Case Study 4: The interpreting must go on

As a freelance interpreter, I go to different places and work with different people every day. The types of interpreting assignments vary too–from international conferences or seminars with hundreds of attendees to a one-on-one meeting.

I have interpreted for high-profile politicians and other people whose names are well-known.

But, when it comes to unforgettable moments in my career, the ones I remember most vividly are not necessarily with those high-profile individuals.

The jobs that stand out in my mind are the ones where I had to deliver bad news: a conference call where an HR staffer told an employee that his salary was being reduced (see Case Study 1), a town-hall meeting at a factory where the company’s (non-Japanese) president announced the closure of that very factory–I saw some workers crying in the audience–and a one-on-one meeting/investigation with team members because there had been a dispute within the organization.

When I was starting out as a novice interpreter, I didn’t like delivering bad news because it felt so uncomfortable. But over time, I have come to realize that that is the moment of truth–when the value of an interpreter is being tested–and that is when I really have to put aside my own feelings. In those situations, I am simply conveying what is being said so that the lines of communication are clear; what I feel doesn’t matter.

This is hard because I have to ignore my own feelings, which goes against my natural instincts as a human. But, in the end, this is a key skill for an interpreter—to accurately convey information without getting emotionally involved in the business transaction.