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Interpreting “In Flanders Fields” and Other Medical Anecdotes

Published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter, October 2019, pages 10 and 11.

Since I began working as a peripatetic health care interpreter in the B.C. lower mainland, I have experienced not only situations I was prepared for, i.e. appointments that go pretty much as planned, but also some challenges. For this type of job, apart from excellent language skills (including an ability to adjust to dialects) and a thorough understanding and knowledge of medical vocabulary, one also has to be extremely flexible.

Health care interpreting opportunities vary widely. I have interpreted mere hours after birth and probably a few hours before death (other people's births and deaths, mind you, not my own). I have worked in some psych wards behind protective glass or standing between security guards and in others walking freely among patients. I have been seated in swank palliative care suites with marvellous views over the city, and in some rather cluttered private homes. I have assisted communication in schools between social workers and children during interviews about domestic violence. I have been placed at the foot of a dentist's chair while my client's teeth are being cleaned. I absolutely love the variety - of venue, of subject matter, and of people.

I was a young 20-something, a recent graduate of UBC with a double major in French and Spanish, when I had my first health care interpreting gig. I accompanied my father, a general practitioner, on a two-week medical and dental mission to Honduras as a volunteer interpreter. As a team, led by North American doctors and student dentists, we would set up improvised clinics at schools in a different town each day. Whenever we arrived at a new place, we would find mums, dads, grannies, granddads and kids from neighbouring villages who had taken the day off work or school to queue up from early morning to dusk waiting to consult with us “gringos” and be cured of real or imaginary ailments that they had accumulated since the last time foreigners like us had come. One volunteer's job was to take the children out of the queues momentarily and dose them with de-worming medicine, while their parents, men and women with bent backs and bowed legs from hard labour in the fields, waited patiently to list their aches and pains and perhaps take away a pill or two, a donated pair of glasses, or some general medical advice.

I can still remember three highlights from that experience: once when we were holding the clinic in a darkened school room (no electricity available), the doctor asked me to aim the flashlight onto a middle-aged woman's private parts so that he could see to do a pelvic exam; on another day, I was there to assist the same young doctor as he removed a mole from a young woman's arm - my first surgical experience as an observer; and on the day I worked with the dentists, an ancient granny begged them to remove almost all of her remaining teeth (about 4 or 5 I think) leaving her with just one central lower incisor. I still remember her smile of pain-free glee - with the glint of that one remaining tooth - after it was all over.

Later that same year, when I returned to Vancouver, I continued volunteering as a linguist and my most memorable experience was interpreting during the 25-hour labour of a 16-year-old Salvadoran refugee. I'll never forget the image (and sensation) of having her bare left foot braced against my chest as I encouraged her (in Spanish) to push. Now forward some thirty years, and I am actually paid for the privilege to interpret. I travel by bus and Skytrain as far north as Garibaldi Highlands, as far south as Crescent Beach, as far west as UBC Hospital and as far east as Eagle Ridge Hospital, including many places in between. I have not witnessed any surgeries or births lately, though I have interpreted during surgery prep and before and after colonoscopy procedures. I also interpreted for a mother a few hours after birth, while the doctors were monitoring her newborn in the ICU.

However, on one occasion, in November 2018 actually, I was asked to interpret for parents whose young adult child was dying of leukemia. It was just before the November 11th weekend and the parents, who had flown to Vancouver from their country especially, knew next to nothing about Canada. They asked what the holiday was all about. This question prompted the doctor to launch into a short history lesson about the First World War, Armistice Day and the Canadian troops' role in it. Then she began quoting John McCrae's “In Flanders' Fields.” Of course, not only was it my duty to interpret the history lesson, but also the poem as the doctor read it off her mobile phone. An unexpected request? Sure! Did I enjoy the challenge? You bet! Incidentally, the doctor used this same cell phone a few minutes later as a means to shed light into her patient's mouth to check for ulcers. Alas, gone are the days when a doctor asks me to hold the flashlight!
Angela Fairbank, M.A., C.T., STIBC-Certified Spanish to English Translator, ATA-Certified French to English Translator, Health Care Interpreter, Spanish <-> English and French <-> English, Registrar, STIBC Board of Directors 2019-2020, Voice Editor 2019-2020.
The above article was reprinted - with some adaptations for an American audience - in the ATA interpreters division blog in December 2019.

