By Yana Schottenstein
A career in interpretation is intensive, challenging work. The work is fast-paced and you have to constantly review complex jargon, especially if you interpret in specialized fields like healthcare or litigation.
Although interpretation in the university classroom can look very different from interpretation in a corporate architecture firm, at the core of the business, there are a few skills that all professional interpreters will necessarily pick up over the years.
Impartiality is perhaps the most crucial part of professional interpreting. You act as a conduit between two parties having a conversation, and you have to remain professionally detached from the dialogue.
This isn’t an easy skill to pick up. An interpreter may work in emotionally draining environments, including hospital wards and family courts. As an interpreter, you quickly learn how to keep your body language and tone consistent.
It’s important to remember that although you can (and will) feel empathy toward the clients you work with, the best way you can help everyone is by remaining an unfiltered, unbiased channel for communication.
Interpreters are lucky because we get to work in virtually any field we want. If you have an interest in niche fields like social services or law enforcement, there’s a good chance you can find an interpretation opportunity in specialized fields.
Technical fields do require interpreters to be fluent in their jargon in multiple languages, so you go through specialized training to learn the lingo. On top of technical jargon, you may also have to know the slight localized differences.
For example, in American family court, a divorce petition in the state of California is called a complaint for divorce in Ohio. As an interpreter, you may surprise yourself when you’re watching a crime show in your career language and can recognize all the forensics jargon!
You might not think that there is a lot of partnership in the interpretation field, but in truth, most interpreters work in pairs! Interpretation requires razor-sharp focus for hours at a time, and understandably this is no easy task for one person.
Interpreters often work with at least one other colleague and switch off every half hour. In the UN, a six-language meeting requires 14 interpreters! Chinese and Arabic interpreters work in threes, because they communicate from and into the language.
Interpretation partners must be familiar with one another’s speaking style and terminology. For example, you and your partner should agree to use the word ‘syringe’ instead of ‘needle’, to lessen confusion for clients.
As an interpreter, you are expected to be 100% focused throughout a conversation. Even if a client raises their voice or is mumbling almost inaudibly, you have to be able to communicate what they are saying as quickly as possible.
You learn very quickly how to understand even the most quiet of mumbles, and you soon become a pro at interpreting casual slang into multiple languages. If you are unfamiliar with a word, you have to be able to quickly use context clues to figure out what the client is saying.
Needless to say, a day on the job can be mentally exhausting, but nothing is more satisfying than wrapping up a long, complicated conversation and knowing that you were able to pass the message along and help cross the language barrier!
Yana Schottenstein, the founder of Access 2 Interpreters, contributed content to this article. Yana is a recipient of the International Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and is dedicated to providing equal opportunity and access to services for non-English speaking communities. Access 2 Interpreters is a leading translation and interpretation company in Columbus.
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