Last Saturday and Sunday I acted as an interpreter for a Japanese family staying in London. I truly enjoyed being an interpreter and the time I spent with them!
I’ve never formally trained as an interpreter but have been frequently asked to act as an interpreter or translator over the past five years, just because I’ve worked in linguistics and healthcare research, as a Japan-born researcher living in the UK.
Always I refuse payment because my interpreting is experimental and purely as a volunteer, and I cannot guarantee my accuracy. The Japanese family I met were lovely people, and they gave me two large boxes of umeboshi (sour pickled plums) as a gift, and beautiful dinners for two nights at Akira in Japan House London (the photo above is sashimi) and Min Jiang Chinese Restaurant (the garden view from the restaurant was absolutely fantastic), and put me up in a hotel on Saturday night – it was so kind of them!
I also felt how powerfully the presence of an interpreter affects the interaction. Interpreters get more eye contact, and a group of people we interact with will often speak to the interpreter on any matter; it feels more like a co-presence as a new member rather than simply speaking for them. Knowing the clients would be vital, I felt.
It’s a pleasure when I can help someone, and I am very happy to be an amateur interpreter or translator when I am asked through friends. But at the same time, I am aware there are some cases where inexperienced interpreters can cause an error in more severe healthcare settings (and in business and legal settings as well), and they absolutely must be trained. This is not a simple matter, and I’ve encountered many cases of this kind during my research.
I do help people, but only when I feel confident about my ability to handle a request.