The Third Interview of the Interview Series by Angela Fairbank

Published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter, October 2019, pages 4 and 5.
III. An Interview with Alice Joncheray-Honneysett, Sworn Translator and Interpreter specialized in Legal Translations St. Barts, French West Indies

I met Alice Joncheray-Honneysett at the “French Division” table during the first night reception at the American Translators Association's annual conference in New Orleans in October 2018. I felt Alice's experiences would be of interest to this interview series, not only because she represents the Caribbean region, but also because France (and its dominions and territories overseas) has a system of “sworn translators and interpreters,” a concept with which, I believe, most Canadians are unfamiliar.

Alice Joncheray-Honneysett

  1. Translator, Terminologist, Interpreter - which of these three professions do you identify with?

I am a sworn translator and interpreter specializing in the legal field. That is how I usually introduce myself.

2. Please provide a brief synopsis of your education - including language education - and background related to how you came to be a Translator/Interpreter/Terminologist - for example, immersion in foreign countries and culture, university education, mentorship/menteeship, internship, etc.

I originally obtained a French Master's degree in languages and business. I have also studied in several countries such as the US, the UK, Mexico and Puerto Rico. However, thanks to extensive travel and various professional experiences abroad, I developed a special interest in translating.

3. How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

I have been translating and interpreting on a daily basis for about 10 years now. I ran a Language Centre for many years and we were given a lot of translation work, so it is now a full-time job.

4. Are you currently working in-house or as a freelancer? If you have had experience in both types of employment, which do you prefer?

It is sort of both since I translate every day but also manage translations in different languages. I am self-employed but I work with translators and proofreaders when the job requires it. Since I am in charge of several projects at the same time and deadlines are often short, I really enjoy working with other professionals on a regular basis. They are quick and efficient and make me feel safe and confident every time “we” submit a translation.

5. Where do you currently exercise your profession?

For the past 10 years, I have been doing most of my work out of my office in St. Barts in the French West Indies. However, during the Caribbean hurricane season, I now also work from France.

6. Are you certified in your profession? If so, by which certification organization(s) and for how long have you been certified now? If you are certified, once you became certified, did you notice your income increase slightly, moderately or substantially?

I am a French “Traductrice et Interprète assermentée,” meaning a Sworn or Court Translator and Interpreter. In order to justify my position and to stay current, I take several training sessions every year in my profession, in France, online or abroad. I received this certification in 2010, I think, and it definitely helps me get work. It is also the reason why I specialized in the Legal field. I mainly work with lawyers and notaries.

7. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

One of the first jobs I had that got me hooked into the language/translation field was teaching French at the University of Swansea, Wales, right at the time when I was finishing my Master's degree. I was asked to help teach some of the Master's in Translation classes and I really enjoyed it. I was then hired to run the language school in St. Barts, which was supposed to be temporary, because I didn't see it as a “real” job, being on a tropical island. Looking back years later, it is quite amazing to think how much this little job has evolved and taught me.

8. Have there been any particular challenges in your profession that you would like to share with our readers?

I will always remember the long hours and sleepless nights I spent at the beginning of my career, reading the same things over and over, carrying out research on every single word or expression in order to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I still work long hours and have sleepless nights, but I am definitely a lot more confident and efficient!

9. What advice do you have for colleagues who are just starting - or thinking of starting - in the profession today?

Many people without any experience ask me how they can have my job. I try to tell them that it is harder than it looks, but I don't think they understand most of the time. You can't become a translator overnight. It takes excellent writing skills and endless curiosity! I think two of the starting points, apart from a true interest, are education and hard work.

10. Are you a member of a local T&I association in your area? If so, what do you get out of it - e.g. workshops, social events, annual conferences, etc.?

I am a member of the Association des experts de justice de Guadeloupe (Association of sworn experts of Guadeloupe). They organize training sessions for all experts, which I try to attend as often as I can.

