Farkhad Fatkullin: ''People who criticize Wikipedia are absolutely right…''
First Wikipedist of the Year from Russia about the specifics of interpreter's work and his hobby
Farkhad Fatkullin, a columnist for Realnoe Vremya and polyglot from Kazan, was recognized as 'Wikipedist of the Year'' last week. He has become the first Russian to be awarded this title. After this news, he received hundreds of letters and calls: everyone tried to congratulate him or take a comment. One of the first to whom he gave an interview was a correspondent of our online newspaper. The interlocutor of Realnoe Vremya said what he thought about his new status and how it is to work as an interpreter.
''I started my working life in the Kazan synagogue…''
Farkhad, what influenced your choice of the profession?
Already at school I was invited to study exact sciences at two Ivy League universities in the US and the English-language program in electronic engineering at the Middle East Technical University (ÖDTÜ) in Ankara, plus the doors to all Russian universities were opened for me, but at the request of my parents I stayed with them. First thought of my mother was me entering the linguistic department in Kazan, but I said ''better other people interpret me''. So we stopped at the financial and economic institute. I guess it's destiny.
So why did you become an interpreter?
I realized my usefulness in this direction during education, when ensuring mutual understanding of representatives of different countries and peoples. If I am not mistaken, it happened in the autumn of 1998, when I was my second year of university and on a volunteer basis I participated in the work of the Institute of Culture of World of Engel Tagirov. I had already had experience of interpreting in informal setting and two years of recording all Russian-language lectures in English. Marat Safiullin, our teacher for strategic management, periodically remembers with a smile what he saw in my notebook. At a conference organized by brothers Indus and Engel Rizakovich (Tagirovs — editor's note), they needed interpreting and accompaniment of a professor from Israel.
I began the official work in the Kazan synagogue, in the assembly hall of the Kazan National Cultural Centre and in the old race cource. I had quite good degree of readiness, as every day after class I read in English Britannica and different periodicals, fortunately we have the National library. Somewhere in 2000, I joined the ranks of interpreters. From the autumn I began to travel around Russia, and later to all countries. I've been to many places.
''I began my official work in the Kazan synagogue, in the assembly hall of the Kazan National Cultural Centre and in the old race cource. I had quite good degree of readiness, as every day after class I read in English Britannica and different periodicals.'' Photo: Maksim Platonov
Ideally, should the interpreter understand one hundred percent of the topic he is interpreting?
Ideally, yes. With my financial and economic education it is definitely easier for me to interpret such topics. When it comes to legal, medical, geological issues, the interpreter must be prepared. Today, it is important for the interpreter to have certain encyclopedic knowledge, ability, based on the existing accumulated and constantly accumulating horizons, to quickly understand the basic principles of the area that he will cover.
For example, each autumn the event in medicine takes place. Tatarstan is adopting the experience of leading clinics in order to introduce best practices in health issues. When two doctors talk to each other, the translator must understand what is at stake. Otherwise, what is the point of throwing money and bring people from a distant country, pay for their accommodation and food? It's pointless. In practice, an interpreter should have a broad outlook, read a lot from school years, so that for a limited period of time it was possible to quickly find information and understand it. What caliber of specialists will work? Further in the course of preparation you isolate things that need to be further studied. Because no presentations and encyclopedias have what is in the heads of the leading experts of the planet.
''Wikipedia does not guarantee anything''
When did you learn about Wikimedia Foundation?
I learned about the foundation, probably, a few years after I started ''playing'' in Tatar-language Wikipedia.
Farkhad, at what point did you realize that you wanted to become a volunteer and a part of this foundation?
I'm not part of Wikipedia Foundation.
Then how do you function there?
A volunteer is a person who does something on his own will. I became a volunteer of Wikimedia, once clicking on the link ''edit''. Anyone who corrects any mistake in Wikipedia or make their own edit, for example you, is already officially considered a Wikipedist (laughs).
You devote a lot of time to this activity. Is it a hobby or it is more like a job?
It's definitely a hobby. First, nobody pays for it and no one will ever pay. Second, you pay with your time. Because instead of going for a walk in the forest, you spend some time on this. So, yes, it is definitely a hobby.
Can you tell us how many articles you have already made? Or are there so many that you can't remember?
I can't tell, not because there are so many of them, no. I never counted. Wikipedia has no concept of ownership of an article. That is, the article does not belong to me, I just edit it, if required. Maybe later someone will come and think that I wrote incorrectly, or say that I did not write enough. It is more correct to talk about how many edits you have made (or initiated) or in how many articles a volunteer added valuable material. That's what you can calculate.
