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Being an interpreter

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What is it like to come to a meeting or a conference, an international one? In Paris? After one fought the way through budget restrictions, found a slot in one’s workload and schedule. Into the meeting room you come and… The one and only common denominator is that all around you are professionals, but they speak different languages…

This is when an interpreter’s typical working day begins. Being an interpreter is a demanding job; it takes skill, discipline and hard work. If you take your job seriously and if you are passionate about it, then dealing with difficult or emotional situations is a small price to pay. You do your best to maintain professionalism, “keep calm and carry on”.

Most of the meeting participants wouldn’t know how we look but, interestingly, they remember the voices: “the calm gentleman”, “the other emotional lady” or “the speedy one”… And a round of applause goes to good, proper Chairmanship, the one that truly understands just how much depends on the interpreters’ team work, a Chair that structures discussions and keeps the speakers’ pace in check.

Interpreters’ job is one that offers a vast spectrum of truly interesting topics, but it is also highly stressful (some compare stress levels to ATCOs). So, to some extent, regular meetings on similar subjects and fairly stable “participation list” is comforting. Participants can put a face to the voice and we get to hear “thank you, job well done” and – equally important- we get to ask questions. We learn constantly and, dare I say, the world outside the booth realizes ours is hard work requires and true skill.

All this is to say that we are not outsiders, interpreters are part of the whole event and an integral part too.


This article was originally written for the ICAO EUR/NAT Office’s Newsletter (Issue 1) on May 2017. A full list of their newsletters can be found here

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