One of the best things I learned as an interpreter was the importance of being there.
Interpreters help people who can’t communicate with each other to communicated with each other. Bilingualism is a scarce resource, and when communication is important – in a doctor’s office, between teachers and students, in a job safety training – interpreters make a difference.
But you can’t make a difference if you’re not there. No one can do the job of an interpreter except the interpreter.
In jobs where you specialize in a task that is part of a larger project, other team members often know more or less how to do your task. It’s just that you might do it a little better or spend more time on it than they do.
Not true for interpreters. There is no winging – I mean really winging it – it when it comes to whether you know two languages and can negotiate a productive conversation.
All this means that interpreters need to show up and be present. It’s the hallmark of the profession. Every interpreter has stories about how one ran the last mile to their assignment after her car broke down, or how another sprained their ankle but went to their assignment before going to the ER.
I’d like to think that everyone, not just interpreters, has this responsibility to show up. To take our own being-present as important interpreters do. But even if everyone doesn’t, I try to. That’s one of the lessons I learned from being an interpreter: interpreters show up.