What Makes an Interpreter?

Our linguists are the lifeblood of our business. It seems like it should go without saying, but without our interpreters and translators, we quite simply wouldn’t exist. It’s important to recognise and appreciate the time and effort that they put in to their jobs, and understand why they do what they do. I asked a few of our translators and interpreters to tell me in their own words, what first sparked their interest in translating and interpreting, and the results were quite fascinating.

Judith, one of our Spanish linguists has been an English teacher since she was a teenager and she became an interpreter to further her love for the English language. According to Judith ‘people say Spanish is a rich language, but for me an English word says much more than its equivalent in Spanish’.

One of our Albanian and Greek interpreters, Jona, wanted a job that was ‘an interesting learning experience but also varies on a daily basis’ after finishing university.

Helton, one of our Portuguese linguist’s first experience of interpreting came from a slightly unexpected source. ‘When I watched the Oscars ceremony for the first time’ he said, ‘and heard a Brazilian women interpreting the ceremony simultaneously, I was absolutely amazed by that.’

We also asked the linguists what they loved about their job. ‘It’s an amazing experience to see you are helping people, defending their rights to know, being with them. They are not alone any more’, said Judith, who referenced one instance when she was leaving an appointment at a hospital and the Spanish speaker told her, ‘when I see you I feel relieved’.

Across the board, whatever the language, the experiences seem to be the same. Holly, one of our Mandarin interpreters, said that it’s ‘rewarding’ to help people ‘who really need it’.

Jona said that providing language support to legal and medical experts has taught her a lot, and that ‘helping vulnerable people in need to solve their medical or legal problems is rewarding, as the language barrier can be frustrating and pose risk to peoples’ physical and mental wellbeing.’ Similarly, Helton said that ‘to hear or see the satisfaction of the clients at the end of an assignment session; knowing that I was their voice and helped them, it’s priceless.’

Rossitza, one of our Bulgarian linguists finds the mechanics of the interpreting especially interesting. ‘I like following the speaker, their voice, their intonation. I like the challenge of finding the correct equivalent of a word or saying immediately.’ Jona also mentioned that ‘apart from the fun of undertaking challenging translation projects, what I really enjoy is the flexibility of working from home or on the go at my own pace.’

Working as an interpreter or translator doesn’t come without it’s challenges though, and asking what the linguists found difficult about their work, Helton said that the life of an interpreter brings ‘new challenges’ every day and that it can sometimes become overwhelming.

Judith’s biggest challenge comes when looking for the exact meaning in a translation, which she describes as both ‘a great responsibility’ and ‘a fascinating mission’.

Jona, similarly, has been challenged when a translation job requires research into terminology and ‘enriching my vocabulary every time I need to deliver a technical translation such as pharmaceutical substances for example or even more simple jobs such as websites, witness statements and certificates.’

The very nature of interpreting can be very challenging as well.

Rossitza points to the challenge of travelling from one booking potentially miles across London for the next one. ‘I think I’ve been to every single train and tube station in and around London at least once’, she said, and ‘the dream of a few bookings in the same place, or even vaguely in the same part of London is not easily achieved either.

That’s when I really appreciate working for an agency I can trust and who trust me.’ Rossitza also pointed to another significant challenge that comes part and parcel of interpreting in particular. ‘I hear and see things I wish I hadn’t and I don’t want to carry that with me, and that’s when my dogs get extra walks,’ she said, and this need for detachment is very important.

Linguists are human after all, and it’s impossible to be entirely objective and detached from a stressful or traumatic situation.

We hope that you find these insights into the process of interpreting and translating as interesting as we do. It’s definitely given us a wider appreciation for the work that goes into becoming a professional linguist, and Judith perhaps summed it up best by saying that during her study for her DPSI qualification, ‘our tutor used to tell us that we are parrots. We must repeat what we hear and that’s it. For me it’s much more than that.’

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