The Second of the Interview Series by Angela Fairbank

Published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter, Summer 2019, pages 4, 5 and 6.
II. An Interview with Emanuela Gini, Translator, Conference Interpreter, and AIIC member, from Como, Italy by Angela Fairbank, Emanuela's fellow student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (California)

Emanuela Gini

  1. Translator, Terminologist, Interpreter - which of these three professions do you identify with?

I identify with all of them because they all pertain to my most important working tool: words. In my professional life, words are the “IT-THING.” I find them, take care of them and protect them. I work primarily as an interpreter, but I also translate. I love to write. When I write, I choose words carefully and this improves and expands my vocabulary significantly. I also consider myself a terminologist, because whenever I am asked to interpret at a conference, I collect as much documentation as possible and prepare a detailed glossary of terms. To me, word scouting is one of the most interesting aspects of my work.

2. Please provide a brief synopsis of your education - including language education - and background related to how you came to be a Translator/Interpreter/Terminologist.

I graduated in Translation and Conference Interpreting (English and German) from the University of Trieste. As a Rotary Foundation Scholarship winner, I also attended the Monterey Institute of International Studies (now Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California), where I was awarded a Certificate in Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation EN/IT and IT/EN.

3. How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

I have been working for almost thirty years now.

4. Are you currently working in-house or as a freelancer? If you have had experience in both types of employment, which do you prefer?

When I finished university, I was offered permanent jobs, but I have always been, and am currently, a freelancer. It is very challenging and demanding, because I am faced with difficulties and uncertainties almost daily. However, it forces me to reinvent myself, to discover and learn new things and in so doing, I feel the excitement of stepping out of my comfort zone and testing myself.

5. Where do you currently exercise your profession?

I work primarily in Italy, in the Como/Milan area, but I also travel to neighbouring countries for work.

6. Are you certified in your profession? If so, by which certification organization(s) and for how long have you been certified now?

I'm a member of AIIC, the Geneva-based International Association of Conference Interpreters. I joined AIIC in 2012.

7. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

In my professional life, I have had the chance to meet a very diverse number of people from all walks of life. One of the most enriching and rewarding experiences I ever had was to work at an international conference on the Arctic, where I came across representatives of indigenous populations like Athabaskan, Gwich'in, Inuit, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and Sami.

In general, the conferences I work for deal with a variety of topics, but there are two conference themes I particularly enjoy: philosophy and physics. I was lucky enough to interpret for three directors of CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) and Physics Nobel laureates such as Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Shuji Nakamura, and Martin Chalfie. I have learned how atoms are trapped and how blue LED and green fluorescent proteins were discovered. In addition, for quite a few years now, I have been working at a three-day conference that deals with Plato and Aristotle, matter and anti-matter, pulsars, supernovae and neutron stars, as well as Golem and Bodhisattvas. When I'm there, I lose track of time and space. It's like soaring to new heights and I become so absorbed in what I'm doing that I'm not aware of time passing. This is what I call τελεια ευδαιµονια, or perfect happiness.

8. Have there been any particular challenges in your profession that you would like to share with our readers?

As I mentioned earlier, challenges are a permanent presence in my profession, but there is one I would like to share with your readers. A couple of years ago, a very good friend of mine who owns the Mozart vineyard ( asked me to translate the libretto of Barbatelle, his opera buffa, into English. I had a wonderful time creating that libretto. I came up with an enormous range of vocabulary which I had to put into a rhyming scheme. It felt like I was sculpting words. While I was translating, I realized that so many long-forgotten words and expressions were coming back to me without any effort, just because of the music and of Mozart!

9. What advice do you have for colleagues who are just starting - or thinking of starting - in the profession today?

My advice is very simple: be passionate, curious and humble, be willing to study hard and learn, and be ready to support and share your knowledge with your booth mates. Team spirit is key if you wish to succeed in providing an excellent interpreting service.

Vancouver French and Spanish Certified Translator and Interpreter

Published in Lingostar's blog on May 2, 2019
Lingostar interview

Click on this link for the full interview I gave regarding certified translations to the CEO of Lingostar, one of the translation agencies I work for.

An Introduction to the Interview Series by Angela Fairbank

Published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter, April 2019, pages 6, 7 and 8
Late in 2018, when the STIBC Voice launched an appeal for articles of interest to STIBC members and the community, I began thinking, “What could I write to attract new members to our society, and how then to encourage Associate Members to become CTTIC-certified?” Personally, by being a member of STIBC, I feel acknowledged by the profession as a whole and thought it might be interesting to show how members of our profession elsewhere work. What's the job situation for T&I professionals in other countries? What are their specific challenges? Do they have local T&I associations where they live and work? How do they go about getting certified?

