A Day in the Life of an Interpreter: Part 2

We left off in Part 1 with the morning of an assignment. Now let’s get to the job.


There are three hurdles to clear when getting to an assignment: parking, security checks, and room location.

First, parking. If there’s one thing I don’t like about interpreting it’s the need to drive everywhere. Unless you work in (maybe) D.C. or NYC, driving is inevitable, and parking is even worse. Most places that hire interpreters – hospitals, federal agencies, state agencies, schools – have wonky parking. So in addition to allowing time to drive, you have to allow time to park. Which often means, you have to figure out which of the 27 categories of designated parking spaces you belong. Don’t underestimate this, because there is a hidden legion of private security personnel with little else to do than turn your $4 parking fee into a $40 fine. Few things can turn a work day sour as quickly as coming out of a one-hour interpreting assignment to find out that after billable hours, you barely broke even.

Next, security. Unlike a mail person or staff employee, there is no guarantee that a guard will know what an interpreter is. They will either assume you’re in the wrong place (which you might be), or ask you to repeat even the most clear and elementary explanation of your job. Make sure you have ID, a contact name and location for the assignment (printed out helps), and a certain degree of obvious confidence. Expect to have to sign your name twice and fill in seemingly irrelevant information. It’s not personal, it’s just how these things work.

Finally, location. There is no guarantee that the room number that you received two weeks ago is still correct. Assume that you will have to ask around, and do ask around. People will typically respond generously to a lost interpreter, much like people have pity on sick animals. I often prefer to check with the front desk or security guard about the location of an assignment. You will either get a blank, sometimes obnoxious stare or you will get an answer that saves you lots of time. Take the risk.

In the best case scenario, everything is right and you arrive with plenty of time. Often, however, there are unknown complications at every stage: there is a long line to sign into the school, the meeting room changed to a different building entirely, your name isn’t on the list of people allowed in, etc. The standard rule is to arrive 15 minutes ahead of time to assignments. This is pretty good. But be prepared for plenty of assignments where even 30 minutes may not be sufficient and it will be out of your control. The more familiar you become with your market area the better you will become at predicting these hangups.

Next time: meeting the consumer.


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