Becoming a professional interpreter - your personal trajectory?
Thread poster: veratek

Local time: 13:35
French to English
+ ...
Mar 24, 2014


I don't know that many language interpreters, but I am always curious as to how they became one.

Would you like to briefly share your story? When did you decide to become an interpreter? Were you still in school or was it afterwards? Do you feel interpreting is like learning a musical instrument or learning to play a sport? How was your first professional interpretation experience? Any surprises that you had along the way about the profession?

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Franco Rigoni  Identity Verified
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
First simultaneous interpreting job ... Mar 24, 2014

I remember my first simultaneous interpreting service: the ambassador of Belgium talked about how to help people from the Balcans. I was still at the school for interpreters and translators, I studied a lot before the conference, I was absolutely scared, but it went well. It was such a thrilling experience that I simply wanted to do it again ... well, here I am!

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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:35
Spanish to English
+ ...
Second Generation Mar 24, 2014

My mom was an ASL interpreter for a long time, so it may have been genetic

I started interpreting while I was serving as a missionary in Argentina. I helped with some construction projects there and ended up interpreting and did a little translation as well. My first paid interpreting job was in a call center for a big vehicle financing company. I started as a English - Spanish customer service representative and they moved me to interpreting after a couple of months (without giving me a raise!). That was about 5 years ago and I've been freelancing for the last 3 years.

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:35
Russian to English
+ ...
I think interpreting is like playing a musical instrument, or rather two at the same time Mar 25, 2014

Being bilingual or trilingual helps (meaning close to top fluency in all the languages). Interpreting is usually done both ways, except some conference interperting, so you really need to be able to speak both languages well. Then there are the techniques, speed of speaking, undrstanding the text and the ability to memorize large parts of text--the ability to focus and not to lose your focus, the ability not to panic when you get lost once in a blue moon-- those are very important as well. The attention many conference and other very serious interpreters achieve can only be compared to the level of concentration of a sniper, or a hunting lioness.

If you want to become an interpreter--work on your languages first--to make them almost perfect, in speech, and only then start learning the interpreting techniques: practice at home a lot with the recording equipment, on your own.

[Edited at 2014-03-25 10:25 GMT]

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:35
Member (2008)
Italian to English
My story Mar 25, 2014

I became a professional interpreter by default. As an architect I was running a big project in Italy and nobody else at the table was bilingual, so on top of trying to run the project I also took on all the written and spoken translation jobs (for no extra money!!).

This turned out to be a nightmare because as well as translating everything that was said at meetings, from both languages and into both languages, I was also taking part in the discussions and the decision-making process. I wasn't helped by the fact that many of the people present were smoking cigarettes and (worse) cigars. After a day of this I could hardly speak and my throat felt like sandpaper.

It was worst when everyone decided to have a working lunch/working dinner. I could never actually eat anything because I was still interpreting!

I did this for many years, back in the day when people smoked. (I can't believe anyone still does).

What I learned:

- don't be an unpaid interpreter when your real task is supposed to be taking part in the discussion itself
- always have plenty of drinking water at your elbow
- don't permit anyone to smoke
- have plenty to eat beforehand because you may not get the chance later
- saliva control: you may not even get time to swallow as you switch from one language to the other without ever being able to stop; but do try not to spit on the other people at the table when you switch your vocal pattern and mouth/tongue movements from one language to the other.
- if possible only interpret in one direction, not both, or you may die on the spot.


It was because of all this that I became interested in translation as a profession (in my case, a more lucrative profession than architecture, most of the time)

[Edited at 2014-03-25 10:48 GMT]

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