I decided to contact people I had come across both during my education and in my career. I started by writing to three friends on three different continents - one in the USA, one in Italy, and one in Ethiopia - and received enthusiastic answers from all of them. My first idea was to conduct Skype interviews, but in light of the time differences (3, 9, and 11 hours respectively), I decided it would be easier to send them my questions and let them reply at their leisure, in their own way.

Here is the first. Diana Rhudick, President of the New England Translators Association and an ATA-certified French to English and Spanish to English Translator, was a classmate of mine during the two-year Master of Arts in Translation programme at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, now called the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

I. An Interview with Diana Rhudick, M.A., C.T., ATA-Certified French to English and Spanish to English Translator and President of the New England Translators Association by Angela Fairbank.

Diana Rhudick

  1. Translator, Terminologist, Interpreter - which of these three professions do you identify with?

I definitely consider myself a translator. I discovered early on that I wasn't a good interpreter, and terminologist is something I'd never considered.

2. Please provide a brief synopsis of your education - including language education - and background related to how you came to be a Translator/Interpreter/Terminologist. For example, immersion in foreign countries and culture, university education, mentorship, internship, etc.

I wish I could say that my family is half French and half Spanish, and that I grew up in countries all over the world. But the boring truth is that I was born and raised in a monolingual household and attended monolingual schools. However, I've always been fascinated by other cultures, and when I had my first French class at age 13, I knew I wanted a career in languages. This insight led me to attend Middlebury College in Vermont to major in French and Spanish. Then I went to the Monterey Institute in California to get my master's degree in translation. Along the way, I studied in France and Spain for my third year of college, worked as an au pair in Barcelona, attended graduate school in Belgium for a semester--all necessary preparation for my profession.

3. How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

Over 30 years now.

4. Are you currently working in-house or as a freelancer? If you have had experience in both types of employment, which do you prefer?

For most of those 30 years, I've worked as a freelancer, but just last year I took a part-time position as a project manager/translator for a small translation agency. If I had to pick only one, I would definitely choose freelancer. Business offices are not my preferred milieu.

5. Where do you currently practice your profession?

Just north of Boston, Mass. I've moved to a house where I have my own, separate office that I'm quite pleased with.

6. Are you certified in your profession? If so, by which certification organization(s) and for how long have you been certified now? If you are certified, once you became certified, did you notice your income increase slightly, moderately, or substantially?

I am certified in both French and Spanish to English by the American Translators Association. I do get the occasional job through my membership and certification with them, but I think the true benefit of joining an organization is that it shows you are serious about your profession. And the professional interaction is wonderful.

7. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

I have a favorite client (sshhhh!), who gives me very challenging, very interesting work in the advertising field. So it's actually transcreation. One particularly fun job was writing ad copy for a French clothing line that played with expressions containing the word “look.” With this same client, my translation on the history of a modern art museum was published as well.

8. Have there been any particular challenges in your profession that you would like to share with our readers?

One of the hardest aspects of this job for me is accepting criticism of my work. My secret conviction is that we all think we're the best translator in the room, so when an agency sends back my translation edited by someone else, especially when that editor finds actual improved solutions, I have to remind myself it's an opportunity for growth.

9. What advice do you have for colleagues who are just starting - or thinking of starting - in the profession today?

This is a tricky one. Some in our profession are foretelling the End of Days due to the advent of neural machine translation, while others predict that all future translators will in fact just be post-editors of machine translation. The positive ones say there will always be a place for translators who write very well and go beyond what a machine can do. My advice would be to proceed with caution and have a backup plan.

10. Are you a member of a local T&I association in your area? If so, what do you get out of it - e.g., workshops, social events, annual conferences, etc.?

I'm the president of the New England Translators Association. My relationship with the association, spanning decades, has given me regular clients, friendships, learning experiences, opportunities to get involved, and so much more. Not to sound like a paid advocate, but I think it's essential for translators and interpreters to join a local T&I group.

11. Is there anything I missed that you would like to add?

Thank you for the opportunity, and good luck to your organization.

