For those of us (I hope it's most of us) that follow our interpreter guidelines; we tend to have minimal to no direct communication with those for whom we interpret. But every now and then, comes the one individual that merely wants to say, "gracias" (thank you). Today was one of those days. I was interpreting for a large-audience event for which there were several speakers presenting. One of which I'm not certain whether she was new to the whole public speaking thing, or just nervous or (sorry to say) just plain bad; but it was SO difficult to follow her. I couldn't hear her, she wouldn't finish her sentences or would jump into an entirely different point and the re-shift back to her original point; just bad to interpret for. Yet my desperation wasn't so much for me, rather, it was for the LEP audience that I felt was going to get nothing out of this (and yes possibly blame it on the interpreter). At least the English-only audience could follow the PowerPoint. She was sort of forced to take a 5 minute intersession (phew!). At which point, one member of the Spanish-speaking audience got up and was heading right towards me (gulp). I had a feeling she was going to tell me something about not understanding or following the message. I asked her if her equipment was working properly and if she could hear me okay. She said yes and the followed it with, "I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for interpreting into a language I understand and for speaking it so clearly. I'm enjoying the event and the information being provided" (insert jaw drop). It felt SO good! I proceeded to thank her and tell her I was being challenged and was feeling rather disappointed with myself and my interpreting ability with this particular speaker. She said, "Well I think God sent me to make sure you knew this because I kept feeling the need to come and tell you this." Then she gave me a hug and walked back to her area (insert heart melt).
Ironically, the Key note speaker came following (let's just call her the new speaker) and guess what his message was about? That's right, you guessed it; the power of words, how words have the power to lift a person or bring them down.
To my fellow interpreters out there, don't beat yourself up. As long as you're speaking from the heart, deliberately wanting to deliver the meaning of your speaker's message so that their message also rings truth and relevance to their non-English speaking audience; you're doing a phenomenal job and thank you for that!
Being a Community Interpreter definitely has no dull moments. Every encounter is very unique. My setting consists of education staff, medical staff, psychologists social workers, therapists, administrators, parents, and students among others. Due to a variety of needs, the modes of interpreting often changes depending on the setting, thus, allowing me to stay sharp on my modes. I take my role very seriously (I'd like to think most professional interpreters do) and it's taken our organization a number of years to change the organizational culture when it comes to language interpreters. We've moved on (for the most part) from, "can you help translate this very quickly?" to "How long would it take to for you to help translate this?" or from, "are you the translator?" to "are you the translator, I mean interpreter?" (insert high-five). Hey, it's the little things that matter most right?
Trained, professional interpreters are slowly but surely beginning to plug their way into community settings and inevitably bringing their training with them. One can only hope that these trained individuals find their way into schools systems so that we may then, collectively, begin to bring awareness of the profession and its importance within our educational systems. If you are currently in a school district that still continues to be challenged by understanding the difference between a bilingual employee and an interpreter; I encourage you to take part in a community interpreter training and begin to have honest conversations to help raise the bar in your organization.