Of course, it was all wrong. Which I knew but was forgetting during the moment of listening to the report on NPR about this "translator." But, see, he's not a translator. He's an interpreter. A translator is someone that works with documents. As wikipedia puts it:
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature.[The bold print is mine.]
It was surprising to me that NPR made such a fundamental mistake, but, then, I'm sure most people would never even think about thinking that it could be wrong, because we, culturally, use the idea of translation incorrectly all the time. And that's where it gets even more complicated, because many languages don't make a distinction between the two: it is all "translation." But, here in the USA, we do make a distinction, and it's for rather important reasons, which I will get to in a moment. One other note, when interpreting, it is always "interpreting" or "interpreter;" it is never "interpretation," because that means something entirely different and is more related to translating, which we'll also get to in a moment.
I do have one friend who became an interpreter. She was fascinated with Japan and had decided by our senior year that she wanted to be an interpreter. She went on to get a degree in Japanese cultural studies (or something like that) and graduated from college with a (very) high paying job for some corporation in Japan.
I mention that because my impression is that people think that interpreting is difficult while translating is fairly easy and straightforward. That anyone who knows two languages well enough can sit down and translate, but acting as an interpreter requires much more command of both languages. And, while it's true that interpreting is no easy job, especially high level interpreting (especially high level interpreting like for the UN or the State Department), most of what I found leans toward interpreting as being the easier of the two because it doesn't involve so much interpretation. [See, I told you these word distinctions are important. Okay, so I didn't explicitly say that, but I implied it.]
But why interpretation? Because languages don't always translate directly. There may not be an equivalent words between two languages. Or, as is the case with "interpreting" and "translating," one language may make a distinction in meaning when using a particular word. Or there may be phrases that mean a particular thing, but the individual words, if translated, won't add up to the meaning of the phrase. OR... Or it may be an artistic work, like a poem or a work of fiction, and the translator becomes tasked with evoking more than just the meaning of the individual words. (S)he must make an interpretation of the work as (s)he translates.
Yes, it's all very complicated.
So, then, how do you become a translator?
Well, to start, you have to have a more than competent grasp of both languages you're working with but an even greater grasp of the language you are translating into. But it doesn't stop with knowing the languages; you also have to be versed in both cultures. Remember that I mentioned phrases that mean something other than the individual words mean? And, then, there's slang, which is often difficult to keep up with within your own language. [When my brother was still in high school (he's six years younger than me), he used to love to use whatever the latest slang was on me, because I never knew what he was talking about. Seriously, it was weeks before I knew what "Baby's got back" meant.] Translating just the words in those circumstances will lead to a bad translation even though the words are technically correct. This is called knowing the difference between when to "metaphrase" (translating the words literally) and "paraphrase" (translating the meaning of the phrase, creating an interpretation of what the author meant). [In other words, "she has a big butt," which I found offensive just on general principal once I knew what my brother was saying.]
You should also be familiar with the subject matter, so translating, say, The Three Musketeers by Dumas, would require you to know both about Alexandre Dumas and 19th century France and 17th century France, which is when the story is set.
All of that aside, the role of the translator is actually growing, right now, as the Internet reaches more and more of the world. Computer translation devices can do no more than translate the individual words, which can lead to a very many misunderstandings, so the demand for people who can translate web pages is on the rise. It probably doesn't require quite as much dedication as manuscript translation does and could also provide good experience for anyone wanting to get into manuscript translation.
And, now, I'm wondering how my books must read in other languages when translated solely by Amazon's computer translators...