The ATA 59th Annual Conference, New Orleans LA, October 24 - 27, 2018

by Angela Fairbank, Certified Translator (Spanish to English) and published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter, January 2019, pages 4-5
In October 2018, I travelled to New Orleans to attend the 59th conference of the American Translators Association (ATA). As the ATA is much larger than STIBC, I was curious to see how they ran things, and wondered if I could bring back some ideas for our own, smaller, organization. For a bit of background, ATA and the CTTIC - STIBC's umbrella organization - are both members of the International Federation of Translators (known by its French acronym FIT), which now represents 100,000 translators and interpreters in 130 countries on five continents, according to its President, Kevin Quirk of Norway, one of the speakers opening the ATA conference. Now 65 years old, FIT will hold its next conference in Varadero, Cuba in 2020.

According to its president Corinne McKay, the ATA currently has a stable membership of 10,000-plus members worldwide, of whom 83% renew annually. If you live and work in the USA, you become an “active” member once you are certified, whereas if you live and work outside of the USA, you will be a “corresponding” member upon certification. About 1,800 members are currently certified. The ATA holds certification exams several times a year in various parts of the country (and the world), including computer-written exams (bring your own laptop) since 2016. As of 2018, English to Arabic and Chinese to English are now among the 30 exam language combinations offered; 130 certified graders mark about 500 exams a year, of which, on average, only about 20% achieve passing marks. The September/October 2018 issue of the ATA Chronicle, the association's bi-monthly magazine, lists 44 newly-certified members in 13 language combinations. To pass the ATA certification exam, you need to achieve 83% in each text (no more than 17 points deducted). If the markers deduct 18 points or more, you fail. Nevertheless, for each language combination you do pass, you will receive a seal to certify your translations. In comparison, STIBC only issues one seal per person, with no language combination mentioned on it.

In 2018, the cost of each 3-hour exam was only $300, but as of January 1, 2019, this fee was raised to $525! The exam offers three passages of 225-275 words each, all presenting some challenges, of which you must translate only two. All texts are general interest, needing no special dictionaries. The instructions preceding each passage indicate the text's source and purpose of the translation, such as publication or professional use.

ATA59 logo ATA59 badge

The ATA's size means members have more benefits at no extra charge by joining divisions, some language-specific (French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Nordic languages, etc.), others subject-related (education, science & technology, interpretation, literary, medicine, government, etc.) New divisions for law and audiovisual were added in 2018.

Besides the many networking opportunities, perhaps the main reason why people go to the ATA annual conference is the large range of continuing education and learning opportunities available. This year, 375 session proposals were received, then whittled down to 175 for presentation over three days in 1-hour segments, with 15 presentations held simultaneously each hour. Subjects varied widely, as did language concentration and target audience. A colour-coded guide in the conference handbook helped us decide which ones to choose.

In addition to a job fair held by 31 recruitment agencies in two 2-hour evening sessions, a conference-long exhibition took place. Sixty-seven booths were staffed by translation and interpreting agencies, schools offering courses in translation and interpreting, US government agencies, CAT tool software vendors, and interpreting associations such as NAJIT, among others.

ATA board podium ATA59 literature ATA reception

The first day, Wednesday, was an extra “Advanced Skills and Training Day” with morning and afternoon sessions. The more useful of the two courses I took was on how to pass the ATA Spanish into English exam, held by two former instructors from my Alma Mater in California. One of them was ATA-award-winning Holly Mikkelson of Court Interpreting fame, now nearing retirement, and author of several celebrated books and articles on this profession. That evening, a “Buddies Welcome Newbies” session helped first-time ATA-conference-goers like myself meet those who had been to ATA meetings before and get tips on how to make the most of the four days. Following this meetup was a cocktail party that included a free drink and nibbles, with tables set up specifically for meeting people in the various divisions.

The Thursday and Friday mornings started early for attendees lucky enough to be staying at the conference hotel, with Zumba and Stretching classes, as well as a continental breakfast where you could meet the ATA board. Thursday's opening session began with a welcome speech from New Orleans' mayor, then board members were introduced, and we had a general introduction to the ATA. Another general session focused on presenting awards, for school outreach (where members visit schools to talk with the youngest generation of linguists about careers in T&I), for excellence in literary translations, and for outstanding service to the T&I profession. This year the recipient of the ATA's highest honour was a pioneer of simultaneous interpreting born in 1924 who interpreted during the Nuremberg Trials.

