12 Jul We Learn from Everything Around Us
I will start by saying that interpreters are awesome people who have the ability to perform mental feats very few people can. For one thing, we can listen and speak at the same time in two different languages! That in and of itself is amazing, especially when you read the literature on language and communication.
Interpreters, almost by definition, are especially intelligent people. We store more information in our long-term memory than most people ever will in their entire lifetimes. And yet, many interpreters live in fear of “not knowing,” of “something” coming up during a hearing, a trial, or a deposition, that we will not know how to convey in the other language. The younger interpreters just getting started on their careers suffer from this the most, but so do some of the “veterans” in the profession.
Where is the knowledge hiding?
The truth is we can learn from just about every experience we live on a day-to-day basis. Not all the knowledge we need comes from books and classrooms. I remember in my college years, before I ever thought about being an interpreter, how I had friends in different fields of study and as we got together to talk about our various interests, we learned from each other. I learned about cinematography and film appreciation, I learned about music and art. In my work-study jobs, I learned about office management, historical research, international trade.
It came naturally to me to pick up on the nuances of all these different fields, but I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think all interpreters have that “knack.” I even learned about translation at one point, long before translation or interpreting were on my radar as possible careers. I am sure a lot of the interpreters reading this right now can think of a lot of experiences in their lifetimes during which they learned things they thought they’d never need or use, and then one unexpected day in court… wham! It came in handy. You understood exactly what the witness was talking about. And you were able to convey it with both accuracy and grace.
Everyone is a teacher
If we pay attention to our everyday surroundings, we will surely find something new to learn at every turn. You can learn from the guy selling you bagels on the street, or the teller where you bank, the paint salesperson at the hardware store, or the lady who does your pedicure. All it takes is being a little bit awake, paying attention instead of going through the motions like a mindless machine because you just never know who your next “teacher” will be.
Open your heart and your mind to all the experiences from which you can draw even a little bit of new knowledge. Go ziplining, whitewater rafting, or take a leisurely stroll at the zoo. Volunteer at a pet shelter or join a beach-cleaning crew. Mix and mingle with people with completely different life experiences, listen to them, to what they say, to how they use language, to how they view the world.
It’s not all about legal terms and legal proceedings and legal equivalents. Being a great interpreter is also knowing about life. Because life is the best teacher of all.
Janis Palma has been a federally certified English<>Spanish judiciary interpreter since 1981. She worked as an independent contractor for over 20 years in different states. Her experience includes conference work in the private sector and seminar interpreting for the U.S. State Department. She joined the U.S. District Courts in Puerto Rico as a full-time staff interpreter in April 2002. She has been a consultant for various higher education institutions, professional associations, and government agencies on judiciary interpreting and translating issues. She is a past president of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.