Can anybody be an interpreter?
A couple of months ago I had a high-level interpreting assignment. Everything went smoothly and the head of delegation told me he was very happy with my services. Nothing really special about that, just another day in the life of an interpreter.
A couple of days ago they contacted me again, because there will be another important meeting, requiring the services of an interpreter. I was very pleased to have another returning customer – until the contact person asked me to teach her interpreting in private lessons. Her boss, who was the head of delegation, thought it would be a good idea to have a “multi-purpose” employee who could step in as an interpreter. At first I was appaled – I thought it showed a lack of respect for the interpreting profession. As if anyone could become an interpreter in no time. Who cares that interpreting is something people study at university level for years. Who cares that a good interpreter has to work on a regular basis, to keep up with the demands of the job.
But then, I calmed down and realised there was no bad intention on the part of the client.
For, if you’re doing a good job as an interpreter everything seems easy as if no effort went into the task at hand. You take your notes, you can easily read them, you look at your client, don’t hesitate and speak with a clear confident voice. Easy – anybody can do that, what could possibly be difficult in this job. All it takes is to speak two languages and have a notepad.
Or, you’re not doing a good job, you don’t know how to take notes, you have a hard time remembering what was said if the intervention was longer than one or two sentences, you make grammar and content mistakes and mumble instead of speaking clearly. Well, anybody CAN do that. It’s easy to be a lousy interpreter.
It seems interpreters can’t win. Either we’re too good for our own good, or we have to suffer because of all those who aren’t good enough and damage the reputation of the entire profession.
What makes a good interpreter anyway?