Interpreter Not Translator

Published on 11 July 2023 at 10:20



An interpreter is a person that facilities verbal communication between two people. They provide language interpretation by conveying the exact same message while projecting how the person said the statement. The interpreter can't not add their own words or opinions. An interpreter is simply a conduit and nothing else.  Some days ago I went out with two friends. They both used to work with me on completely different jobs. During our dinner the one who used to work with me at my current job asked me something about work. One thing led to another and I complained about something. My other friend was very surprised when she heard the reality of my job. 


People think my job is easy because it is " just talking " or like I hear a lot, " oh you're just repeating what other people say. " How wrong they are. I love this job. I have not enjoyed doing a job this much since I was a chef. First of all not every Spanish dialect is the same. We have the generic words, we have the local words and then we have the slang. Each Latin American country has different ones. The Spanish that I speak originally came from Spain but it was so long ago that not even the pronunciation is the same. As an interpreter I need to know most of them to understand the person. 


I don't interpret for just one subject. I interpret for every subject; financial, medical, emergencies, travel, medical insurance, car insurance, home insurance, lawyers, courts, jails, stores, some government agencies, police, fire dept, etc. The amount of vocabulary that I have in my mind is ridiculous. Then people ask why I can't talk after work. When you interpret it is not just repeating the words in the other language. They have to make sense. They also have to be in the related subject since one word can have different meanings depending on the context of the conversation.


Let's start by saying that a lot of people treat us like we are disposable objects and machines. They talk very fast during the call and then get angry if you ask them to repeat anything. Like dude if you are in such a rush and hate interpreters because you only speak one language then learn another. Let me get this straight, you just spent almost three hours helping you and you couldn't even say thank you before cutting off the line? Anyhow people can be very rude. They scream at me randomly without any real reason. 


They like to accuse me of not interpreting everything because the statement is shorter or longer. Like do your research and see how one phrase can be said with just one word in another language. Some English speakers can treat me like I'm a moron. Since they speak to the Spanish speaker the same way I can only assume is because they think we are all morons. The same type of people usually spell to me things like Ana, Maria, etc. 


During my calls I have had people die while im interpreting for a family member. I have had the type of 911 calls you see in the movies. It's worse when the dispatcher doesn't do her job well. During a difficult 911 calls where people where dying and lost in the frontier, I had to break out of my role as an interpreter and suggest to the dispatcher what to ask to find those people. After two hours they found them. 


I have had to tell people over and over that their family isn't going to make it. I have given the worse news in almost every aspect. I don't cry much and have had calls that have made me cry. I had a period that I told people so much their family member where dying of COVID that I almost quit. I've told people that they will have no money over the weekend because they accounts were compromised. I have heard all the types of fraud reported to banks and police. At this point I am an expert on car and medical insurance. I was able to do medical diagnosis before and now I know more.


The worst people to interpret for are doctors and health insurance representatives. They treat us like we are a machine, they scream at us, they criticize our work even when they can't really make an assessment. They blame us when the Spanish speakers don't give them the answer they want. They have no regards as to how they can affect our jobs because they are taking their frustrations on us and we can't say anything. Most of them just hang up when they are done without a thank you or heads up.


They tell me to speak louder like I don't need my voice to make a living. I ask them if they can hear me better and they always say yes. I always speak the same and make no change. That's how I know that they just want to make my life more difficult for no reason. Sometimes the line gets static and they ask me to speak more clear. My thought is always, sure let me get my voice/line cleaning solution. 


Some people have no care for us as human beings. For example I was in a call for four hours once. I could have transferred it to another interpreter after the second hour but it was easy overtime. But I kept thinking they don't know that I could have transferred the call. Not once did the client asked it I needed a moment to go to the bathroom or something. They never think of wait maybe she got my call 2 minutes before her shift is over like it was on that call. Then they hang up without even saying anything.


They ask me things like, did the other person hang up as if I placed that call, what do you think he feels like I'm God, can you give me her age like I'm their mother, you're not helping me when they want me to do their job, can you tell if they are angry like I'm a therapist. Nothing that is part of my job. 


During my three years as an interpreter I have said things like:


My testicle hurt. 

I don't know what an anticonceptive is.

Your 12 year old is pregnant and she gave me permission to tell you.

My husband died on top of me.

Your xx organs are shutting down. We think is time to let xx go. 

I'm going to put my finger up your butt now.

I can see the baby's head

I can see the helicopter but they can't see me

My husband raped my daughter

I'm turning off the ventilator now.

Time of death

I don't know how that got inside of me

Can I go to Disneyland from Disney world using my hopper ticket?

I would kill myself with a bullet if I had a pacemaker



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Thing is, I interpret different conversations back to back and at times it can be difficult to separate one call from thee next. With all this and I still love my job. Why? I get to learn new things every single day. I also help people communicate and learn a lot about cultures. I also get good benefits. I could work with a specialized interpreting company and get paid more but would never be this satisfied. 


Any client that is nice and treats me like a human will receive the best interpretation I can offer.