Follow up on why interpreters are so mean

Follow up on why interpreters are so mean

Having recently changed jobs, I would like to do a follow-up to my previous post on why interpreters can be so mean. Here are the reasons I have concluded:

1.  The nature of the job

By its very nature, the job of an interpreter cannot be done without at least two other people (or I suppose one other person and a media source.) Because of that, the person’s regular duties that occupy them consist of learning vocabulary and, wait for it…..WAITING. Which brings us to:

2.  Boredom

Because the interpreter cannot do his job when no one needs him, there is a lot of down time. This means there is a lot of boredom. When people are bored, they can adopt several different attitudes towards the boredom. From my experience these usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • I’m bored. I should find something constructive to do.
  • I’m bored. I guess I’ll just sit here. This sucks.
  • Hey, I have nothing to do? Awesome! I’m going to play Angry Birds.

Obviously there are other approaches that people can take. However, these three attitudes feed into what makes people in this field mean.

-An interpreter with the first attitude is trying to be of use. They haven’t yet grasped that the nature of their job is to be on call. They may find other projects to do within the company. They may seek out interpreting tasks, unintentionally bothering those around them. Or they may find themselves content to wait it out. Either way their attitude will be better than the other two.

-The second attitude is where the problems can start. Sometimes an interpreter with this attitude feels like they are not appreciated or not useful. They have no chance to practice their skills. They get dejected and frustrated with their jobs.

-The last type of interpreter is probably the worst. Now, hear me out. I am not saying you should not ever entertain yourself when you are bored at work (though I had a few bosses who thought so.) The reality is that, sometimes there is nothing to do. However, too often interpreters tend to think that their job is primarily comprised of free time. They feel they have the right to be on Facebook and the work that comes in interrupts their daily entertainment schedule. So, they get mean.

How dare this lowly person come in and make me do this menial task? I have better things to do!

So they snap back at the person saying that they know the person’s English is good enough to handle something like this or that they simply don’t have time. Or else, they roll their eyes and do the job quickly to try and get back to their entertainment. One of the reasons why they react this way is that they have come to see themselves as possessing great skill and knowledge without which the company wouldn’t function. Which brings us to the next point:

3.  Feeling of superiority

While this is not true of everybody, some interpreters I have met view themselves as being above everybody. Most people in a given company can only speak their native language. Most Japanese in the US can speak some English (some more than others). Some Americans in Japanese companies know a few words of Japanese. However, there are very few bilinguals who do not work as translators or interpreters. Therefore, the interpreters will start to see themselves as this god-like figure. They think that nothing will happen without them. While they are fundamental in communication, they do not in fact design or produce the products that the company sells to pay their pay check. They do not manage people, solve disputes, crunch numbers, or sweep floors. They sit in between departments and individuals, acting as a bridge of communication and nothing more. Some feel small in this position. Others blow it out of proportion. Both are equally wrong.

Its important to remember that you are not the only one who can do your job. Its also important to give credit to people who try to learn languages. Remember, you used to be one of them.


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