PVC Magic
To help participants recognize and visualize how an interpreter functions
To explain the three common styles of interpreting and their advantages and disadvantages
To review the ethical commitments professional interpreters make so that participants can
see how to support them in doing their job ethically
Those who communicate through an interpreter; 1 to 50 participants
30 minutes
Prepared flipcharts or handouts to support your presentation, drawn from the Lecture
Material that follows
1-foot long piece of PVC (plastic) piping
Two clear plastic glasses, one half-full of clear water
1. Hand one of the participants the piece of pipe and ask him or her to verify that it is a per-
fectly normal piece of pipe.
2. Hold up the glass of water and ask the group to identify what it is.
3. Ask participants what they would expect to see in the waiting glass if you poured the glass
of water through the pipe into the empty glass.
4. Pour the water down the pipe into the waiting glass.
5. Hold up the newly filled glass of water and ask the group to identify what it is.
6. Describe the role of the interpreter and link it to the demonstration, using the props as
described in the lecture material below.
Use these questions:
“What situations from your own experience do these examples remind you of?”
“What has happened during your least successful interpreted encounters?”
“What has happened during your most successful interpreted encounters?”
In closing, sum up the reactions and what the group has learned.
The Role of the Interpreter
After the water-pouring activity, explain that what came out, in terms of content and clarity, was
the same as what went in.
This piece of pipe is an excellent interpreter, because the role of the interpreter is to create con-
ditions much as what would exist if the two monolinguals shared a common language, being able
to interpret everything and anything that is said by either into the language of the other.
When I pour the water down this piece of pipe, instead of flowing through it into the waiting
glass, what if it stopped half-way and started cycling back into the original glass? That’s not
“right,” is it? Isn’t that similar to what happens when you see your client and interpreter engag-
ing in independent conversation for an extended period of time?
What if I started pouring water down the pipe and, instead of clear water coming out on the other
end, Coca-Cola came out? That’s not “right,” is it? Isn’t that similar to what happens when the
interpreter changes the meaning or content of one of the speakers while interpreting? The inter-
preter interprets everything and anything that is said, regardless of the content. Even if the client
is lying and the interpreter knows it, that interpreter is duty-bound to repeat that lie. If you are
following a line of questioning that is not the best possible route to take, the interpreter must
interpret what you are asking, not modify the questions as he or she sees fit.
Let’s say I take this piece of pipe and this empty glass out into the middle of the room, hold the
glass up to the pipe, and tip the pipe, and liquid started coming out. That’s not “right,” is it? Just
as it is not the role of the piping to originate liquid, it is not the role of the interpreter to be the
source or destination for information, lines of questioning, analyses, etc.
What if I were to take this pipe and, when I started pouring water down it, it poured perfectly
normally into the waiting glass. I do the same with a glass of milk and everything’s fine. I try
again with lemonade and nothing comes out! That’s not “right.” Isn’t that similar to an inter-
preter deciding not to convey a piece of information?

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