Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia

Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia


Translation and interpretation are communication skills that a person acquires through involvement in actual translation and interpretation work. One who knows two or more languages is not necessarily a good translator or interpreter, because not only linguistic issues, but other communicative and cultural aspects are also involved. Accordingly, a translator or interpreter always faces linguistic and non-linguistic challenges in performing a job if they come to it unprepared. However, once these barriers are successfully overcome, the translator or interpreter will play a critical role in, and give a significant contribution to, the communication between the parties involved.


I have been working since 2002 both as a translator and as an interpreter for BP, an oil and gas company based in London, since the early phase of its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Tangguh Project located at one of the remote areas of Papua Province, in the eastern part of Indonesia. My responsibilities include accompanying my manager to meetings with the villagers around the construction site classified as directly affected villages, having conversations with community members or government agencies coming to the office or via telephone, translating incoming Indonesian letters and e-mails, proposals, and other written documents, and translating outgoing English letters and documents to be sent out to the Indonesian employees of the same department, communities or local governments either as a response or as a new message from the Project.

  • Roles of Translation and Interpretation The only national language in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia while English is taught at all levels of education as a foreign language. Accordingly, every international company, government organization, non-governmental organization, etc always needs a translator or an interpreter to ensure that the intended message is channeled through appropriately, clearly, and naturally.

The top management and the field managers of the LNG Tangguh Project plant are facing a language barrier in communicating with the local government authorities, the local communities, the local contractors, and other local stakeholders related to the Project and vice versa. Translation and Interpretation are the only twin keys to overcome this communication barrier. Therefore, BP A&D Resettlement Manager proposed a translation service collaboration with the Language Center at Cenderawasih University from 2000 to 2002, and with Papua State University from 2002 to 2005. During these years I have played a few roles that I would like to share with translators and interpreters elsewhere in the field.

      1. Translators and interpreters play a crucial role in mediating between two parties, helping them reach an agreement.

The Project’s message was that they needed the site then occupied by the villagers as a construction site. To convince the community to move from their current village required a series of long comprehensive discussions and exchanges of letters with the villagers, the land right owners, the local government, and other relevant stakeholders. The Resettlement team, in which I was working both as a translator and as an interpreter, spent nine months to reach a mutual agreement under which the community and the land right owners were willing to release the site against a reasonable compensation from the Project. Between the 29th of June and the 4th of July 2004 the community was successfully relocated after the Project built housing, public facilities and utilities as a part of compensation from the Project to the community following the World Bank’s standards.

      1. The translator and interpreter play a crucial role in reducing the emotional tensions during a dialogue and in written communications.

To reduce the emotional tension during a dialogue I used three strategies: (1) avoiding offensive utterances; (2) talking in a normal tone; (3) pausing during the interpretation process. During the nine months of negotiation some hot debates occurred at the meetings and in the written exchanges. In some tense occasions the emotional villagers who opposed the Project’s community development programs would stand up and use harsh and offensive language. In such a situation I always used these strategies: (a) I would explain to my manager what the villagers said avoiding offensive words. This kept the emotional stability of the manager in responding to the complaints. This was also applied in responding to the villagers when the offensive statements came from the manager; (b) either talking to the manager or talking to a villager, I would always use a normal tone of voice to prevent emotions from taking over; (c) the emotional tension of both the manager and the villagers would be reduced when I did not interpret sentence by sentence as I always did but summarized what was said after a minute or so. This pause is a very critical period for reducing a high emotional tension. This also happened in the case of some written documents where I would paraphrase without omitting the real meaning to reduce an emotional tension that might occur if such documents were translated verbatim.

      1. The translator plays a crucial role in editing written documents in the source language before translating them into the target language.

