I speak English. You speak English. Why do we need her?

September 30, 2019


Yes, one of the parties said that to the other party, in front of me, about me.

Of course, it’d be rude to say it behind my back, but right to my face?

Let me give you the background. The very individual who mentioned the above, called me to interpret for them in a legal setting. They needed to sign a few legal documents in a language they didn’t speak, read, or understand. That language was not English.


I was there to facilitate the process and help them get the job done. Many times, however, private individuals, law professionals and civil servants get so annoyed they have to engage an interpreter, they start resenting the interpreter during the process. 


Simply because “we are in England” and “everyone speaks English” some are quick to make the role of interpreters redundant. They consider interpreters an inconvenience rather than a partner.

This is a complex issue caused by several different reasons. The public does not understand the role of interpreters, the skills involved, and the hard work that goes behind the scenes. They probably had their fair share of bad experiences with “interpreters” too.


The other issue, of course, is the fact that many don’t believe that someone should be paid just because they speak a couple of languages. After all, we all speak at least one. So what’s so special about it? Again, this is connected to the erroneous belief that interpreters simply speak languages which is, of course true, but speaking languages is not the only skill of interpreters. 

Going back to my situation, the individual was getting frustrated because they hadn’t brought all the required documents to complete the process. Several pieces of evidence were incomplete or missing and the longer it was taking, the more I was costing them.


In the end, they had to reschedule and because I was already paid for the job —given I booked my day for them, studied the material, prepared for the case, incurred travel cost and spent 4 hours away from my desk— they had to re-book me and re-pay me.


Well, that’s not your fault, I hear you say. Yes, correct, but that is never a good or empathetic argument. Isn’t empathy, however, appropriate when you’re being treated with decency and respect? 

In the end, they did re-book me and they did re-pay me and the job was done. It ends up, this particular individual didn’t know how to write their name in any of the languages they claimed they knew, not even in their mother tongue. I doubt they could have understood the contents of complex, legal documents, let alone confirm their contents and sign them without the presence of an expert. 


After the process was completed, they were incredibly grateful for my work, expertise and professionalism which they expressed in writing a few days later.

In my experience, it is often those who need you the most that fail to see you as the solution to their problem. Interpreters can often find themselves in confrontational situations and the reason most of the times has nothing to do with the interpreter.


Interpreters are a third party, a mediator, so it is far easier to shoot the messenger. Remembering this, and having the confidence and knowledge that I could assist this person in ways they hadn't yet understood, helped me remain calm and able to perform my duties.


Shouldn't all professionals be afforded the basic human decency to simply do their job?


Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and founder of Greek to Me Translations. She works with English and Greek and specialises in legal, marketing, and psychometrics. She is a Chartered Linguist, member of CIoLITI and PEM and she is registered with the Greek Embassy as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She sits the Steering Group for the CIOL Translating and the Business, Professions and Government Divisions. Her mission is to help you achieve your goals through the power of words. You can follow her on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.





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