The Ups and Downs of Being an Interpreter

As with any vocation, being an interpreter has its ups and downs. When you begin to feel frustrated or begin to question the reason you’re on this path or in this position, it’s good to think about the pros and cons.

We all know the pros of being an interpreter. You get to help people using your hard-learned language skills, you get to see the relief on people’s faces when they are able to communicate in their native language in a foreign country. You feel like you are making a difference, that your skills and knowledge are depended upon. For most interpreters, you have the autonomy of setting your own schedule and taking on assignments on an as-needed basis. It is dynamic. No one job is the same and you get to live vicariously through the experiences and emotions of your clients and LEPs (limited English proficiency). You’re always in a learning environment, no matter what assignment you take on.

Of course, there are also cons. The job is highly technical; it isn’t creative. Every rendition you make that deviates from the original will construe the intention of the message. It is high-stress. You need to be able to think on your toes and react quickly in unanticipated situations. There is no point in which your skills will be “enough.” You need to keep on learning, to maintain, and to expand your glossary. You are a freelancer but you aren’t free. You are bound by the code of ethics and the different protocols set by different organizations and agencies you work with, and you must make every effort to stay within your role. It is lonely. Even  though you are interacting with people, you aren’t able to connect with them on a personal basis.

Sometimes it can feel rewarding after an assignment. But other times, it may feel frustrating, whether it’s because of the outcome of the assignment, your self-perceived performance, or because of the amount of effort it takes to get work. You’d start to wonder why you’re even doing this. Is this life of a freelancer, always hunting for the next job, worth it? Is it worth it to always be anticipating the unexpected?

Keep going and never give up.

Just keep going. Credit: xdxs.tumblr.com

As with any job, we need to remember why we started in the field or in the role in the first place. We must have chosen it because we thought it was our calling, that it was something we could be good at, that it was something we could enjoy doing while also helping make a difference. We must have thought it would make us happy, or that it could bring job satisfaction. All jobs come with challenges, so we should instead focus on solutions. If you’re an interpreter, remember to take every experience as a learning opportunity, also to continually improve on your skills. You’ll see the outcome soon enough. Also, if you feel like you need someone to talk to, look around for interpreter communities to find others who will understand what you’re going through. You are not alone!

Happy interpreting!

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4 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Being an Interpreter

  1. becomingatranslator says:

    “There is no point in which your skills will be “enough.””
    I love this sentiment. I struggle with it all the time. Just when you think you are “good enough,” you are hit with a word or phrase that you have never heard in your life. Suddenly you feel completely useless. But it drives you to keep trying.

  2. A Writer Inspired says:

    “your self-perceived performance”
    This line struck me because, half the time it’s our own insecurities making us feel like crap at the end of the day. We have to learn how to keep our own feelings in check and evaluate the work. Sometimes you just gotta say: “Did I get someone killed today? No? Well, then it was a good day!”

    • Shenyun Wu says:

      Thank you for your thoughts! You’re so right that it is often our critical self that makes us feel like we’re not performing well-enough. It’s good to be critical, but I think we should also give ourselves more credit. Like you said, it should be a good day if we didn’t kill someone. 🙂

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