A Day in the Life of an Interpreter: Part 1


If you ask 10 interpreters how they spend their days, you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s mine.

As a freelance interpreter, I don’t go to the same place everyday. When the agency with whom I contract gets a request for an interpreter, they send out an email asking for available interpreters. If the interpreter is a good fit (and responds in a timely manner), the interpreter – me, for instance – will get the assignment. Once the assignment is confirmed, I check the details of the assignment through our secure, online database, and I enter those details into my private daily calendar. (You can see that privacy and confidentiality are a big deal.)

I check my weekly calendar each Sunday and my daily calendar the night before. This isn’t just for interpreting, but to keep me sane. That way I know which assignments are coming up and I can coordinate my life – and more practically, my laundry – accordingly. Interpreters need to wear plain but professional clothing at all times. For me, this means slacks and a polo in the summer, slacks and a sweater in the winter. It’s not exciting, but it’s ethical. Also, some assignments, such as professional workshops, require more preparation time. I try to look over all materials at least three days ahead of time just to make sure I know what’s available. I often bring those materials with me to look over if I have some “hurry-up-and-wait” time in the days leading up to the assignment.

On the morning of a given assignment, I make sure I have all the materials for the day: right clothing, personal ID (you have to show ID almost everyday if you’re a busy interpreter), assignment materials and handouts, two pens (I will lose one by the end of the day), a pad of paper for notes, two books for down time (two, just in case you finish the first one), a professional journal (yes, interpreters should have a professional journal), a digital copy of all assignment details, locations, and directions, a full water bottle, and non-perishable food just in case (my favorite is the Cliff bars).

Here’s a pro tip on the meal bars: don’t get the ones that are dipped in chocolate because when you have to eat one you’ll probably have to eat it quickly and discretely. And if you get the chocolate coated ones, you will (or I will) most certainly get chocolate all over your fingers and face. Get the nutty ones that just leave crumbs.

This may seem like a lot, but you have to be ready for anything. Most assignments are pretty banal. Some are outrageously and unexpectedly chaotic or just plain strange. You won’t know the difference until you’re in the moment.

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