2 Leaders Will Get Simultaneous Translations

Times Staff Writer

Even before they sat down for their first face-to-face meeting, President Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev reached an agreement on one issue--to use simultaneous translation instead of the slower, more cumbersome consecutive translation system during their two days of talks.

In past Soviet-American summits, the participants spoke in Russian or English and then sat idly by while each speaker’s remarks were translated. At this summit, however, the Soviet leader accepted an American proposal to use the system in which translation occurs while each man is talking.

As a result of this seemingly minor procedural change, the amount of discussion the two world leaders can accomplish in a given period of time will be almost doubled. Under the old system, it took eight hours to conduct four hours of conversation because the translations doubled the time required for the meeting.

“It saves time,” explained a Soviet official. “He (Gorbachev) figured there were only two days to spend here, and he wanted to use all of the time productively.”


Under the new arrangements, Reagan and other members of the U.S. delegation will wear earphones to listen to a word-for-word translation of what Gorbachev and other Soviet officials are saying. Similarly, the men from Moscow will get a simultaneous Russian version of everything said by the President and his advisers.

Used in August

This same method was followed when Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze met in Helsinki last August to make pre-summit preparations.

When Shultz met with Gorbachev in Moscow two weeks ago, the conventional method, known as consecutive or sequential translation, was employed. As a result, their four-hour meeting boiled down to only two hours of discussion with the remainder of the time devoted to translation.


Reagan does not speak Russian, but Gorbachev is reported to have a good understanding of English.

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass), who met Gorbachev earlier in the year in Moscow, said in an interview Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America”:

” . . . One of the things we have to watch out for, the President does, (is that Gorbachev) . . . understands English, and while he doesn’t speak it that fluently, he spoke English with me; and all the time during the translation, Russian into English, he often times would correct the translator. So he knew exactly what he was saying in English.”

Gromyko’s Insistence


Former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, who is fluent in English, insisted on consecutive translation during his formal meetings with American officials. His adversaries believed that he wanted the extra time consumed by the interpreters to plan what he was going to say next.

The American translators at the summit will be Dmitri Zarechak and William Krimer, both experienced Russian-speaking interpreters for the State Department.

Gorbachev, in fact, seems to admire Zarechak, who was the American interpreter for a delegation of U.S. senators who saw the Soviet leader last summer.

At that time, in fact, when the Soviet interpreter seemed to be having a little difficulty, Gorbachev reportedly remarked, “Maybe Dmitri can help you out.”