I love moments like these; saying goodbye to one year and starting a new one… I always hope and plan to build my career that much bigger, that must faster each new year. I dread going back to work, but I also look forward to my first call to active duty; the first conference of the year.

Still, as we all do, I tend to spend the last few days of each year reflecting upon the trials and tribulations of the year gone by. I like to look at the high points and the low points and have a good laugh at myself.

If you’re not a linguist, you might want to stop reading now, the rest of this post is likely to be little more than gibberish to you.

If you are an interpreter, like me, the professional highs and lows can be quite unlike those experienced in any other profession. If you work in the English booth, in an English-speaking country, you’ll definitely be able to sympathise with me. Keep reading to see if you can relate to any of these emblematic moments…

1. When someone corrects you about your job title.

– “What do you do?”

– “I’m a conference interpreter.”

– “Huh?”

– “I help people who speak different languages to understand each other at meetings.”

– “Ohhhhh! You mean you’re a translator!”


2. When a delegate attempts to schmooze with you during the coffee break and you spend the entire time listening to their accent /cadence and DREADING the inevitable moment when they take the floor.

3. When the Spanish delegate takes the floor and decides to speak English, so you (a native English-speaker with Spanish B) have to interpret into Spanish for his countrymen.

4. When there’s an interpreter in the movie or TV Show you’re watching and you get excited. Finally, some recognition! It’s tough to always work in the shadows. Finally, the general public will understand what we do! We’ll get the credit we deserve for our amazing skill and mental agility!

Then the TV-interpreter proceeds to speak five different languages from the same booth; falls in love with a delegate; accidentally overhears some incriminating gossip in an obscure language; engages in a covert, coded conversation with someone in the room while pretending to be working and then proceeds to save the lives of hundreds of children in a forgotten village in the Amazon. All through the power of language. Then, you remember that TV is… well… TV. And they will never understand. πŸ™

5. When you’ve been in the booth all day and there’s a lull as delegates attempt to find their PowerPoint presentations, but your partner has left his mic on… and you’ve spent the last 5 minutes needing to sneeze…

Mic Etiquette: If nobody in the room is speaking and you are not required to speak, you can (and should) switch your mic off!

6. When the British delegate who luuurrrves languages is being interpreted into French… And he’s kept his headset on (tuned to the French channel) throughout his presentation… and he keeps pausing his speech to let the interpreter finish her sentences. So she ends up doing consecutive interpretation from the booth.

7. When nobody understands what relay means… So they think you’re either superhuman or reeallllly sloooooowww. [click the link above, then scroll down a bit if you want to find out what it is]

Folks – I don’t speak Russian. I don’t know if the Russian delegate really just compared the proposal to chocolate ice-cream. That’s what I heard from the French booth so that’s what I’ll tell you in English. Don’t shoot the messenger.

8. When the chairman gently reminds delegates that their presentations must be no longer than 5 minutes, but the current presenter has 58 slides left.

What do you do? The only thing you can do; take a deep breath and hold on to your seat as words fly at you like bullets from a machine gun… because nobody in the world knows what it means to summarise!

9. When, the day after the conference ends, someone asks what it was about and you don’t even have to think about confidentiality because you honestly don’t remember.

Or worse; when the conference was about transmissible diseases and for an entire month afterwards you bathe in hand sanitizer, sleep under insecticide-treated mosquito nets, refuse to take public transport and spray lysol on everything you touch because you can literally see pathogens EVERYWHERE.

10. When a friend assumes that you will provide your services for free, despite the fact that they know you practically killed yourself to get where you are and you also have bills to pay.

Even better… when the service they are actually requesting is translation, not interpreting… and you usually only take translation jobs when your bank balance leaves you absolutely no other option. *sigh*

It is not – I repeat – NOT the same thing!

11. When you believe that you speak four languages, but your friends tell strangers that you speak “like, eight languages”… and they are so convinced of it that you almost believe it yourself.

12. When someone calls to hire you for a job, and you start to walk them through the process, but even though you’re just talking on the phone, you can hear the thud of their jaw hitting the floor after you tell them how much you cost.

13. When you are soooooo happy that you actually received the chairman’s speech in advance so you could prepare for it. Then, he takes the floor and says everything EXCEPT what was in the document you painstakingly prepared.

Even better; when you’re actually next to him at the podium holding his ‘speech’ in your hands – intending to interpret it consecutively. Then, when he shows his mad ad-libbing skills you realise that you can’t actually take any notes, what with the useless speech in your hands and the awkwardness of trying to write on a single sheet of paper… while standing… with no handy-dandy table around.

14. When most of the delegates are English-Speaking and most of the meeting is conducted in English, so when Sylvain (the one French-speaking delegate) takes the floor, delegates aren’t prepared to put on their headsets (which aren’t tuned to the right channel anyway).

After a brief, unnecessarily awkward moment, they all decide that Marcie, the rapporteur (who speaks some French) should just explain to them what they missed in Sylvain’s speech. Thereby making your presence and the work you’ve just done completely irrelevant. Not to mention that Marcie’s French is great but her interpreting leaves much to be desired. :/

15. When delegates refuse to share their presentations beforehand because they don’t want to divulge the greatest mysteries of the universe… although they’ll divulge them quite happily later that same day.

Then you discover that the amazing secret presentation is full of obscure acronyms and technical terms that they really should have shared with you beforehand… for their own good.

16. When the delegate whose murder you may or may not have been planning (whose speech was most difficult to interpret) comes up to you at the end of the day and tells you what a magnificent job you’ve done!

“You’re welcome sir! I was only doing my job… Oh and BTW… I forgive you! ;)”

There you go! Sixteen situations that I’m determined to laugh about in 2016.

This year has been awesome… but I’m not sorry to see the back of it!

I wish you all a pleasant and prosperous 2016. May you have learned the lessons of 2015Β  and may you be stronger, better and happier for them!



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