The Cunning Mind of an Artful Linguist – Episode 1: Miss Universe 2008 – A Polyglot’s Paradise
|Over the past 3 months, I think I’ve been at home in Bangkok for a total of about 6days. The rest of the time I’ve been travelling to some of the most fascinating places on the planet plying mytrade – i.e. packaging language, linguistics, facilitation, entertainment and culture into a product that smoothes
out wrinkles (and makes money) for transnational organizations working in the region. This is the first in a series
of blog-entries that I will be posting here to show how language can form the base to a business that’s not only
rewarding, but also downright FUN!
|The hottest gig to date this year would have to be **Miss Universe 2008** in Nha TrangVietnam. With language as my guise, I was once again treated to the privilege of chilling out around the clock for
almost 2 weeks with some of the most gorgeous women on the planet in a place that comes pretty close to
|## Arrival in Nha Trang – With Nothing Better to do, Miss Universe Herself Swung by to Pick us Up|
|I flew into Ho-Chi Minh on an Air France flight. Despite some of what I would call the worst excuse forfood that I’ve ever seen served on a plane, the flight landed safely and I met up with fellow Chiangmai based
polyglot Adam Dedman (interpreter for Miss Japan – Harvard graduate and fluent in English, Thai, Japanese and
Spanish) for our Vietnam Airlines domestic flight to Nha Trang.
Pointing over to a prop-jet with a flat tyre being dragged across the tarmac in the distance of an airport that I
imagine hadn’t changed much since the war, Adam commented “Well I’m glad we’re not travelling on that thing!”.
Adam was sadly mistaken. We boarded the plane and bumped through the air for another 50 minutes until we
landed again safely in Nha Trang.
|It was around 9pm. After a short flight from Bangkok and a very long transit in Ho Chi Minh,de-hydrated from lack of water and one too many Pepsi-Max’s I was ready to crash. That all changed though when
we arrived at the baggage carousel to be greeted by Miss Universe 2007-08 herself Riyo Mori. Dressed in a
humble beach dress and flip-flops, Riyo took us in her limo back to our resort – ‘Vin Pearl’ with her bodyguard.
Having been there for a week or so already, she was pretty pressed for interesting things to do. Luckily, she and
Adam were already like brother and sister from the previous year and meeting us at the airport probably made
for some of the best comic relief she’d had in days J
That set the scene for the rest of the trip. Gorgeous women, amazing beaches, celebrities, security zealots and
the largest pool you’ve ever seen in your life – 10,000sqm!!!
|## The First Interview – Your Interpreter is Your Best Friend|
|One thing that I’ve learned from working with Miss Universe since 2005 is that the relationship between thegirls and their interpreter can sometimes make or break their chances in the competition. The level of experiencefor each of the contestants varies. Some of them had never been exposed to anything like this before, and
others from countries like Venezuela, Colombia, USA, Japan and Korea have been in almost military-like training
under the elegant whip of the likes of Ines Ligron for months before the event. Some of the girls
overestimate their ability in English and opt to answer the questions during their first interview in English, thinking
that they will come across as more ‘international’. For a few, this works, but for many others it can signal certain
|As interpreters, we spend more time with the girls than most other people there. We’re with them from earlyin the morning each day, through all the breaks, rehearsals into the night and then on the phone when need be inthe remaining hours. I’ve learned from veteran interpreters like Gregory Rayner and April Cedillo that the better
the interpreters get to know the girls, the better their answers can be ‘interpreted’ / rendered faithfully before the
## How an Interpretation can Make or Break a Contestant’s Chance at the Miss Universe
Crown – It’s all in the Semantics!
|The girls that I was taking care of were Miss Thailand (Gavintra Photijak – Nickname: Kaem (means‘cheek’)) and Miss Indonesia (Putri Raemawasti). The first real assignment for the interpreters and the girls to
work together is during their first panel interview.
|### What the Miss Universe judges are looking for|
|I’m not a miss universe judge, so I don’t own the right to say I know exactly what the judges are looking for –though from being in the bowels of the pageant, being part of numerous interviews and participating in
discussions with people at all different levels involved in the pageant, I can say that the judges are looking for
someone that can carry the MU brand well, someone who is ‘interesting’, someone with a little bit more to them
than just their face and body, a degree of spunk / sex appeal and someone with a decent level of humility /
human relations skills.
|One common theme that came up during the interviews were questions to see whether theyreally WERE the person they were portrayed to be in their bio’s – did they really have the hobbies that they said
they had? The passions etc. In the past some people have been caught out. On that note – if you say you are
passionate about museums, make sure you know what museums exist in your home city!
Another theme that came out was trying to find out how ‘vindictive’ or competitive they might be. Questions
like ‘who would you most like see to lose out of all the girls?’ or ‘who would you most like to step into the ring with
in a Thai Boxing match?’
|### Anatomy of the Interview Session|
|There is a total of around 80 contestants. They are broken down into three groups. Each group isbrought into the ballroom of the hotel (Diamond Bay Resort) where they are seated together at one end of the
room. There are partitions up at the other end with two panels of around 5-6 judges seated – one group on the left
and one group on the right. The girls are then broken into smaller groups in alphabetical order of country and
taken up to the entry of the partitioned section and seated until it’s their turn. Two girls go in at a time. They have
3 minutes to be questioned by each of the two panels of judges.
|### The Difference an Interpretation Can Make|
|An example of how the interpreter can make or break the chances of one of the contestants ishighlighted by Nong Kaem’s (Miss Thailand) question and answer.
