The Importance of Being an Interpreter (aka: life is tough)

Sometimes life is tough. We all know it so I won’t spend a long time talking about the twists and turns that sometimes really take the toll on us. What I want to say is, that life is tough and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. Recently, I had an enquiry for an interpreting assignment in support of an Italian citizen. Straightforward request: a solicitors’ meeting and an Italian speaker who needed assistance to make sure the message was transferred. The client in question had had an accident two years before, in the workplace and badly injured his hip and leg. After all that time, he still was in pain, therefore, they needed me to explain him the legal procedures of his case (he was going to file a claim and also ask for a compensation for the loss of profit he had suffered while he was at home in sickness leave). I had a lot to read about him: age, general info, family status, list of aches and pains, circumstances of the accident, medical treatments… to cut the story short: this man was in acute pain and the company owing him a compensation wouldn’t believe him. As I said, life can be very tough. But moreover my client was also angry. Angry at the system, angry at his wife for leaving him, angry for not being listened to and also so angry that he fell into depression. On top of this, as an Italian in the UK for over 35 years, his language was an amorphous mix of extremely broken, learnt-by-listening English and poor, grammar-less Itanglish, in a way so far from comprehensible that I’d never come across before. It took me at least half an hour to fine-tune to his speech style and made sure he replied to me (or to the solicitors, directly) in Italian and NOT in English, so that I could ensure some degree of civilised communication. Plus, not only was he very much in pain, but also tended to lose his temper extremely easily: all we witnessed – in my total dismay – was a man shouting in a very typically Italian or in any case Latin way, with lots of hands waving, high-pitched voice outbursts and mild swearing, alternated to sudden cries for pity. The solicitors, the man and I met in several occasions, as a second medical report was requested. Most of the work was done to really try and calm down the client, explaining that if the second report would also turn out irrelevant, he may not get the compensation he was hoping for.

Thankfully, sometimes all goes for the better. In the very last meeting with specialist in hips and accidents, the doctor managed to understand that the real problem underlying the whole issue may have been a different one compared to what had been previously diagnosed.

Several months passed and one day the postman brought me this:


with this note:


I have told you this more serious and real-life story today because I would like to stress the way-too-often underestimated importance of being an interpreter, especially in the medical area. Patients are stressed, sometimes lonely and angry, and above all, very much in pain. The interpreter is the voice, the key to express this pain and their will to be helped. The interpreter can really make the difference and of course has to be highly qualified and very patient, too. Most times I found myself trying to calm down the patient of this anecdote, but looking back I will definitely say it was worth it. He regained his cool, managed to focus and together we succeeded in conveying the right message to a knowledgeable doctor. Maybe it’s not my style, but I have to say that I like this picture very much after alland even though it looks like it has my own signature rather than a dedication to me O_o I’ll keep it as a reminder of a job proudly done ended with the best of outcomes.

Long live the interpreters! (and may they never be ill, either!)

Once upon a time there was… the MoJ and Applied Language Solutions. A modern-day saga

If you are an interpreter in the UK and you do not live in a cave, you must have heard at least once of this. I won’t bore all of you with the particulars, but as it’s my custom, I’ll try to do so by entertaining you a little.

Once upon a time, the unaware Royal Family of Albion, our far-from-fairy-tale-esque land (the Ministry of Justice or MoJ), thought they were doing the right thing for the motherland giving their support to a well-disguised (at least for them), self-professed-hero evil villain (Applied Language Solution, a LSP based in the UK). Firmly they believed the latter was the only way for them to sort out their never-ending problems with the erroneously so-called ‘cruel thieves’ of the realm, aka: DPSI interpreters. Little the Royals knew that their alleged saviour was in fact the above-mentioned evil villain and that he would ruin the only good there was left for the poor country, exploit unqualified interpreters and humiliate the professionals, leaving the system in a chaos. DPSI interpreters would finally not be willing to take anymore of this cr**p and would stage an uprise in order to make the Royal Family realise the unforgivable mistake they had made, in a challenge to save the world (to be continued)…

Obviously, we all know the MoJ was wrong, there is no such thing as interpreters with 6-digit-figure salaries and last time I checked none of them was driving a Maserati or renting villas in Barbados for the Easter break. Similarly, not all that glitters is gold and that is true all the more for Appl. Lang. Sol. – we would tend to think that the people ruling the country should know better than letting themselves be fooled around like this.

On one of the several professional e-groups and forums I am a member of, I have found a nicely drafted summary on the press coverage for the now referred to as the MoJ-Appl.Lang.Sol.*** saga, compiled by Klasiena P. Slaney (@NRPSInterpreter) who is more than happy for me to share it here. Of course, this is by no means all the material out there, so feel free to share any you may have found.

Here is the Framework Agreement signed with Appl. Lang. Sol. in August 2011. Press coverage in the UK supported by protests from judges, lawyers and interpreters.

    •    24/03/12: New courts service lost in translation
    •    23/03/12: “Court chaos as interpreter service goes private” (Video, Channel 4)
    •    19/03/12: “Attorney general urged to take action against ALS, which was awarded court interpretation monopoly, after string of delays ” (The Guardian)
    •    15/03/12: Polish interpreter about working with police / courts – the new unacceptable conditions in the UK. “Violent clients, traumatised victims, late payment – the life of a court interpreter. Very few people know what the job of a professional court interpreter involves. ALS is trying to get it done on the cheap ” (The Guardian)
    •    15/03/12: Private court interpretation company ‘should face contempt proceedings’  (The Guardian)
    •    15/03/12: “Protests at Westminster” (BBC) – Note: BBC should know better, but they call us ‘court translators’ O_o
    •    11/03/12: “Rabbit registers as court interpreter in the UK! ” (News Today)
    •    02/03/12: “Interpreters stay away from courts in protest at privatised contract” (Guardian)
    •    02/03/12: Prime-time news: Watch this report from evening news on Channel 4  for an damning summary of the disaster so far.
    •    23/2/12: “The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has decided to allow courts to revert to the old system of selecting interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) in order to avoid further hearings being adjourned as a result of interpreters from a new agency failing to turn up to court .” (
Monika Kokoszycka also published a very comprehensive report on AIIC’s Interpreting the World Facebook page:
    •    Part I  (posted 15.12.11):
    •    Part II  (posted on 25.02.12)

An insightful complement to the facts linked to above is available in this blog post, dated 22 March 2012 by Miguel Llorens, a financial translator (@miguelllorens).

Well, we all like fairytales, don’t we?

The only issue here is that, while fairytales usually have a happy ending (and – sooner or later – that always comes round) this is more of a saga and notoriously, all sagas have more than one episode.

So, at this point, I’m asking myself with a bit of concern: ‘Will Dart Vader (Appl. Lang. Sol.) and its empire strike back?

We shall stay tuned…

*** I have taken extra care in spelling in full the acronym ALS as Appl. Lang. Solutions as ALS is actually a trademark of a US based company (@ALSINTL) who showed its concern to me on Twitter recently and should rightfully be kept out of this mess. Thanks.

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