My Job as an Interpreter Has Kept Me Alive!

My Job as an Interpreter Has Kept Me Alive!


Even if we keep our cool and keep our concentration to interpret and deliver the two different languages and cultures, with all it takes to work with our Code of Ethics and our Book of Standards to protect us, we are still human beings.

We have to interpret without omitting, without mistakes, without alterations, without our personal opinion, without our personal emotions, without editing. We interpret with the knowledge of different dialects and different meanings of the same target words, always paying attention to the context in which the language is interpreted.

Being plainly “transparent,” we have to interpret for dead, pain, fear, disgust, uncertainty, madness, abuse, sexual abuse, deception, confusion, disappointment, melancholy, sexual harassment, insanity, innuendos, remarks, envy, jokes (which are very difficult to deliver in a way that does not change the context or lose too much of the essence!), happiness, joy, lies, misunderstandings, terminal news, good news, and anger.  Even with all the stress involved, we always need to consider the speakers’ meaning and their culture.

With this in mind it goes without saying that we need to be very present in the moment, to be able to catch the real meaning of the words spoken without losing the context. However, we never interpret body language. We just convey the intonation of the spoken words to the best of our abilities, but never gestures or hand movements, although we have to mimic them.  After all we are their mouth, their words, their thoughts, their emotions; it is never our words, never our thoughts, never our mouths, never our emotions. We are just conveying the message.

We have to stay calm to keep our cool, to maintain our concentration, to deliver the communication between the two different cultures, between two or more individuals at the same time. After all, we are the interpreters, we are not the ones suffering, we are not the ones with those emotions; we are not the ones in question.

We are not the focus of attention; we are not the ones speaking. Patients speak “through us,” we enable communication between two languages, between two or more people.  We are not caregivers.  Not that we ever pretend to be the doctor, the nurse, the therapist, the priest. We are only the bridge of communication. We are the observers of the situation, always ready to deliver the spoken words, never guessing, never judging.

We are and have to be the “pillar of balance” for the two different cultures.  We are the “pillar of balance,” so as not to let our own human emotions take over and to be able to just walk away and say: Hope you feel better, hope everything works out, and hope you will be here tomorrow.  Or, there is nothing we can do, we did all we can, the baby will not survive, if the health care provider chooses to say that, with a smile or an inexpressive smile.

We must keep our balance, not only physical but most importantly, mental.  Our minds, our intellects, must be pristine and free of stress; we have to create an invisible barrier but at the same time keep our humanity and our sense of deep understanding of the human suffering in the medical field.

I have to interpret all that even if I have tears inside my heart! This is why my job has kept me alive.

Sandy Maloney

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