The secret life of an interpreter/translator

“What do you actually do?” is something that I’m often asked.

Good question. Nobody ever seems to know what anybody else does for a living, and I seem to be no exception. Well, to put it simply: I’m a jack of all trades. Try pinning a translator or an interpreter down to one job description, or even one job industry. It doesn’t work. We work over such a wide range of industries that we transcend a single definition.

In a single day, I can be a lawyer and then a teacher; a maternal child health nurse and then a counsellor. I can flit from proofreading business presentations to translating company regulations. In the morning I’m planning translation seminars in Japanese, and in the afternoon I’m simultaneously interpreting on a panel discussion at a conference that came in last-minute.

I’ve sat in the defendant box at the County Court and said “not guilty” to the judge. I’ve also given police statements at the police station, and translated text messages to be used as evidence (yes, they do give you foam cups to drink from!).

I write textbooks in Japanese for English-language curriculum and correct English assignments, while having my phone next to me waiting for a phone interpreting call to come in. I translate birth certificates and other official documents and stamp them officially. I write monthly articles about translation in Japanese, and then I translate a restaurant menu or two as a breather. I’m probably better at using Google than any of you.

I spend more time in hospital waiting rooms than most people, and have seen more medical specialists than most people meet in their lives. I get stood up often and I work from the train, laptop open and typing furiously. My office is the spare room in my house, my backup office is a café with a good ambience and even better coffee.

My working day generally starts between 7am and 11am, depending on daylight savings and if I have any 9am bookings. I’m constantly negotiating deadlines, clients, jobs and payment, while going through about three to-do lists a day. My handwriting is illegible.

I do basically everything that I’m offered and keep working until someone tells me to stop because it’s too interesting to say no. I get stuck in traffic everywhere I go because my workplace is somewhere new daily. I’m constantly carrying a clipboard and laptop. I’ve given up wearing contacts because I use my eyes too much.

Don’t ask me what I do because I’m not quite sure myself.


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