Thoughts on Interpreting: Perception

It hit me recently how true it is that our perceptions and understanding of the world is limited to what we know and have experienced.

At a concert I attended with friends, a 17-year-old who is a senior in high school struck up a conversation with us. When she found out we’re in our mid-to-late twenties, two questions immediately came out of her mouth:
“You don’t look your age!”
“Do you have a real job?”

She could not fathom what it means to be our age, or what people our age do. It boggled her mind.  It was amusing to say the least, but isn’t it true that if I’m a teenager who has not been exposed to young professionals, I wouldn’t understand much what it is like?

Thinking about this brought me back to interpreting. We can’t interpret what we don’t know. We can’t explain cultural differences if we don’t see both sides of the coin. That’s why it is important to be open minded, to take in as much as we can so we are prepared at all times. This will make you a better interpreter. The more you know, the more value you can bring to Limited English Proficient (LEPs) and your clients. Your job as a linguist is not only to bridge communication gaps, but also cultural gaps when the situation arises. Your job is to open people’s eyes to another world with which people are not yet familiar.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can apply little things in our daily lives to our role as interpreters?

Happy interpreting!

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Interpreting: Perception

  1. becomingatranslator says:

    I see a similar issue all the time with people who are native Japanese speakers but grew up in the U.S.

    Even if you move to the States when you are 18, your native language skills are usually not equal to that of a professional adult in your native country. So a lot of people spend so much effort polishing their English, they forget that their native language was never brought up to adult level and they don’t make for very good interpreters. There was a native speaker in my last job who would ask me grammar and kanji questions all the time because she hadn’t lived in her native country since she was 13.

    There have been tons of articles about how important it is to actively study your L1, especially if you live in a country where your L2 is spoken. This is even more true if you stopped studying your L1 at a young age.

    Sorry, maybe a little off topic. Just what your post made me think of.

    • Shenyun Wu says:

      That is such valuable insight and I completely agree with you. I was in Taiwan from age 8-16, but I had to take Chinese courses in college and keep up with my language skills through independent study. I do notice that if I don’t use it, I lose it, so it’s important to keep abreast to the newest trends to my L1.

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