How to deal when world events intersect with your job as an interpreter
It’s a scene that plays out again and again.
A catastrophic event, like war or a virus, is associated with a geographic location. People turn their fear into anger. On the receiving end are ordinary people — expats, residents, immigrants, visitors — who just happen to be from that location.
These individuals have zero direct involvement with the event. And much like the rest of the world, they are also struggling to process the situation.
We’re hearing similar stories from Russian interpreters. Here are some bits of advice on how to handle tense situations when they come up.
Follow your training
As an interpreter, your job is to accurately and completely relay information from one language to another. You are providing a very specific service.
But we all know an interpreter’s job can be more complex than that. This is why relying on interpreter standards is necessary when the job gets murky.
For example, if you feel like the individual you are interpreting for is becoming agitated and that anger is wrongfully directed at you, use your protocols to guide you:
- Remain calm
Although difficult in some situations, it’s important to remain as calm as possible. Don’t engage with the individual or get into a discussion about what they said.
If the comments are not directed toward you specifically, the best practice is to continue the interpretation, even when you find these comments offensive and untrue, and maintain your neutrality.
- Inform the client immediately.
Be transparent and polite, and let the client know what’s happening.
“This is the interpreter speaking. I need to inform you that your customer is using inappropriate speech toward me.” (Adjust the wording based on your specific situation.)
- If you need to, withdraw
If you cannot move forward with the interpretation or maintain “the boundaries of the professional role, refraining from personal involvement,” it’s OK to withdraw from the call.
Let the client know how they can request a different interpreter (this will differ company to company) and politely end the call.
You do not need to give anyone your personal information
If a customer asks where you are from or requests personal information of any kind, you do not have to give it to them. You only need to provide your first name and interpreter ID.
Again, transparency is very important, so keep the client informed of what is going on.
You’re doing great!
You are! We know the crisis happening in your home or neighboring country is disheartening and can take a toll on you emotionally.
You should not be held accountable for the actions of a specific group of people only because you come from the same country or speak the same language.
We appreciate all you’re doing to help those who need your services.
Some additional resources:
- 3 Emotional States to Look Out for as an Interpreter
- Want to Feel More Calm? Head This Way for Interpreter Self-Care Tips
- California Healthcare Interpreting Association (CHIA) Webinar, “Vicarious Trauma & Professional Interpreters“