How not to be an interpreter
The truth is we tend to tell and guide younger professionals on how to become a translator or how to become an interpreter. There is a plethora of events, courses, webinars and seminars on what to do. It seems we rarely tell them what not to do. So here it is.
A few days ago, I was well into a legal interpreting assignment when someone interrupted the proceedings, and introduced themselves as the "interpreter". For a second I got very confused. I was the interpreter and I was already there, and we had already started. "On no. Double-booking", I thought. For the first time, in my 13 years of working in this industry, I find myself in such position. But that wasn't the issue.
I was shocked. Not by the fact that there was a double-booking, but by the person standing in front of me and my client, presenting themselves as an "interpreter". A significantly older person, dressed in what resembled someone homeless, carrying a few plastic supermarket bags.
And indeed, let us bypass the physical aspect and focus on more material matters such as that of being at least 15 minutes late for an appointment, not having given prior notice about being late, or having apologised and interrupting a legal proceeding that was already well underway. And yes, I do understand, we can all be late once or twice. It can happen. Wouldn't you call? I have been late myself, of course. It has happened to me. We cannot control everything. But I called, and I run, and I kept sending everyone updates. And I sweat and my heart rate spiked at 150bpm because being late is simply bad! The person standing in front of me was not only cool as a cucumber but also demanding and unapologetic.
And while some may feel that the issue of age may be unfair, it is worth highlighting that this is a job that requires both physical and mental stamina. It requires travelling, memorising, being alert, being 100% focused, organised and so much more. And yes, physical appearance may for some also be of lower significance, however, this was not a matter of good or bad style. This was a matter of an objectively unprofessional appearance. A physical presentation that belonged nowhere, let alone a legal meeting!
When asked to show proof of an email or other communication confirming the booking, the "interpreter" failed to because they did not have a smartphone. That was their response. OK. Let's ignore that too. If you don't have a smartphone, I don't see your briefcase either. I don't see your bag. I don't see your notepad and pen. I don't see a printed confirmation of your job sheet. So, I understand you have your ways and don't want to have a smartphone, so surely you should have the things we once carried when we didn't have smartphones and tablets, meaning paper!? So how are you actually going to do the job? Without any resources? No printed glossary, no tool to run a quick search in case you get stuck? How are you going to note important details? I was so puzzled.
And while I am in no position to know whether this other "interpreter" was booked or not, I do know what I saw. And I to this date, remain shocked, but mostly, I remain disappointed and angry.
Because now I know. I know and I understand my clients. I understand why my profession has a bad rep. I understand why my clients think I am a superhero when I think I am only "just" doing my job. But am I this good at it because the rest are so bad? No, absolutely not. I simply do not want to believe that. It must be, and it has to be, only an isolated incident, or so I hope.
But how sad, how angering. How dare you call yourself an "interpreter" and show up in this way? How can you be late, and rude? How can you create such an uncomfortable situation for all those involved? How do you have the courage to interrupt the appointment in order to clarify your position to ensure you get paid? Get paid for what?
So, dear clients, on behalf of my profession, I apologise if this is the service you have received. I apologise if a "colleague" has caused you so much stress and threatened you and bullied you.
This, was not an "interpreter". And while I know and I have seen that yes, they are trained, they are certified, they are registered, this is not the professional conduct professional, registered interpreters are bound by.
Dear colleagues, please, let us do better, as we are only harming ourselves.
And dear professional associations, we must do better in regulating the conduct of members.
We ought it to ourselves, to our profession, and to future generations.
If we cannot conduct ourselves to the highest of standards, why should we expect the equivalent treatment from our clients?
I refuse to operate in a profession where this can be allowed.
Because none of this was acceptable.
Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English, Greek and French herself and has a team of trusted colleagues who can cover other languages. The offered language services serve mainly the legal, creative, and psychometrics industries. Vasiliki is a Chartered Linguist, member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and Panhellenic Association of Greek Translators (PEM). She is registered with the Greek Consulate in the United Kingdom as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English Language and Linguistics and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Steering Group Member of the CIOL Translating Division (CIOL TD) and CIOL Business, Professions and Government Division (CIOL BPG). She is an Associate Lecturer in Legal Translation at London Metropolitan University teaching Legal Translation, Translation for International Organisations, Linguistics, Translation Theory and Strategy. She is a public speaker and writer for industry magazines. Her mission is to help organisations and individuals achieve their goals through the power of words. Through The Translators Mentor, Vasiliki helps aspiring or young translators to overcome self-limiting believes, build a business mindset and achieve their highest potential.You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.