How to lose your job as an interpreter

The story of a BBC sign language interpreter being sacked for her “creative” approach to interpreting (reporting, amongst other things, that radioactive zombies had been sighted near the nuclear reactor in Japan after the earthquake there) reminded me of an old post where I talk about being tempted to use my all-powerful position as an interpreter to turn a situation to my advantage.
Indeed, it can be really difficult to remain a neutral conversion hub and not get personally involved. During projects that I have worked on for some time, and which I know inside out, I am sometimes tempted just to give answers to questions instead of relaying first the question, then the answer, in order to save everyone time and effort and get the job done. I’m not the only one, as once, I worked with another interpreter at a one-day workshop, during which we had to work with small groups of French and English speakers who had to plan their workload for the afternoon session. To my horror, my colleague started to try and organise the participants, pointing out who was taking on too much and who was best placed to do such and such task. This was obviously inappropriate, but it can be very hard not to contribute when you think that you can see a solution to their dilemmas.
The BBC interpreter cited “personal difficulties – particularly a crushing professional boredom” to explain her actions. I hope she changes career and tries her hand at comedy, as I found her fondness for adding zombies to international events rather hilarious.
Brighton zombie picture by Heather Buckley
OF COURSE this was a spoof! I knew that *cough*. However, my point remains, and interpreters have been sacked in the past for speaking their mind, in Ukraine, for example.
(Thanks May!)
Also, I’ve always wanted zombies on my blog.
Le Plus, a Nouvel Obs community site, asked me to elaborate on the issue of interpreters and neutrality (in French).

By |2016-10-18T15:48:39+00:00January 16th, 2012|Interpreting|7 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Maaike Villavicencio January 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I LOVED this post!

  2. May January 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Great article in Nouvel Obs.
    How true that, in the end, we are all human, and that our work is affected by so many factors – from what we believe to what we ate for breakfast that morning.
    I cringe at your description of the divorce meeting…

  3. Judy Jenner February 2, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Great stuff! Wow, quite scary about the BBC interpreter, who did not seem the least bit embarrassed by her inability to correctly interpret the news. As a court interpreter, I know how vitally important it is not to add or embellish, or summarize, or give advice, or opinions, etc… And for me, truth is mostly stranger and more entertaining than fiction, especially in divorce court and family court. No professional boredom for this interpreter!

  4. EP February 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Power to the radioactive zombies! And to any of those brave new interpreters out there who might want to get near enough to translate for them. That picture rocks.

  5. Aida May 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I have never said anything weird during my interpreting jobs but I have to admit that it is tempting to include a zombie or two in some very boring speeches.
    We cannot do it but I am sure some of the people in the audience will love them

  6. Terduiseux August 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Indeed difficult not to intervene…I have recently won two jobs because my colleague (the same one for both jobs) was deemed too pushy. She tends to be overfamiliar and, exactly as you described, wanted to organise workshops instead of interpreting.
    Another of my colleague is known for making jokes with clients at every occasion, even during otherwise formal meetings…Thank God we were both working for an agency, and I made a point of keeping purposedly serious!
    Thanks for an interesting post, Céline.

  7. céline August 9, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I’m sure that the problem of not stumbling on the line between personal/professional with clients exists with many other jobs, but when you become someone’s “voice”, I think it makes it all the more difficult. It’s up to us to manage these relationships, and I’m quite pleased to be equipped with a fairly good internal control mechanism, which seems to let me know when it is appropriate to remain absolutely professional, and when it’s ok to relax a bit and be myself. It’s difficult to remain cool and composed when you’re singing karaoke at 11pm with your clients!

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