As an interpreter, I am one day the voice of a Prime Minister, the next one the voice of a union leader, and a couple of days later, the voice of an inmate. Because I personify each one of them at that moment, the work I do transcends language. It has to do with conveying meaning and purpose, emotion and empathy.
In essence, I make two or more people understand each other. I am a generalist, not a specialist, but I need to dive into the topic I am talking about to make sense. And perhaps even more important, I have to speak in such a way that people not only understand but really listen to me. If I sound doubtful because I am looking for the right word, even if the speaker is assertive, the message will sound less convincing. If I sound boring because I am not interested in what he is saying, no matter how interesting the story is, my audience will get bored. Language register — or the level of formality with which you speak, depending on the situation — is also of paramount importance.
When I am the voice of someone fighting for human rights or gender issues, or that of a lawyer or a judge in a courtroom, my tone of voice will be different from the one I use during a marketing meeting or a star chef’s masterclass. My role also changes as speakers interact. It is very different to personify a judge than the accused, or a CEO trying to sell a project to a government and the civil servant who does not see the benefits of such deal. That is why interpreters have often been compared to actors. In order to perform those different roles, we need a set of skills and strategies which are similar to those of actors, and we are even trained by voice coaches and public speaking experts.
My voice can one day express the pain of a victim of sexual assault or that of an activist advocating for solidarity; it can help get somebody out of prison, negotiate a compensation for health damages, or help poor nations get international cooperation. As such, I feel I can empower the voiceless and contribute to society. But it can also be the voice of the UN General Secretary warning the international community about an imminent climate crisis, or that of a religious leader preaching for peace. In the end, what it is all about is building communication bridges and being as loyal a possible to the spirit of the original message rather than the wording itself.
Interpreting has always been my window to the world — actually, to different worlds I would have otherwise never known about, ranging from international law to nanotechnology, from AIDS to organised crime, from leadership to diplomacy. This broad spectrum of topics and the life-long learning process that comes with it is still the reason why, if I had to start all over again, I would once more choose this profession. Helping people from all over the world and from all walks of life understand each other is what motivates me to put my voice to the service of others.