Incoming letters, e-mails, proposals, and other written documents from different stakeholders of the Project written in Indonesian require a translation. This is a must because the message from each document has to be understood by the manager before providing a response. We all know that some writers are better than others. Those with lesser writing skills make a translator spend much time to determine the intended meaning in the source language before reconstructing the same meaning using the appropriate grammatical structure and the cultural context of the target language. This is a time-consuming work because a translator has to reword, add, omit, and rearrange a particular document which is full of redundant words, ambiguous statements, incoherent paragraphs, and other linguistic and non-linguistic aspects

      1. The translator is a writer.

Note that translation is a process of transferring a meaning, not form, from the source language into the target language. A translator plays a role as a writer when s/he starts reconstructing similar meaning from the source language using the appropriate lexicon, grammatical structure, figurative speech, style, cultural context, and other linguistic and non-linguistic elements of the target language and combining them in a good piece of writing. S/he always has a particular audience in mind when writing the message; for example, when I was translating a message from the Project to the villagers I had to make sure that the language I was using was comprehensible by the villagers because of their educational level and the interference of their local language. In addition, I had to draw up minutes of the meetings with different stakeholders on each occasion. I developed each paragraph from the main points noted down during the meetings, and at the same time I recalled what each speaker had said to make my writing well-understood. I also had to find out other relevant references to ensure that my writing made good sense. So, a translator is also a writer because s/he presents a piece of meaningful writing that can be read by the intended audience. S/he devotes all the skills and the knowledge to produce a piece of writing that brings the message to the readers.

    1. The interpreter is a speaker.

An interpreter is not purely channeling a message from one language to another one, but, s/he is also a skilled speaker. Apart from the linguistic skill an interpreter acquires, I learned that public speaking skills were also important in doing interpretation in front of a big gathering. The following aspects were very effective in either talking to a particular individual or talking to a big gathering: (1) voice. At a big gathering I always made sure that my voice was heard clearly by a person sitting in the back of the village hall meeting room when there was no loudspeaker available. I raised my voice when the room was noisy due to the hot debate or when each people, particularly in the back rows, talked to each other without paying too much attention to what was being said; (2) eye-contact. This was important to assure the audience that I was telling them exactly what my manager said. By looking at the audience I could also tell from their eyes or their faces that I had to retell or exaggerate the message I had just passed on; (3) self-confidence. When speaking to the different audience with a different social background or speaking in front of the audience either on an informal or on a very formal occasion, an interpreter must keep his/her own self-confidence. This is important to keep one’s emotions and mind stable before and while doing an interpretation work. A beginner interpreter usually loses self-confidence when standing or sitting in front of a big gathering because of what is known as ’stage fever.’

  • Contributions of Translation and Interpretation Work Translation and interpretation work made a significant contribution to the Project, the government, the community, the contractors, and other relevant stakeholders. Below are four of the countless contributions of the translation and interpretation work:
    1. A Product Sharing Agreement between Petamina (National Oil Company) and BP. There was negotiation between the upper managements of both companies to reach such an agreement produced in Indonesian and translated into English.
    2. Environmental Impact Analysis Report concerning the construction and operation of the Project. URS was a foreign agency conducting joint comprehensive research with the local university on the nine directly affected villages. The report was first produced in English and then translated into Indonesian.
    3. A Resettlement Agreement between Tanah Merah Community and BP. All items in this agreement were discussed in two languages during a nine-month negotiation; the final draft was drawn up in English and translated into Indonesian.
    4. National and Provincial Regulations concerning the Project were translated into English as legal documents to assist the legal department of the company in making decisions and commitments.

There have been hundreds of translation and interpretation jobs performed since the beginning of the Project. The latest two visitors to the Project site were Tangguh International Advisory Panel on the 12th of December 2004 and a team of the Asian Development Bank on the 15th of December 2004. Their direct communication with the particular groups and the community members as a whole was fruitful because of the interpretation work performed.

  • Summary BP’s Management has recognized how crucial translation and interpretation work is for the implementation of the LNG Tangguh Project in Indonesia. This recognition was manifested in signing a translation service contract with the local universities. Translation and interpretation work will be needed for as long as the company is present here in Papua, Indonesia.

Both translators and interpreters have similar roles in (a) doing a mediation work between two parties, and (b) facilitating a successful meeting or dialog and/or a written agreement. However, they also play different roles such as the roles of editor and writer for the translator and that of speaker for the interpreter. A translator or an interpreter has particular strategies to ensure that those roles are properly performed.

The translation and interpretation work gives invaluable contributions to the Project and its local, national, and international stakeholders.

© Copyright Translation Journal and the Author 2005

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