Simon is a Spanish professional level interpreter who believes an interpreter needs a sea of knowledge that’s one inch deep.
Interpreters are not experts on everything but have to understand most things to be able to get by. He was born in Australia and had no exposure to languages before learning German in high school.
Simon’s interest in interpreting began when he met two students in high school on exchange as part of the American Field Service (AFS) exchange programme. Simon went on exchange with AFS when he was 17 years old to Argentina to learn Spanish and everything changed at this point in his life. He was assimilated into the culture and lived with a family who Simon refers to as his mum and dad and brothers and sisters. ‘They’re not biological but we’re quite close and we still stay in touch and they have met my young children’ he said.
Later Simon went to Venezuela for one and a half years to teach English translation at a university. In Venezuela he met his wife and then travelled to Spain undertaking various intensive courses. On return to Australia, he completed a masters in translation and interpreting and started volunteer work. He was a National Olympic Committee Assistant and was assigned to the Argentinian Olympic team working in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in 2000 in Sydney and from 2002 to 2004 worked for Oxfam as an interpreter and Spanish Communication Coordinator managing a program that helped people from overseas to better communicate with Oxfam.
Simon finds work as an interpreter is extremely varied and exciting. He says ‘my day could include the Supreme Court, the airport, a police charge room and the birth of a child all in one day. It never gets boring’.
Simon thinks there are two types of challenges as an interpreter: personal challenges and those that come from working with service providers. ‘It’s a personal challenge to build capacity of background knowledge. You can’t be a walking encyclopedia. I do a lot of reading from a variety of sources in areas I’m not always interested in, in both languages’ he said. Simon noted that today there is more focus on specialty training and developing skills in the areas beyond linguistics such as development in memory retention and note taking.
The rewards of interpreting include flexibility and helping people. ‘I have two young children and want to make them a big focus in my life’. Simon says he enjoys making a difference in people’s lives. He said ‘Interpreters can’t fix the world for anybody, but they can help them to communicate, and often without that people can’t get by. We are connected to the community here and the broader community and I know first-hand how challenging it can be. Helping people in those early years when migrating to a new country is rewarding’.
Future of interpreting
Simon sees the influence of technology such as voice recognition software will be more important. Various applications have improved in such a short time and he wonders if in very limited contexts they can be used more and more. ‘We’ll always need human interaction but technology may streamline that over time’ he said.
More about Simon
Simon loves spending family time going to the beach and bushwalking. He also runs marathons and undertook his first triathlon in January 2015. He enjoys scuba diving (including mixed gas scuba diving beyond 60 metres) and goes cave diving in Mexico regularly. He is also a member of Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), which does a lot of conservation work.
Simons’ tips for others wanting to become an interpreter
- Read. Read a lot in all languages to build vocabulary and knowledge.
- Travel. Understand the cultures you are interpreting for, not only the language.
- Become accredited. Study to better ground you and prepare.
- Volunteer. Work for a charity or agency that needs interpreters.
- Go and observe. For example, observe court interpreting to better understand the dynamics of the court.
Simons’ tips for those working with interpreters
- Ask questions. If unfamiliar about how it all works ask the interpreter, especially in an on-site setting where you could have pre-conference discussion.
- Read. Read information that is available about working with interpreters. Face the client and speak in the first person. Keep your speech natural in tone and speed.
- Listen. Listen to suggestions from the interpreter. They know how to get the communication to flow.