This week I continue to spotlight what is happening with UK public Service interpreting and today it’s my honour to welcome Marie Adamova, who will highlight some of the challenges in this profession and how she spends her free time when she is not ‘held up’ in police cells.
Marie, can you please tell us where you come from?
I am originally from the Czech Republic and moved to the UK in 2004.
How long have you worked as an interpreter, and why did you decide to become one?
I started interpreting at 2005 as I saw it as a potential new career.
A good career move, I hope
In your view, what qualifications and qualities are essential in becoming a professional interpreter?
The foundation is very good knowledge of both working languages. You have to have general knowledge about both countries and their systems. You also need some ability to recall the right term at the right time. As a court and police interpreter you have to be able to work under pressure and you go to work very often in short notice even in the middle of the night. Your role there is to interpret – not to be client’s buddy. So you have to manage in difficult situations with diplomacy and courtesy regardless what’s going on around you.
So I would say knowledge, confidence and ability to cope under stress are the main qualities.
Marie, I can’t agree with you more. Excellent command of both the target language and the mother tongue is important, but other qualities you mentioned above are an integral part of being a good interpreter.
What is a typical day like for an interpreter working for a client, be they a Public Service provider or private client?
There is no typical day in court and police interpreting due to short notice bookings. You could have a plan that you are going shopping with a friend but end up in the police cells all day. Finally you manage to get home and in the middle of dinner you get another call and work till early next morning. There are also days where you are just at home – waiting for a call. You cannot predict how many crimes are committed so you have to arrange your life around the work and be as flexible as possible.
Precisely. We have absolutely no idea what our day or week would be like until it’s dusted and gone.
What is the best part of your job? and the worst part, in your experience?
What I like is the challenge as you have to cope in unusual situations. It is not a 9 to 5 job. You will find yourself in unusual places, learn new things and meet new people, and that is the great part of interpreter’s work. Also you have to work on your language skills all the time. I love to learn so it suits me perfectly.
My worst experience was in medical interpreting. It was a medical termination case of premature baby. There were several follow up bookings together with the birth of the dead baby. I was there as an interpreter but also as a human being as basically no one else was available. This case affected me a lot emotionally.
I also interpreted for family grieving their young daughter killed in a car accident. It was very emotional. I truly believe that an interpreter’s professionalism helps the client to cope in such difficult situation.
I have my own routines how to stay “safe” and keep a distance from the case but in a few occasions I found it impossible to distance myself. I learned to refuse cases where I know the emotional stress would affect me for a long time. I am sure I would do a great interpreting work there but I would end up exhausted for days. I think it is fair to know your own limits, as there is another part of my life and my family who needs me.
Marie, your story of the dead baby saddens me deeply, and so is the victim of the car accident. As you know, I was with a grieving family in the last couple of weeks, and I went though exactly what you did. It was one of the most draining and distressing time for me as an interpreter, and my only consolation is that I have helped the family in a small but also significant way.
Do the people you come across have a good understanding of what you do?
))) Oh yes – they think my work is “just talking”!!!! )))) Yes, it is “just talking” in two languages on very special topics. People usually do not know what interpreters do. They have no idea how much hard work is involved just in mastering a foreign language to a level from which you are able to interpret. They have no idea about interpreting techniques and no idea how many hours you have to learn to be able to interpret simultaneously. The other part of the work is the stress as most people are not usually involved in criminal cases.
Very True, Marie. Even educated people can be quite ignorant about what other people do for a living. As for what interpreters do, I think there are far too many myths and mis-conceptions out there, and you have pointed out a few important ones.
Do you belong to any professional bodies? What do they do to help you?
I am member of NRPSI (National Register for Public Service Interpreting) and PIA (Professional Interpreters Alliance). I do not feel NRPSI helps me in any way. We are now in a very difficult position and basically we have lost our work as court and police interpreting is provided by a sole provider under FWA (Framework Agreement). As for opposing FWA there is a huge movement and I am a hardcore campaigner against FWA. NRPSI is in some “sleeping beauty” stage which is a shame. PIA on the other hand is very proactive together with other interpreters’ organisations and many individual interpreters.
Marie, I thought you looked familiar – You were the one handing out all those T-Shirts during the Birmingham demo in March, and then protesting with your rabbit Jajo in London. I have you on both my video and photos as proof of your activism
What do you do when you’re not working? What’s your favourite pastime?
I love to spend time with my 4 years old son Jasin. So any activity suitable for 4 years old is my favourite! I love Alton Towers and also caravan sea side holidays. I also love inline skating (do not laugh! ;o))
I am not laughing They all sounded fun to do!
Here comes my favourite question: Do you enjoy reading? Who is your favourite author, or your favourite book of all time?
I love to read but have to say that my reading has been very abandoned since Jasin was born. My favourite author is Arthur Hailey. His books are full of actions and you can learn a lot about different industries. Really interesting reading. I also like Wilbur Smith and his novels from Egypt.
Who, living or dead, do you most admire?
I do not have such a person.
Finally please describe your job with 140 characters, as in a tweet.
Professional court/police interpreter #qualitymatters.
I like that! Thank you, Marie, for sharing your stories with us all.