Interpretation can be a challenging but rewarding field of work. Many of our interpreters work with us part-time, on top of their other responsibilities, such as parenting, or classes. Others, like Christopher, plan on making a full-fledged career out of the interpreting profession. Although Christopher has only been with us for a few months, he has already established a reputation as one of our hardest-working and most ambitious interpreters. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about how his time with Access is helping him work toward his future goals. Check out what he had to say:
Q: How did you learn about Access, and why did you choose to work with us?
A: I already knew about the company through my mother, who already had been working for Access as an interpreter since September 2016. First and foremost, I thought it would be a great avenue to get into the linguistic field. I really like languages. I’ve had a strong interest in languages since I was a kid, but I didn’t know how to get into a profession where I could use them actively. Straight out of high school, things were rough, and even though I was consistently working (in great positions too!), I would not have been able to keep it up my entire life. In the midst of this chaos, my mother made the suggestion that I should go to Spain for a year and learn the language thoroughly, and then I could become an interpreter. So, I went to Spain for seven and a half months, where I lived with family, and really focused on learning the language, as well as field specific terms, just to be an interpreter, and so far, it’s been working out much better than anything else.
Q: Is there a history of working in language services in your family?
A: Almost none of my family actually lives in the United States. Most of them live in Israel, Spain, or France. Working in language services is something that’s specific to my immediate family, but it stems from a history of exposure to other languages, and a simple need to communicate.
Q: Were you raised bilingually?
A: Not at home, but my siblings and I would go back and forth between Spain, France, and Israel every summer as children. My extended family there may have been able to speak a little English, but mainly spoke Spanish, French, Arabic, and Hebrew. So, as I just stated about my family, there’s just been a long history of exposure to languages, and spending extended periods of time around them definitely gave me a strong exposure to and attraction towards languages.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the field, and what strategies do you use to overcome them?
A: For me, the diversity of assignments can be a little challenging. Not necessarily the diversity in itself, but more so the fast-paced switching of gears mentally when getting out of one assignment and jumping right into a completely different situation immediately after. You could be finishing up a simple school assessment one second and find yourself rushing to the emergency room to talk about something really serious the next, and you have to have all that vocabulary on-hand, to use at a moment’s notice.
Additionally, you could go into a situation that may seem completely routine and easy but then turns immediately into something extremely serious, or even great. You could encounter Drugs, abuse, life expectancy issues, or even, on the other end, things such as deliveries, getting to tell people for the first time about their child, or delivering great surgery results. Those are the things that make the job extremely difficult, yet what make the job more than worth it.
For me, the best strategy to be sure that I’m always ready for anything is constant preparation: Constantly drilling myself and expanding my vocabulary, so that eventually the words that I only have to deal with occasionally now become second nature. That definitely helps with simultaneous interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation takes a certain mindset. There’s no time to process, it almost becomes automatic, like you enter a different level of consciousness, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m talking, because you have to focus on everything else being said in the room, and you can’t break that focus to search for words. Really, just training yourself and reviewing new words every day and night goes a long way.
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to become an interpreter?
A: Make sure that not only you really understand your languages, but that you also understand other people’s language. By that I mean, sure, you need to constantly study and know your terms, but it’s more than that. You need to portray things according to individuals and the setting you’re in. You become the voice of whoever you’re interpreting for, and really understanding that person goes a long way toward accurately conveying their language. The challenging part about this is that you have to deduce all of that only having had a moment’s interaction with a person. You have to understand everything from the language to the culture from that small interaction, and it is absolutely essential that you do understand the culture to interpret effectively.
Most of your experience with this comes from the field. Besides that, constant training is really the most effective method of preparation for becoming an interpreter, and even after you become an interpreter, it’s an ongoing process. You’re always in a constant state of learning and training, which never really ends. That is one of the things I love most about being an interpreter. Language is one of the things where you can constantly get better at and learn things about, even in your native tongue. It’s how you become a better interpreter.
Q: What are your long-term goals for working in interpretation?
A: Well first, I want to become medically certified. There are great resources to get one started and completed with certifications. I, after that, want to get legal certification, in order to diversify my experiences. These are shorter term goals though.
Eventually, I want to get involved in UN interpreting, but for now that’s further down the road. UN Interpreting is a fairly specific niche, but it is top of the line. The hardest, most elite, and on point interpreting is done at the UN. The interpretation which takes place there could literally start wars if not executed correctly. While the cases there may not always involve extremely delicate topics, the consistency and accuracy necessary remains the same. That’s what I want to push myself to do.
To me, interpretation is an ongoing process of self-improvement, and being able to diversify the work I do now and get more experience across different fields is just a step toward achieving my larger goals later on.
Q: What are some of the most valuable skills you have learned so far during your time with access?
A: Like I said, I studied specifically for this, to become an interpreter. But even after that, there is a jump from being fluent in a language, to using it for interpretation. There is a major shift toward being accurate in the time frame given. That’s something you can only practice and get better at in the field. I, of course, was already fluent before starting with Access, but after starting, things just changed. When I lived in Spain, people would talk to me in Spanish or English, and I would always just reply in Spanish by default. Even then, since starting with Access, my comfort with the language has grown immensely.
Q: Do you have any other final commentary you would like to share?
A: I just want to say, I’m enthusiastic about interpreting. Even if I work all day and all night, I would never say “I hate my job”. I would say that interpreting is easy, but hard. I get paid to talk to people. It’s awesome! I love to talk to people. As an interpreter, you have to be on top of it all the time. It’s tough. There can be no hesitation. But this is what I love to do. Although you can’t get very personal with people, I get the opportunity to meet people all the time with different experiences. Being able to touch different cultures, it’s one of the best things about interpreting.
Christopher isn’t joking about working all day and all night either! He is one of our most active interpreters, and often volunteers to take emergency assignments overnight and during the weekends. Working as a freelance contractor gives our interpreters the flexibility to work as much or little as they want. If you are inspired by Christopher’s story, and are interested in joining our team of interpreters, please head over to our “Interpreter Application” page and submit the form so we can get you in to the office for an interview session!