Why Being an Interpreter Made Me Cry

By: Megan Salmon

Image source: BlackEnterprise.com

This is an embarrassing blog after an embarrassing night. Nearing the end of the program, tensions are reaching their peak as we are all living together 24/7 and procrastinating our final projects is no longer an option. Today has been particularly rough for me in comparison to other days in the program, as staying up late to work on our project caused me to be too tired to do a morning workout, thus throwing off my whole day. Furthermore, my social capacity is fading severely and all I want is to be alone in my room for a few hours. Regardless, I assume this is what a peacebuilder must do when completing field work. There is a lot to be done in such a short time frame so I assume there is no room for mental breaks, de-socializing, or any of the comforts that I typically have attending an American university. This is the first reason why being an interpreter made me cry today.

I was really excited about the interpreter session because I love learning languages. I was so engaged with the session that I was even thinking to myself: Maybe at some point in my life I’ll take on this challenge. I love to learn languages, so maybe interpreting could be a side project of mine. Oh how naive I was. I neither knew about nor appreciated the amount of training and dedication it takes to be an interpreter, which is all in addition to all the training and dedication it takes just to simply learn the language. When we were asked who speaks Spanish?, I easily rose my hand because I do. In fact, I would call myself proficient in the language. I started learning Spanish at age fourteen and have been taking full-immersion classes in Spanish all throughout college. I can very effectively understand and communicate. (This is me trying to save my pride). Of course, I had a lot of reservations with interpreting Spanish, and was certainly anything but confident, but I still felt like I could communicate the interpretation to some degree.

This was a grave mistake. I ran off of the assumption that Diana would go sentence-by-sentence and I would be able to translate the sentences without having to worry to much about remembering what she said. Instead, she made her entire opening statement before I even realized it was happening. Why wouldn’t she? As an interpreting, it is not a part of my job to slow her down. She should speak like she normally would. At this point I was so flustered that I wasn’t paying enough attention to what she was saying to remember the vast majority of it. I took a hard guess at the main point of her opening statement, and began mentally strategizing for the second translation.

I decided to write a direct translation of her words for the second try, so as to not forget anything. This was, again, another horrible approach. Writing the entire sentence took entirely too long and again I wasn’t paying enough attention to what Diana was saying to interpret it. I caught a few words in my notes and tried to use my best inferencing skills to fill in the blanks. I was later informed that my inferences were again, severely wrong.

Interpreting English into Spanish as it was being spoken to me was a sensory overload. I did not have the skills to listen and speak at the exact same time, not to mention when people began talking over each other, including Diana, my own client. All of the confusion stemming from trying to interpret the English live clouded my judgement and completely stressed me out so that I couldn’t focus on anything except what a horrible interpreter I was. Attempting to interpret Diana became entirely futile and I felt like I had really done her dirty. I am not really a sad crier… but I am a frustrated crier. So there came the waterworks, and come they did.

I have a newfound appreciate for interpreters and their place in peacebuilding. Conflicts are already extremely stressful situations to handle, as is interpreting, causing an intensity of stress that I cannot even fathom. I don’t really know what to take from this experience. Maybe it was good practice of my language skills. Maybe it was good practice working in high-stress situations. But maybe, and I think this may be my primary takeaway, it was a sign that I should never pursue interpreting.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.