I attended five lectures during the Thursday and Friday sessions, ranging from the use of gender-neutral language in France and pitfalls to avoid while subtitling films in Spanish using on-line dictionaries from Spain's Real Academia (Royal Academy), to modern careers available to linguists and how to set freelance translation rates. I also learned a bit about how medical interpreting was arranged in the USA.

horse and carriage man playing tuba Bourbon Streeet sign

On Saturday, however, I could not attend any of the almost 70 presentations on offer as I was busy writing my ATA certification exams. Better to try them now, I figured, than next year, when they will cost almost twice as much (I have just found out that I passed my exam, so am now ATA-certified for French to English!).

For STIBC members interested in attending an ATA conference, the following cities will host the event over the next five years: Palm Springs (2019), Boston (2020), Minneapolis (2021), Los Angeles (2022) and Miami (2023). Perhaps I'll see you at one of them!

Now That I'm a STIBC Associate Member, How Do I Get Work?

by Angela Fairbank, Certified Translator (Spanish to English) and published in the STIBC Voice Newsletter September 2018, page 3
This was my question when I rejoined STIBC after many years away. My multifaceted freelance business constantly evolves, and in September 2017 I decided to make my translation and interpretation work more full-time. I certainly didn't become flooded with work on joining STIBC: no job referrals came from STIBC itself since I wasn't a Certified Member yet. And I didn't expect to write the certification exams until May 2018. So what was I to do in the meantime?

STIBC logo

As one suggestion from STIBC was to apply to become an ICBC Approved Translator/Interpreter, I went to my local driver's licensing office and asked them what they needed besides a copy of my STIBC membership card. They gave me a form to fill out, an ethics code to sign, and asked for copies of my M.A. in Translation (for approval in French) and my Community Interpreting Certificate from VCC (for approval in Spanish). Then I waited for about a month for ICBC to add my name to their on-line approved translators and interpreters list as they only update it periodically. Although they have different translation needs for driver's licences, marriage certificates, driving histories, and so on, it gets easier once you get the hang of it, and when your clients come in person to pick up the translation package, you get to meet them face to face!

ICBC logo

Next, I Googled, then called Vancouver-area translation and interpreting agencies, sending out my CV to any who expressed interest. Truth be told, I was more successful with agencies in the USA and Europe. One agency in Vancouver turned me down flat (despite 35+ years of experience and STIBC and ATA affiliation), saying they only accepted Certified Translators/Interpreters in my language combination.

So, what next? Since I felt comfortable interpreting in health care situations, I sent my CV to the Provincial Language Services (PLS) of the Provincial Health Services Authority and waited. It took a few months to hear from them, as they only recruit when they are short of interpreters. They interviewed me and I had to fill out several forms, in addition to paying for a police check and buying WorkSafe BC insurance. Their contract is extremely long and they have many rules and regulations, but now that I've managed to figure out their system, I have been working pretty steadily for them. They only require that you be available to them for 20 hours a month, so that leaves time to work for other agencies at perhaps slightly higher pay - if you are lucky and good at negotiating!

PHSA logo.jpg

I began attending online free monthly sessions with Through them I heard about the non-profit Abbotsford Community Services' Interpretation & Translation Services (ITS) and DiverseCity in Surrey, and signed up with both of them. Although the pay isn't great in any of these organizations, I've become more familiar with the healthcare system in the Lower Mainland. Working a few hours a week, mostly with new Canadians, is rewarding - people are all very friendly and very grateful for the linguistic help.

ITS logo Diversecity logo

Now, after almost a year, with a mixture of work from these and other interpreting agencies, translation assignments from my long-term contacts in Europe, the USA, and Vancouver, plus direct clients through ICBC, along with the translations I do as a volunteer for Translators Without Borders and other non-profits, I was kept fairly busy while I was awaiting the results of my certification exams.

twb logo

If you've just joined STIBC as an Associate Member and haven't decided what to do next, I hope that these ideas will help you organize your freelancing better until you become certified. Once that happens, doors to more work (and hopefully higher income) should open for you!

