Why do you interpret?

By April 10, 2015 October 28th, 2017 For Language Professionals, Interpreting

“A professional values the interests of the client above monetary profit”

This is an important principle for all professionals, including interpreters and translators. It means that our primary concern is to facilitate communication across languages – in written or oral form – while honoring and upholding a set of standards of practice. However, this statement can also lead to more profound questions such as: “Why do you interpret?”

I was recently interviewed by a college student who asked me this very question and I was surprised at how easily I answered it. In fact, the interviewer probably got more than she bargained for out of that question.

I started my career by accident but very quickly developed a love for language and culture the more I learned about it. You could say that my interest in language and culture was my reason for joining the field – at first. As my experience grew, so did my reasons for interpreting. As linguists we each have a different reason for choosing this career. Regardless of what leads us to it, we quickly learn that it truly is a noble profession!

As interpreters and translators we have the power and responsibility to serve people in so many different ways. We are not only responsible for equivocating what is said by each party, but also understanding and communicating the context in which the message is expressed. Sometimes we get to rejoice in other’s triumphs while other times we share their sorrow (see this blog about vicarious trauma). The most recent statistics from the United States Department of Labor show that in 2012, 63,600 people were working as dedicated professional interpreters and translators (that is, interpretation or translation was not a secondary role or function). Future demand for interpreters and translators is projected to increase by 46 percent by 2022, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics defines this as a growth rate that is much faster than average. Our increasingly global population will continue to require professional interpreters, whose motives transcend monetary profit and focus on serving minority and marginalized populations, increasing their access to community and professional services not yet available in their own language.

I was once tasked with translating hand written letters written by children who described how an adult touched them. I was in the process of refusing the assignment when a colleague explained to me that if everyone refuses to translate these letters, the children’s words will never be understood. This gave me a new perspective and the strength to do my job to the best of my ability.

So why do I interpret? To give victims a voice; to give parents, refugees, and others access to educational information that will help them navigate a new system; and to save lives.  Why do you?