7 things you might never have known about interpreting

A couple of months ago, I was asked by Rainy London Translations to write an article about interpreting. Just to share my knowledge and practical experience with readers - below are a few informative and funny things you probably don't know about unless you work in the field. 

1. Interpreting and translation are different
Ever heard someone say "So and so doesn't speak the language, we'll need a translator at the meeting"? If a professional’s helping at a meeting, they’re interpreting – if they’re dealing with a written text, they’re translating. Simple as that. Translation refers to the written word and interpreting the spoken word. You’ll find professional linguists who do both but translation and interpreting require different skills.

2. Interpreters don't always work on their own
Although simultaneous interpreting generally involves time spent in a booth, consecutive interpreting usually takes place out and about with the client and is much more interactive. Sometimes more than one interpreter is required (e.g. long shifts, multiple languages). A recent assignment involved a trip to a power station to interpret for a French team, and I was pleased to find that I already knew the other interpreter on the job. We shared notes and insights and it was a friendly and productive experience.

3. Interpreting is partly about what interpreters know ...
Research and preparation are key in preparing well for an assignment and can feel a bit like a ‘crash course’. You always end up with far more notes than you could possibly need on the day. I’ve learnt about a bizarre mix of topics – from whisky, golf and medical conditions to sustainable energy, HR and Western movies. After assignments you tend to make space for new terminology and don't remember everything you've had to learn but in the days leading up to an assignment, you’re definitely the best expert around!
... but mostly about what they don’t
Interpreting is for those who enjoy getting out of their comfort zone. Nobody wants to hear an interpreter say: “Don’t ask me, I’m just the interpreter here”. It’s often essential to adapt to the circumstances and context of a job, and sometimes to think outside the box – e.g. getting the client somewhere quickly, identifying the best contact for a particular query or even getting equipment fixed. If you’re the only one who speaks the language, you’re going to be the one everybody turns to for help. Also, you might be prepared but there’s still no guarantee you’ll only have to deal with the language you know. On the day of the assignment, you call on your expertise and skills, expect the unexpected and hope for the best! The most nerve-racking experience for me was interpreting for a famous French actor at Edinburgh’s International Film Festival, in front of an audience including bilingual friends.

4. There's no such thing as a free lunch for interpreters
Before an assignment, interpreters are sometimes told: “Your presence will be required over lunch/dinner. It’s at a nice restaurant/hotel and, obviously, the meal will be free”. For an interpreter that means “I won’t be getting time to eat”. Joking aside, clients sometimes have to be reminded that interpreters eat like the rest of us. When people who don’t share a language have spent the day together, it’s only natural for them to want to chat over food. That’s when the interpreter – exhausted and hungry after a shift – has to interpret conversations all happening at the same time, explain menus and help with other cultural things. 

5.  Interpreting takes you places
Interpreting comes with a lot of travelling. I’ve explored parts of West Yorkshire I’d never otherwise have been to, traveled round Scotland including the Isle of Skye and know the inside of more courts, surgeries and public service buildings than most people. I find being both a translator and an interpreter a great balance because interpreting assignments give you the chance to work away from your desk.

6. You know when a job starts but rarely when it ends
I remember once being called by an agency in urgent need of somebody to interpret at a client-solicitor meeting (4 hours later). They assured me it would be a 2-3 hours’ job and I would be done that evening. Next thing I knew, everyone at that meeting had found my presence extremely helpful and I was asked to attend the whole court proceedings. The trial lasted 3 weeks and I ended up putting a lot of assignments on hold. This really shows you can never know how long you’re going to be needed for. Interpreters who are available and flexible are pretty popular.

7. The funniest things can happen on an interpreting assignment

The funniest thing that happened to me was definitely getting kicked out of a site because the French film crew I was interpreting for started asking ridiculous questions about the Loch Ness monster. Then having dinner in a haunted castle with the actors debating over the best way to pretend they were barbecuing Nessie during the outdoor campfire scene. The whole assignment was pretty surreal – film/TV interpreting is hard work and long hours but very fun!

Why choose me

Professional linguist with 15 years' experience
Translator, teacher & interpreter since 2004
Chartered Member of CIOL
Member of IAPTI

Translation experience
Certified translation of official documents:
- birth/marriage/divorce certificates
- diplomas, transcripts & references
- legal/medical/insurance documents
Academic articles/literary essays
Business/marketing communications
CRM software

Interpreting experience
Court hearings
Medical and work-related
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Arts/cultural events
'Fixer' for French TV

Teaching experience
Language assistant at prestigious Fettes College
Teacher at 4 leading UK universities
- University of Oxford (ongoing)

First degree in English Studies
MSc in Translation Studies
Professional Graduate Diploma In Secondary Education (French & Spanish)