If you are bilingual, I’m sure you have had the emotional experience of helping someone needing to communicate. Not long ago, my youngest daughter excitedly approached me and shared, “Daddy, I did my first interpretation job!” My daughter was pulled out of class to interpret for a Spanish-speaking woman at the school reception area. She was able to find out that the lady wanted to enroll her young child in school next year. The lady was directed to the nearby elementary school. Needless to say, the lady and the school reception women were grateful to my daughter. I could see a great sense of pride in my daughter’s eyes in the fact she knew two languages and could help others.
No doubt, many of you have experienced the same joy and thought to yourself, “Hey, I’m good at this! I can do this for a living!” If you are interested in the field of interpretation, I salute you. You deserve to be commended. However, before jumping in, I recommend you take into consideration some necessary information.
1. Naturally skilled bilingual persons do not automatically make interpreters
My oldest daughter has a passion and ear for music. She has two arms and ten fingers; she also plays an instrument. However, the first time she attempted to play the trumpet, a horrible noise came out. Why? She was lacking study and skill. To play an instrument, many, many hours of practice are required. In fact, I endured years of practice sessions before she produced beautiful music. Likewise, naturally skilled bilingual people need to study the profession of interpreting, learn specific terminology, and practice a lot before they can really become proficient at it.
Interpreters often specialize in specific areas requiring knowledge of expert terminology. Medical interpreters must study both common and scientific medical terms. Court interpreters must learn very complicated legal vocabulary. If you choose to interpret in a business setting, you must know the expressions used in that industry. Interpreting is not a profession where you can fake it till you make it. The results of that course of action can be very dangerous.
3. Code of ethics
Many people are drawn to interpreting from a desire to help others. They have strong moral sensibilities. Often, their desire to help others and a natural sense of right and wrong can actually cause them to unknowingly act unethically. For example, a badly injured medical patient might tell his interpreter how he was injured, how the company he works for has mistreated him, how the insurance company initially refused treatment, and how the patient feels that the doctor is on the side of the insurance company. This patient is not proficient in English, doesn’t know the system, and needs help. What good-hearted person wouldn’t feel impelled to help a person in those circumstances? However, the interpreter code of ethics show that interpreters must stay unbiased. Doesn’t that seem like a conflict or even inappropriate? No. The patient has the right to his opinion, feeling he is being mistreated. The interpreter, on the other hand, is not a qualified medical professional or lawyer to make that call, nor was he an eyewitness to the accident and its subsequent case management. Often, with serious injury, patients are in denial of their condition and desperately look for any hope, however unrealistic. How can the interpreter be certain he is absolutely right if he chooses a side? If the interpreter takes a side in the issue, not only will he lose the trust placed in his charge, but also he may be mistaken. The interpreter best serves everyone by remaining neutral. The interpreter repeats all statements to ensure that everyone receives the information as if they heard it in their native language. Unless a person studies the code of ethics and the reasons for them, he could find himself making grave judgment calls and be held liable, all out of a motive to help others.
This article mentions three important factors to consider before working as an interpreter. To learn more about interpretation and translation, visit Monterrey Institute of International Studies, http://www.miis.edu/admissions/requirements/translationinterpretation/prepare, follow the link to the Carolina Association of Translators and Interpreters website, http://www.catiweb.org/become-a-member/benefits/. Also, locally, Greenville Tech offers an excellent medical interpretation class https://aceweb.gvltec.edu/CourseStatus.awp?&course=141BOC65301D which prepares student for national certification; click on the links for more information.