As each language is unique, every interpreter behind that language, equally, has a unique story to share. Welcome to The Many Faces of Languages - a forum of thoughtful sharing and discovery.
We are pleased to offer this story selected for January 2022.
As the child of immigrants, Mai has been interpreting since she was young for everything from parent-teacher conferences to paperwork for social services. She even had to stay in the hospital to translate for a friend of her mother’s who was having a baby!
Her life experiences have helped her hone her interpretation skills since she was small. As a child, her parents enrolled her in Vietnamese classes to make sure she was completely bilingual. In her late teens, she worked with the Vietnamese community through Bible volunteer work.
As an adult, she initially worked at a hospital, but the need to relocate inspired her to look at jobs in other fields. She found a job interpreting and is happy to have work that is flexible and truly enjoyable.
By helping people understand things and make informed decisions, Mai spreads happiness every day.
Most children of immigrant parents can easily relate to my story and experiences. Before we even understood what the words interpreting or translating meant, we were thrown into that role without any preparation or training. From facilitating simple conversations at the grocery store with cashiers and clerks to interpreting for parent teacher conferences to translating paperwork from social services we’ve done it all to advocate for our parents when their English was still limited. Not only for our parents but even their extended families and friends. I remember my mom’s friend would take me along to all her prenatal care doctor visits to help interpret and when she went into labor and had to “borrow” my interpretation skills for 3 days as I slept on the floor beside her hospital bed. The doctor would stop in to check on her and I would have to be awoken to help her comprehend all his instructions. Her baby was born in August so my interpreting skills kept me busy during summer break.
Prior to entering the world of interpretation as a profession I’ve been honing my skills since childhood without even realizing it such as the example of my experience above. I have my parents to thank for when it comes to being bilingual not just by trusting me to interpret for them but for putting me into Vietnamese language class once a week. I despised those classes back then but am forever grateful now because I can freely communicate and even help my relatives and others in the Vietnamese community through my Bible volunteer work. In my late teens my Christian Congregation started training me to interpret Bible sermons and even simultaneous interpreting for large assembly gatherings. Friend’s encouraged me to seek work as a courtroom interpreter but I didn’t actively pursue it because I had a steady job working at a hospital. It wasn’t until we relocated for my husband’s new job and I had to look for a new job myself that I decided to type “Vietnamese” into the explore field for employment search. Long story short I found a job at last that not only provided me flexibility and good pay but most importantly I really enjoyed doing. Not every interpretation call runs smoothly but even after a difficult one it always warms my heart when the LEP thanks me and expresses their appreciation for the help given.
Did I always enjoy interpreting? Not always, till this day I feel like screaming if I have to watch a movie with someone who doesn’t understand English and is constantly asking me to explain what’s going on. So I’ve learned to avoid those situations altogether. Otherwise I do really love interpreting because it helps others. It helps them not only to understand it also helps the LEP to feel reassured. They have reassurance when they have knowledge, knowledge decreases wrong decision making, avoiding wrong decisions leads to success. The end result is happiness.
Who doesn’t like to share happiness?