Interview with Angela, Interpreter and Translator from French and Spanish to English

This was an interview published online in July 2011, by one of the agencies I work for.

First things first, we would love to learn more about you: why and when did you decide to become a translator/interpreter? Where did the idea stem from, and have you ever considered doing anything else?

I took a course in high school regarding career choices and wrote my final project about those options in which foreign languages (as these were my strongest subjects at school) could be used. Of all the professions I researched, I liked best the idea of becoming a conference interpreter at the United Nations, as it offered the opportunities of a great deal of travel, a good salary, meeting important people who could change the world for the better (by preventing war and promoting peace) and, more importantly, I would be using my language skills to help people communicate with each other. I then planned my university curriculum around obtaining this goal. It involved studies in Vancouver, Quebec, California, Spain, France and the École de Traduction et d'Interprétation in Geneva, Switzerland.

If the language career had not worked out for me, I did have a few back-up options. The first of these was as a classical musician since I studied piano up to the A.R.C.T. (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) performance level. More recently, however, I have added language teaching, editing & proofreading, photography, videography, writing, marketing & sales, website creation & design, tour guiding and other skills to my own company's business package, so as to keep things fresh and stimulating, to exercise different parts of my brain, and to offer a wider range of products and services to my clients.

How different is being a translator/interpreter from what you had expected?

Well, I never made it quite so far as becoming a UN conference interpreter, although I did write the UN translation exam after completing studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California - at the time, the only university in North America that offered a Master's Degree in Conference Interpretation. Moreover, I did contract work for the European Communities for four years so had the chance to experience being part of a large multi-governmental organization. However, I am much happier in my current situation, since, as a freelancer, I own my own company, enjoy traveling for business all around the world and am at liberty to choose when, where and for whom I work. However, interpreting for business meetings can be stressful as I am more often than not the sole interpreter for these assignments that can go on for several days in a row and include interpreting during meals as well as tour guiding!

In your opinion, what is the best way to learn a foreign language? How did you learn your languages?

The first way to learn a foreign language is to be born into it - i.e. to be born to bilingual or multilingual parents or into a community where the language of communication is different from that spoken by your family at home, and consequently to hear both (or more) languages around you constantly from a very young age. Languages are much easier to learn when you are young.

The second way is take courses in the language. I studied French, German and Latin, in addition to English, in high school, and started Spanish and Swedish at university, ending up with a B.A. in French and Spanish. After my post-graduate studies at Monterey, I worked in Belgium for six years and took some courses in Dutch. I later worked in Hong Kong for eight years where I picked up a little Mandarin and a little Cantonese. On my return to Vancouver, I studied Italian, and the addition of this language to my linguistic portfolio enabled me to work in the Caribbean on cruise ships catering to European passengers. Portuguese has been my latest language acquisition as I now work with the Portuguese and Brazilian markets for a couple of clients so need to be able to communicate with them and/or their customers.

The third way to learn a foreign language is to become completely immersed in it by living, working and traveling in the country where the language is spoken and, consequently, being forced to speak it. Living in Hong Kong as I did when it was still under British rule, I was never really obliged to learn Chinese as all my colleagues spoke English as did most shop people I came in contact with. Today things are different and were I to live and work in Hong Kong today, I would probably have to work harder to learn Cantonese and Mandarin.

What are the challenges of being a translator/interpreter? What are the perks?

The principal challenges are finding enough work to keep the bills paid and enough variety of work to keep the brain stimulated, but this is probably true of any freelancer and is mainly why I personally offer a diversified portfolio of skills to serve a number of markets and a range of clients. The extra challenge in a polyglot is managing somehow to compartmentalize all your languages in separate areas of your brain, not to mention to be able to call instantly upon the specialized vocabulary that you have built up in your memory throughout the years.

The perks of a linguist in general are multiple: you understand a lot more of what is going on around you when you travel or when you are in multilingual situations, such as conferences and trade shows. You get to travel a lot for business and have interesting conversations with people you would not ordinarily meet if you did not speak their language. Your world of possibilities widens exponentially every time you learn a new language. But the main perk is still, ultimately, the satisfaction you feel when you do help two or more people who don't speak the same language to communicate with each other.

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