Interview with Angela, Interpreter and Translator from French and Spanish to English:
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 organisation. 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 on my Cantonese and Mandarin learning.
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 specialised 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.
Thank you very much!