As Rebekah Valek walks into her European History class, something grabs her classmate’s attention. They believe it’s her tall, slender figure or her dark auburn hair. Little do they know, the soft-spoken girl is quite a chatter box, just in another language.
Croatian and English have always come easily and readily to Valek because of a global influence of an American mom and a Croatian dad. Today, she takes her bi-lingual talents and broadcasts them all over the world by interpreting for General Conference.
This upcoming conference marks her 4th time interpreting since coming to BYU in fall 2008. She was sought out by an elderly native Croatian couple looking for more people to participate in General Conference interpretation.
“It’s alot of fun,” Valek said about interpreting. “The people there are really fun, and we always do a good job.”
The Croatian department is one of the smaller languages consisting of four or five people per session, making Valek’s native talent much more valuable. The interpretation begins a week before General Conference for Valek, at the Relief Society Broadcast where she and her understaffed department interpret for the Mormon population back in Croatia. Within her department, it consists of return missionaries from Croatia, and native speakers like herself. One of the other native translators includes, Katarina Jambresic, a Croat that lives in New York, but flies in for every conference to interpret.
“The most rewarding part is using your talents to bring the words of the living prophets to the people you love.” Jambresic said. “It is also a great privilege to be among others who are dedicating time to this service and occasionally meet an apostle or another general authority that comes to visit.”
Although rewarding in the long run, General Conference doesn’t come without stress. Valek says usually she’ll get the talk translated in Croatian a couple of days before Conference, where she’ll have time to practice. But there have been times where she hasn’t received the transcript until 10 minutes beforehand. After a quick glance, she’ll be up to the microphone, interpreting for hundreds abroad, including her dad.
“I’m pretty confident at those times,” Valek said. “I’ll scan through it, and then I’m alright.” The interpretation process requires Valek to have the written Croatian in front of her and read it, while listening to the speaker and making sure it matches up.
Her colleague Jambresic agrees that Valek’s upbringing helps her stay calm during what would seem like a stressful situation.
“Becky is nice and punctual.” Jambresic said. “She mostly stays quiet while concentrating on the work at hand and delivers a superb performance.”
Valek was born in Orem and raised and educated half way around the world in Zagreb, Croatia. By the age of three, she was exposed to English at home and Croatian at school. Because Valek loved to read at a young age, her mother believes it was that what attributed to her high writing and grammar skills in English. Being bi- or tri-lingual is a necessity for people living in a small Slavic country, like Croatia.
“Most people over there speak two languages in addition to Croatian,” Bonnie Valek, Rebekah”s mom said. “Most know German and English along with Croatia. In order to do business with the rest of Europe they need to know other languages.”
This was true with Valek’s father, a Croatian citizen and speaker who also knows Italian and English —which is vital to his international business. Rebekah Valek is the oldest of five, and along with her brother David, have had the opportunity to study and grow up in a foreign country and language. As such, being both fluent in English and Croatian is not enough to satisfy the language enthusiast. Since at BYU, Valek is majoring in European Studies with a double minor in Hebrew and German.
“I’m double minoring in German and Hebrew because I want to be fluent pretty soon,” Valek said. Valek is interested in learning other languages once she masters the one she is currently studying.
“Becky has a gift for languages, she picked them up rather easily and has had an interest in them,” Bonnie said. “If she had a choice at school, she would be a professional student of languages.”
Once she graduates in a year and a half, Valek hopes to return to Europe and either go to an international law school or continue with interpreting.
“I just don’t know if there is a Croatian translating job market out there,” Valek joked. “I’m debating between two ideas, but I know for sure I want to have a career in Europe.”
Valek was also recently invited by the BYU Law School to translate for a Bosnian official that will speak in a conference in the coming month. But unlike General Conference, Valek will have to translate on the spot, rather than read the already translated speech. It will be a challenge that Valek is ready to face.