I won’t reveal a big secret if I say that when we are booked to interpret for someone, that person may already have some command of the language. Sometimes very basic, sometimes they can understand most things but can’t express themselves properly. You can imagine their disbelief (or arrogance) when they think they have caught the interpreter out.
Picture a situation of the person correcting you: “I said a thousand and you translated a hundred”, you hear them saying. True, the trouble is here in the UK people seem to like using hundreds instead of thousands in certain cases, but the number doesn’t change. I earn fifteen hundred pounds is the same as I earn one thousand five hundred pounds. But the first version is shorter so is more convenient to say.
Floors are another story. If you say in Russian that you live on the first floor, don’t expect me to interpret it literally. What is the first floor in Russian is a ground floor in English. I now tend to cardinal numbers (Floor 1, Floor 2, etc) instead of ordinal numerals (first floor, second floor etc).
I could think of a few other false friend words from a different repertoire: those that sound international but aren’t. Complexion in English is not build (комплекция) but the appearance of someone’s skin, and a decade (декада) is not ten days but ten years.
So what do you do when you are confronted with a false accusation of incompetence? It’s best not to take it personally and if the circumstances allow, explain where the “error” lies. Both of you may smile about it afterwards, learn and put it down to experience.
[Tip: If you have a request for a Russian interpreter, get in touch with us on 0207 043 6940 or email email@example.com to discuss.]