Integrity Languages


At the End of an Interpreting Day

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 10, 2016


And that’s it. Eight hours of work, 14 talks, about 20 litres of water spread among 10 interpreters and lots of food.


Interpreters are traditionally exhausted at the end of an assignment. Ours isn’t an easy job. There are always surprises in terms of technical terminology, monotonous speakers and the occasional mumbler.


But there is also the feeling of mild euphoria. Or maybe that’s just the remnants of the session that went extraordinarily well. It always helps when there is one shift when it just seems to click and, thank God, I had one of them today.


We rarely talk about the emotional aspect of interpreting. Clients should be reassured that great interpreters take personal responsibility for producing something that is not just accurate and pleasant to listen to but something that, to the best of our ability, reproduces what the speaker was trying to do. That also means that we can be very self-critical and can take a knock when there is a session that doesn’t go quite to plan.


All the excellent interpreters I have ever met take it personally when there is even a slight blip. Maybe we shouldn’t but we do. Maybe it’s just a sign that we still care.


Is it any wonder that burnout is so common amongst interpreters? When it takes emotional and mental gymnastics to go from shift to shift and creativity and imagination to go from talk to talk. Interpreting takes guts, technique, and quick thinking and that’s why we love it.


I really don’t know if any clients will read this particular post but if they do I want them to know exactly why it is that we can produce excellent work on any given assignment. It’s because we care. We care about you hearing something that is comprehensible and clear. We care about feedback and the state of the rest of the team. We care about getting it right and making the talk sound as convincing and interesting in the second language as it was in the first (or maybe a little better).


This unusual passion for creating talks that work that propels us to do some amazing feats. Take this, for instance. Today, one speech was given in Italian. One of the Italian interpreters turned it into some of the clearest and most articulate English I have heard in a long time. She did that not just for the audience but for the French. Dutch, Spanish and German interpreters who were listening to her English and turning that into their own languages.


And all this happened at a delay of less than a few seconds. In the business, we call that relay interpreting. Really, we should call it a miracle.


Every time I interpret, I am reminded of one simple but powerful truth. In a world battered by xenophobia, bruised by selfishness and pounded by appeals to close up shop and seal ourselves off, there is evidence that something else is possible. Every time and interpreter suits up and walks into a soundproof booth, or a doctor’s office, or a court, or a business meeting, or a school, something amazing, almost divine takes place. For as long as interpreters are there, the language barrier comes down, differences are celebrated and the world seems a little bit smaller.
Why am I an interpreter? Because it brings the world together and makes a difference, that’s why.

4 comments on “At the End of an Interpreting Day

  1. great article, very true. euphoria happens. fatigue is what makes you rush to wherever you call home for a day or always, throw off your shoes, take a deep breath, loosen your clothes and help yourself to a cool, cool whisky.

  2. Really fascinating. This article expresses exactly what I feel everytime I get to do a very good job while interpreting. I recently graduated in Conference Interpreting, so I’m still a “baby interpreter”. But this has been my dream job since I was at elementary school. When my classmates dreamt of becoming firefighters or astronauts, I dreamt of sitting in a booth, headphones on, turning on the mic and bringing the words and the word together. Thank you for having expressed my feeling in this article. I hope I’ll soon start working and feel that adrenaline and euphoria and also fatigue back in my body and mind. Chiara

    • I know that feeling. I first saw an interpreter when I was about 14 and instantly knew that was what I wanted to do!
      Going from graduation to work is really tricky but I am sure you will manage it. Do join a professional association and decide on what kinds of clients you would like to work for and then spend as much time with them as you do with interpreters. It will make life a whole lot easier!

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