covid-19 success stories of a few other countries, I am intrigued by the international television blackout on Vietnam’s story. Of course I am elated with the Ghen Co Vy song and dance going viral thanks to talk show host John Oliver as a lighter touch contribution from Vietnam to the global fight against the pandemic.

By Bich Ngoc

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