Translation Confusion At Obama-Hu News Conference

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Translation mix-ups led to some confusion at Wednesday’s White House news conference with President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Obama initially thought his responses were being translated simultaneously into Chinese for Hu. But they weren’t, and so the Chinese-language translator had to embark on a lengthy translation following Obama’s response to the first question he was asked, on human rights.

“I apologize, I thought we had simultaneous translation there,” Obama said after he realized what had happened. “So I would have broken up the answer into smaller bites.”

The human rights question also was directed at Hu, but the Chinese president didn’t answer it, initially causing the impression that he was avoiding the touchy topic. When the question was repeated to Hu later in the news conference he willingly discussed China’s human rights issues, explaining that he hadn’t heard the question the first time around “because of the technical translation and interpretation problem.” The White House said the first question had in fact been translated for Hu.

Later in the news conference, a Chinese reporter provoked laughter when he raised the translation issue and asked the Chinese-language translator “to interpret my two questions correctly and accurately.”

It wasn’t clear what caused the confusion, though the White House said that the Chinese had asked for consecutive – not simultaneous – translation. At various points, both Hu and Obama fiddled with their earpieces.

Meanwhile, English-language networks going live with the news conference were at some points on-air with stretches of Mandarin most viewers would have been unable to comprehend.