Is it considered somewhere?
Yes, it's all considered. I already know exactly where to look to answer your potential question about how many edits I've made to Wikipedia in Portuguese or to the Wiki tutorial in Tatar.
A volunteer is a person who does something on his own will. I became a volunteer of Wikimedia once clicking on the link ''edit''. Anyone who corrects any mistake in Wikipedia or make their own edits, for example you, is already officially considered a Wikipedist
What difficulties did you face?
As an interpreter, I will tell that there is nothing untranslatable in this world. Even the Bible and the Psalter, which we read in Old Slavonic, can be translated into modern Russian. But then the Psalter will lose a special aura of sacredness and will be perceived only as a guide to the relevant topic. People try to preserve this sanctity, so Latin, Old Slavonic, or Arabic is used.
Now about the article and the difficulty with translation, I will answer as a Wikipedist. We have a good internal tool in Wikipedia, similar to software products from the category ''Working environment of technical translator''. It's like Trados and so on, but specifically for translating articles between all sections of Wikipedia. By the way, we have more than 300 language sections. The difficulty may be that most of the inhabitants of our planet are accustomed to working in social networks. So you need to reconfigure your brain, get used to a different environment. Wiki is not like social networks, where no one else can correct mistakes you have written.
Many people today blame Wiki for inaccuracy and do not consider it a serious source. In your opinion, what role does Wikipedia play and why it is necessary?
To begin with, I will say that people who criticize Wikipedia are absolutely right in the sense that Wikipedia does not guarantee anything. If you spend as many years as you are on social media, you will understand how Wikipedia works. You can see the original material with one click, what it was and what is became then. If this is not correct, you return the article to its original version with a single click. Usually bad edits, ''vandal'' ones are rolled back quite quickly.
''They started to call me trying to contact me''
What did you feel when you learned that founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales noted your achievements?
It's easier to tell what I felt since then. I have quite an intensive schedule. A huge number of people started to call and try to contact me: to interview me, to invite somewhere for shooting. It started to interfere with my family and professional life and, of course, my hobby. Now I have to sleep less in order to devote my 30 minutes a day to my hobby. What I felt? I am an adult, I am 38 years old, I have been to many places. It's just nice and amazing, there was no signs that this could happen to me. As a simultaneous interpreter I have to concentrate on what a person is saying. At that moment, I had no time to think about something extraneous. It was a little surprising to hear my name.
Was it a surprise to you? At that time, you were simultaneously interpreting into Russian the closing ceremony for non-English-speaking colleagues from different regions of Russia via the Internet.
Yes, it was. The interpretation was on a volunteer basis, free of charge. It was done because we have representatives of the older generation in our country, especially those who are valuable native speakers and contribute to the development of Wikipedia in particular languages. They are not all fluent in English. The younger generation helps them in this.
Is there a cash prize?
I'm not sure, I think no. The wiki-movement occurs around free knowledge. They are created to make knowledge more accessible. If you try to make an encyclopedia for money or under duress, the result like Wiki is impossible to achieve. We accept donations to organize educational events, trainings and competitions in different countries. In the framework of the wiki-movement we have little resources, and we optimize these processes. Around the world, we do a lot through our American Wikimedia Foundation, which serves us. Later, we, the international community of volunteers, tell the Foundation what to do. In connection with disagreements at political level, Russian wikipedistas have had difficulties for many years — the foundation cannot send us money (American political risks), and we cannot receive them (because we cooperate with respected state, public and other organizations, being a foreign agent here is not comme il faut). Those interested can send donations to our Russian non-commercial partnership Wikimedia RU.
Do you know the founder of Wiki personally?
No, and I didn't really want to. I had the opportunity last year, in August. At the expense of the foundation I flew and participated in a conference in the city of Montreal. If I really wanted to talk, I would have approached him and shook hands.
The wiki-movement occurs around the free knowledge. They are created to make knowledge more accessible. If you try to make an encyclopedia for money or under duress, the result like Wiki is impossible to achieve
Do you supervise the Tatar-language section of Wikipedia?
I am one of the ordinary users of the Tatar-language section. I have the right to make changes just like anyone else. Having experience of about 6 years in wiki projects, I already know where the tools are located and periodically review what was made by colleagues, if there are ''vandal'' edits, then I rollback. Just like all my other colleagues, I do my bit. We, all Wikipedists involved in various projects, co-supervise something.