**The question was:
“How do you feel about girls how have had plastic surgery done to make
their faces look more beautiful?”
**Kaem’s response was something like:
|“ถ้าเสริมหน้าเสร็จแล้ว และดูดีขึ้น ก็คงไม่มีปัญหา แต่ว่าถ้าเสริมหน้าเสร็จแล้ว แล้วก็ดูแย่กว่าเดิม หนูคิดว่าเป็นเรื่องที่น่าเป็นห่วง แต่ถ้าพูดถึงหนูเองนะ หนูก็โชคดีที่เกิดมาได้หน้าตาแบบนี้ หนูก็มีความพอใจกับสิ่งที่ธรรมชาติ
“If you’ve had your face operated on and it looks better than it originally looked, I don’t have any
problem with that. On the other hand, if you’ve had plastic surgery and look uglier than you did before the
operation, it’s a bit scary. As for me, I’m lucky to have been born with a face like this. I’m happy with what I was
given by nature”.
“If you’ve had a face-job and it’s made you look better than before, great! On the other hand, you’d
have to be a little bit worried if you went through an operation like that only to come out on the other side worse
for wear. As for me, I’m happy with the cards that God has dealt me.”
**Are the two answers different?
In the second answer, I interpreted the facial expressions, idioms used, pauses in conversation etc. to try
and evoke the same sort of mood that her Thai response would have evoked in a native speaker of Thai.
Kaem’s response seemed to have gone down well with the judges.
## The Interpreter’s 6’th Sense
Vicente De la Vega – CEO of Precision translation
based in Miami Florida has been the official interpreting company for the Miss Universe pageants for around 24
years now. Each year he puts a team of some of the most talented linguists / polyglots that you’d ever want to
meet. Some of them have done the pageants for many many years – and in doing that, and being so close to
both the management and the girls, they get a pretty good idea of how things run – what the judges are thinking
and who’s likely to take the prize. Each day in our group, we’d have lists drawn up of who we thought would get
into the top 15, top 10, top 5 and the ultimate winner. Depending on how we saw the girls perform each day, our
lists would chop and change. The scary thing is, that from the many lists that we had going round, many of them
were very accurate when compared to the final results.
|## A Message to All Miss Universe Contestants – You’re on Stage 24hrs a day!|
|One of the points that needs to be hammered home to all the Miss Universe contestants is that from thetime you’re selected in your home country until the time that the final pageant ends, you are on stage 24 hours a
day no matter whether you’re actually on the stage, taking a break, eating your meal, waking up in the morning,
going to the bathroom, speaking on your mobile phone, meeting with friends / visitors – NO MATTER
WHAT YOU’RE DOING, YOU’RE BEING JUDGED / SEEN BY SOMEONE. In light of that, when they
say that you CAN dress casually, they want to see how you will interpret that? Are you still going to look elegant
during grueling rehearsals, or will you look like something the cat dragged in? A bit harsh, but true. Some people
like Miss Japan, Korea, Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico etc looked amazing around the clock, others looked like
they were taking little Johnny to a Saturday football match.
|## An Enigma – Ines Ligron|
|Ines Ligron is the Director for MU Japan and has trained and honed winners such as Riyo Mori, HirokoMima and others that have become house-hold names in both Japan and around the world. Some people loveher and some hate her. You can’t deny how powerful her opinions can be though – when she clicks ‘send’ on a
posting to her blog (http://www.inesligron.com/), she will have hundreds of thousands of hits within a
few hours. The directors of MU read her blog and I suspect this trickles down to the judges too. In Vietnam, there
was even one girl and her entourage (that I think might have been one sandwich short of a full picnic basket)
following her, Hiroko and Riyo in almost stalker fashion with a flag / blanket that they had toured around Japan
with to get over 10,000 signatures). Very Japanese, very weird, but is testament to Ines’ fame of late. Two of her
girls this year – Japan and Korea were noticeably polished compared to many others there, and from what I
hear, many other countries are knocking on her door to have her take their girls under her wing in 2009.
The business opportunities that this movement presents are amazing, and I believe are ripe for the
picking for any linguistically / culturally in-tune mind with good human relations and facilitation skills. Watch this
|## Opportunity after Opportunity|
|Every day brought with it new fascinating people and new networking opportunities. From Jerry Springerto Mel B (Scary Spice from the Spice Girls), to TV producers, film makers, media moguls, blue-chip company
CEO’s, government leaders, fashion designers, photographers and people from every other back-ground
imaginable – and of course one of the ladies that I think is the backbone to a lot of the event is Annette Cammer
from the MU Organization. It was a networker’s paradise.
|As I mentioned in the beginning, my feet haven’t touched the ground since leaving Vietnam. No soonerwas I off the plane after having spent a couple of weeks with some of the most gorgeous women on the planet,
than I found myself making my way to a fabrication plant to work with over 2,000 grease covered workers
assembling an off-shore LPG gas installation.
|From bikini-clad babes to grease-covered riggers, being a linguist and a polyglot has brought with itsome of the most amazing experiences, an education money can’t buy, and when combined with hard-skills
from other sectors, has developed a product that is extremely rare and making / saving a lot of $$$ for
companies around the globe.
I really hope that this story and future stories will inspire other people with a passion for people and
languages, to ply it into a business that can be packaged, marketed and sold to the world.