“But can’t my friend or family member just interpret for me?”
With almost one in five people living in the US reporting they speak another language besides English at home,1 it makes sense we are seeing an increased need for interpretation services across every industry. However, when interpretation services aren’t made available, the burden often falls on the shoulders of friends and family members…with mixed results. In fact, prior to pursuing interpretation as a profession, several Propio linguists mention this is quite a common occurrence.
Frankie, who serves as both a Lead Recruiter for Propio and as a seasoned interpreter for Spanish and Italian, recalls feeling very uneasy when he would be put in the position of interpreting for family members before he was professionally trained. He even felt he might end up getting that person in trouble if he misunderstood what was being said. Frankie also recalled the many times he saw people having trouble with their cars, or at pharmacies picking up medication, or other urgent situations in medical or legal settings in which they struggled with English. He says, “this made me feel not only sad, but frustrated. English was always a struggle for me, but seeing others struggle even more was a complete culture shock and reality check as to what being a non-English-speaking immigrant was like…and still is to this day.”
But when we asked Frankie if his job as a professional interpreter is rewarding and fulfilling, he said,
“I would say it’s more soul-filling. There is no better feeling as a non-native English speaker, child of immigrants, first-generation-born-in-the-USA, and a person of color, than to walk away from an assignment knowing that you did what many times no one could do for your loved ones; and that you might’ve just made a difference by helping communicate accurately and effectively when they needed it the most.”
The biggest interpretation mistakes made by friends/family members.
In addition to being “soul-filling,” Frankie appreciates the massive difference his training and his years of experience interpreting have made on the service he provides. When thinking back to the time before he was trained, he recalls one of the biggest mistakes you can make in interpreting for friends or family members not having any objectivity and the decisions you make as a result. He says, “when you see those you love struggle, your urge to help is great, but that can blind you. Things like the lack of knowledge of medical terminology or how to ask a provider to explain something in different terms so that you can better render the message to the non-English speaker could escalate into a life-threatening mistake. Or you might feel embarrassed to say things that might be seen as too personal, or you might want to protect someone’s feelings by trying to ‘soften the blow’ of bad news when it comes to someone you have a personal relationship with.”
He goes on to explain that being an interpreter requires you to stay neutral in all situations, and even with this training, it can be emotionally taxing—even when working with complete strangers. Frankie says the “emotional part” of interpretation is the hardest part of his job. He said he has “mastered being ‘neutral and composed’ during renditions, but the aftermath of difficult cases can be very taxing for me. You never know what will touch a fiber of your personal life.”
Biggest lessons learned as a professional interpreter.
Communication is one of the most fundamental human acts. Serving as an interpreter or as a facilitator of communication is a position we hold in high regard because it is critical—critical for day-to-day conversations, for life-changing decisions, for business, for policy, for innovation, and more.
Frankie reminds us that just because interpreters are trained to be impartial, neutral, and accurate, they still feel the impact of their work—because they are humans. Some of the biggest lessons Frankie has learned in providing interpretation services for more than a decade is that he can have a profound impact on someone’s life simply by doing his job and the reverse is just as true.