Impostorism in the Language Industry

Have you ever asked yourself:

Did I transmit the speaker’s tone accurately? Was it my fault that the two parties did not arrive at an agreement? Did I introduce vagueness or confusion into the message or text?

Have you ever researched a term for which you already know the most fitting translation, but cannot escape the feeling that it came to you too easily to be correct? Have you ever felt like an impostor?

There is so much emphasis on accuracy and exactness that both interpreters and translators may feel like impostors when they come across a term or concept they do not understand, or when they are not quite sure whether or not the word or phrase they chose is the best option. Whether we are new to the industry or have years of experience, the need to achieve perfection leads interpreters and translators to question whether their skills are adequate. This is something that affects many professionals and has been coined as impostorism or impostor syndrome.

Have you ever…

Leary, M. R., Patton, K., Orlando, A., & Funk, W. W. (2000). The impostor phenomenon: Self-perceptions, reflected appraisals, and interpersonal strategies. Journal of Personality, 68, 725-756

One key moment in my career when I felt like an impostor was while completing my graduate studies in translation and interpretation. Before submitting a translation, I found my self reviewing it more than once, making corrections and edits each time. I never felt that my translation was truly ready to undergo close review by a colleague with a lot more experience. While interpreting in the booth, I found myself hesitating before interpreting common concepts, thinking that I must have misunderstood because there is no way it could be that simple.

Even language professional who do not feel like impostors may be treated as such. As language professionals, we are tasked with not only transmitting information from one language to another, but often carry the burden of ensuring positive results. If the results are not those desired by those who authored the message, they may suspect that the interpreter’s influence may have led to the undesired outcome. Even when the results are those desired, our skills may be questioned by interlocutors with limited language skills.

Impostorism or impostor syndrome is dangerous for language professionals as the quality of our output—in my opinion—is heavily reliant on our confidence.

Impostorism-impostor syndrome-dangerous-language-professionals

What can we do to overcome impostorism
and feelings of inadequacy?

Prepare – A component of most professional standards or codes of ethics is professional development, which also happens to be one of the best ways of overcoming impostorism and feelings of inadequacy. Professional Development can be achieved through formal workshops to enhance specific skills. However, formal training is not always necessary. Staying abreast of the latest news can be fundamental in our ability to understand references to current events in the texts or conversations we are tasked with transmitting into another language. Reading well written articles, journals, and books can also help us increase our vocabulary, quickly identify appropriate collocations, and enhance the overall flow and accuracy of our translations and interpretations.

Please share about times where you have felt like or were treated like an impostor and how you overcame those feelings in the comments below.

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