Ewandro Magalhães: The Brazilian who’s helping revolutionize multilingual communication in the world

Ewandro Magalhaes has worked in major international summits on four continents and was for seven years the chief interpreter of a United Nations agency in Geneva.

Ewandro Magalhães

Ewandro Magalhães was once the voice of the Dalai Lama and of world leaders such as Obama, George W. Bush, Fernando Henrique, Lula, Dilma and dozens of other heads of state. He interpreted in major international summits on four continents and was for seven years the chief interpreter of a United Nations agency in Geneva. He is the author of "The Language Game: Inspiration & Insight for Interpreters" and “Sua Majestade, o Intérprete”, a bibliographic work of reference on the craft of interpreting in the Portuguese-speaking world. Since leaving Brazil in 2007, he has lived in California, Washington, D.C., and Geneva, before settling in New York. He is the author of two viral animated TED videos and has two TEDx talks under his belt. In January 2017, he joined another two visionaries and founded KUDO, a revolutionary startup that enables remote simultaneous interpretation. He speaks Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish fluently, and has professional working proficiency of German and Italian. He and Wilmenia, his wife of 30 years, have three children, Raiana, Beatrice, and Daniel and a six-year-old grandson, Lou. Here’s my exclusive interview with Ewandro Magalhaes:

Ewandro, your universe revolves around languages. Is it interest, career or passion?

All the above, really. The interest arose early on, influenced by my father, who in his effort to learn English showed me that it was possible to learn it too. The passion gradually grew in me until it became an obsession. And the career came consequently.

Translating was, most likely, one of the first occupations of our ancestors. The act of translating, either formally or informally, must be as old as the emergence of languages. But it seems that simultaneous translation as we understand it today only came into existence after the Second World War. What are the reasons for this?

Translation is probably the second oldest profession in the world (laughs). But for the longest time, it was a low-tech occupation done face-to-face, within the limits of earshot. In most cases, it was done consecutively, with speakers and interpreters taking turns. Very time-consuming.

At the end of the Second World War, the Allies brought to justice high-ranking Nazi officers accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. It was important that the trial proceed as quickly as possible. Because no legal provisions existed anywhere to address such heinous crimes. There was the risk that the Nazis, being masters of propaganda, could turn the tide in their favor, and picture themselves as the victims of a victor’s charade.

A more agile system was needed and for the first time in history we had the technology to allow it. And so, at the Nuremberg trials, a system was devised that allowed translation to be delivered simultaneously.