I bet we all get them.
Sometimes they’re frustrating. Sometimes even fun. But in 99% of cases, when to the question “So what do you do?” we say “Well, I am an interpreter…”, we face a blank stare.
What on earth is an interpreter?
“So you’re an actor! Great!” Well, the job is great and there are a lot of points of contact between interpreting and acting but no curtain call. I work with languages. Eg,, here we see a Spanish host completely confused about who an interpreter is.
“So, how many languages do you speak?” Any number below 8 will cause us to be looked at with utter disappointment. It’s great to learn more languages, I would love to speak them all, but here we talk quality, not quantity.
“You studied English at University, then!” Not really. I studied conference interpreting, which is another cattle of fish.
“Conference interpreting? Does that even exist? I thought anyone who knew more than one language could do… whatever it is that you do”. A conference interpreting course DOES exist and believe me, it is tough. Amazing, but tough.
“Oh, now I see! You’re like Nicole Kidman in that movie, right?” I am no Nicole Kidman, unfortunately, but we are getting there.
Except is quite unlikely to have English interpreted into an obscure African language at the UN and interpreters don’t receive that many death threats. The perks of the real world, I guess.
After these questions, though, there is still a big, unsolved dilemma. What does an interpreter do?
We are called all sort of alternative names: translators, bridges, links…and those give you the idea of what the job is about. But I believe we are first and foremost, communication experts.
We need to express what people really, really mean, translating their words but also picking up all vocal and non-verbal cues. We are there to establish a connection between people who would otherwise not be able to interact with each other. We give voice to people who would otherwise not be heard. We are similar to a megaphone, because words and intentions need to come out of our mouths loud and clear.
To others our job might sound odd and not be so well known; we might feel a bit underrated sometimes, but we are lucky enough to do something that is challenging and incredible at the same time. If the rest of the world doesn’t know what an interpreter does, we will be thrilled and proud to show them.
What is the funniest, oddest or simply best thing you have been told about being an interpreter? I am curious to know!