In the Service of Others: How I Became an Interpreter

By April 12, 2018 August 29th, 2018 For Language Professionals, General, Interpreting

“I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”

– Dalai Lama XIV


Gabriela Martinez

Language Professional

Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, my story of how I became an interpreter is unusual. It felt as if I was on the right path to becoming a doctor and helping others when unexpected medical problems and surgical interventions changed the direction of my life. However, my interpreter career did not begin when I left medical school; it began at about the same time as my first medical symptoms. At first, I considered my work as an interpreter was temporary. Fifteen years later, I know that is not the case. At the time, working as an interpreter was my only and best option. The flexibility it provided was ideal for my condition, and it also provided a way to stay connected to the medical field. Unfortunately, I saw my job as “only an interpreter” and believed I was wasting my potential and medical knowledge. But a couple of years ago my perspective on life changed completely and I understood that interpreters do more than simply “interpret.”

Community Interpreting 

I have had an opportunity to exercise empathy and understanding while interpreting at PPM (Permanency Plan Meetings). In these meetings, parents, foster parents, caseworkers, supervisors, kinship workers, attorneys, and other staff members get together to discuss the progress of the case. At times, there is disagreement and contention between the 5 people present. To enhance the quality of the service I have developed addition skills in other interpreting modes that help me better facilitate communication in this particular setting.

Healthcare/medical Interpreting 

Healthcare or Medical interpreting also gives us an opportunity to bridge cultural gaps, and act in adherence to our ethical code and standards of practice to ensure the patients we interpret for are on more equal footing to their English-speaking counterparts. In this setting, I have also had an opportunity to further develop certain skill and knowledge domains to improve the quality of my services.

Administrative Hearings 

In my new career as an interpreter, I have also had the opportunity to provide services at administrative hearings, especially those related to on-the-job injury claims. These hearing introduced new terminology and skill requirements. In an effort to better prepare for this setting, I ask attorneys for Benefit Review Conference reports (BRC) before the hearing and share the knowledge I have acquired with fellow interpreters to help them in their efforts to improve.

Albert Einstein once said “Strive not to be a success, but to be of value. It doesn’t matter whether we are successful doctors, lawyers, or interpreters, we each bring value to the encounters we participate in, and the people we serve. 

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