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Home / Blog / Interpreting / Challenges of an Interpreter Working in the UK

Interpreters are an essential component of the public service sector, serving as a bridge between non-English speaking individuals (service users) and service providers. In the UK, interpreters face a range of challenges, from dealing with difficult speakers to navigating cultural differences, to providing effective and accurate interpreting services.

What is the day-to-day role of an interpreter?

The day-to-day role of an interpreter involves assisting non-English speaking individuals with accessing public services such as healthcare, welfare, legal, and social services. Interpreters facilitate communication between service providers and service users by interpreting the spoken language and facilitating effective communication. Interpreters must be able to accurately translate complex information, retain their impartiality, and maintain confidentiality.

What problems are associated with interpreters?

Interpreting is a challenging profession that requires a high level of skill and expertise. Interpreters often face the problem of not being able to hear the speaker clearly, which can lead to misinterpretations. In some instances, interpreters must work with individuals who speak quickly or use idioms that are difficult to translate, which can result in misunderstandings. Additionally, interpreters must navigate cultural differences and be able to convey humor, sarcasm and other inflections accurately, which can be difficult when working with individuals from different backgrounds.

The pros and cons of being an interpreter

Being an interpreter can be a rewarding and challenging career. The main advantage of being an interpreter is that you get to help non-English speaking individuals access essential services and communicate effectively with service providers. Interpreting is also a well-paying profession, and the demand for interpreters is on the rise, providing a steady stream of job opportunities. However, being an interpreter can also be a stressful and challenging profession, and requires a high level of skill, expertise and dedication. Interpreters must have excellent language skills in two or more languages, be able to remain impartial and maintain their confidentiality, and must be able to deal with challenging speakers and navigate cultural differences effectively.

Difficulties to anticipate when working as an interpreter

When working as an interpreter, there are a number of difficulties that must be anticipated. Interpreters must be able to accurately interpret complex information, and must have a good understanding of the local culture and customs to ensure that they accurately convey messages. Additionally, interpreters must be able to anticipate and deal with emotional participants, in highly charged environments, deliver difficult and sometimes life-changing news and must be prepared to recognise and handle humor, sarcasm, and other emotions.

Challenge face in consecutive interpreting with notes

One of the main challenges faced in consecutive interpreting with notes is retaining information. Interpreters must be able to listen to a speaker and accurately interpret large parts of what has been said into the target language, without the use of notes. This can be difficult, especially when working with speakers who speak quickly or use idioms that are difficult to translate. Interpreters who are new to the role sometimes struggle with listening and rendering a message into another language, without having to worry about taking notes as well. However, when developed, the skill of note taking during consecutive interpreting can be an irreplaceable aid to remembering specific details and to ensuring the communications are relayed with a high degree of accuracy.

The difficulties and challenges of interpreting

Interpreting is a challenging and demanding profession that requires a high level of skill and expertise. Interpreters must be able to accurately translate complex information, retain their impartiality, and maintain confidentiality. Interpreters must also be able to deal with difficult speakers, navigate cultural differences, and provide effective interpretation services even when dealing with emotional participants. Interpreting can be a stressful and challenging profession, and it is important for interpreters to be well-prepared and to have a good understanding of the vocabulary and terminology within the specialisms in which they work.

Lack of awareness of interpreters

Unfortunately, there is often a lack of awareness about the role of interpreters. Many people do not understand the importance of interpreters and the challenges that they face in providing effective interpretation services. This lack of awareness can result in misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and difficulties in accessing essential services for non-English speaking individuals. Interpreters play a critical role in bridging the communication gap and it is important to raise awareness about their role and the challenges they face. If a service provider is inexperienced using an interpreter, this can lead to difficulties around the role of the interpreter and can lead to the service provider or service user not conveying information in a way that makes it easier for the interpreter to do their job.

Ethical challenges

Interpreters must also be aware of the ethical challenges they may face in their role. Interpreters are required to maintain impartiality and confidentiality, and must not disclose any information they may have access to while performing their role. They must also avoid taking sides or expressing opinions, and must provide accurate interpretation services, regardless of their personal beliefs or opinions.
Another ethical challenge faced by interpreters is the issue of bias. Interpreters must not allow their personal biases or prejudices to influence their interpretation services. They must be culturally sensitive and aware of the impact their interpreting may have on the individuals involved.
In addition, interpreters must adhere to the codes of conduct established by professional organisations, such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and Language Service Providers (LSPs) a.k.a interpreting agencies. These organisations provide guidelines for ethical and professional behavior, which help ensure that interpretation services are provided in a professional and impartial manner.

Difficulty hearing the speaker

One of the biggest challenges that interpreters face is the difficulty in hearing the speaker clearly, which can be caused by being poorly located during face to face assignments, or connection challenges when delivering telephone interpreting or video remote interpreting. It can also be a direct result of one of the participants who may not be able to speak clearly or well. Difficulty hearing the speaker can result in misinterpretations and misunderstandings, which can have serious consequences. Interpreters must be able to listen carefully and accurately translate what has been said into the target language, even in noisy or distracting environments. Fortunately, there are techniques that interpreters can use in these situations which can make things easier.

Dealing with hasty speech

Interpreters must also be able to deal with hasty speech, which can make it difficult to accurately hear what has been said. Hasty speech can also result in misinterpretations and misunderstandings, and it is important for interpreters to be able to use an acceptable technique to deal with this challenge effectively.

Knowledge of local culture

Interpreters must have a good understanding of the local culture and customs to provide effective interpreting services. This knowledge of local culture can help interpreters anticipate and deal with challenges, such as cultural differences, emotional participants, and humor.

Translating idioms

Interpreters must also be able to interpret idioms accurately. Idioms are expressions that are unique to a particular language and culture, and may not have a direct equivalent in the other language meaning that interpreters must use synonyms or paraphrasing to convey the message. Interpreters must be familiar with the idioms used in both languages and must be able to interpret them in a way that is accurate, meaningful and effective.

Misunderstanding the speaker

Misunderstandings can occur when the interpreter does not understand, mishears or simply doesn’t fully comprehend what the speaker has said. This can result in serious consequences and can have a negative impact on the non-English speaking individual’s ability to access essential services. Interpreters must be able to recognise and repair any mistakes that have occurred during an interpreting assignment.

Public speaking

Interpreters must also be skilled in public speaking, as they often act as the voice of the non-English speaking individual in a public setting. Interpreters must be able to speak clearly and confidently, and must be able to convey information accurately and effectively.

Lack of prep materials

Interpreters often work in environments where there are limited preparation materials available. For instance, during telephone interpreting sessions calls will be presented to the interpreter and the first they will know anything about the assignment they are working on will be when they accept the call. This can make it difficult for interpreters to prepare for their role, especially when dealing with complex or technical information and vocabulary. Interpreters must be able to anticipate and deal with this challenge, and must be able to provide effective interpretation services even when there are limited preparation materials available.

When faced with humor, sarcasm and jokes

Interpreters must be able to deal with humor, sarcasm, and jokes effectively. This can be challenging, as humor and sarcasm are often culturally specific and can be difficult to translate accurately. Interpreters must be familiar with the local culture and customs and must be able to convey humor and sarcasm in a way that is both accurate and effective, while also maintaining their integrity as impartial communicators.

Emotional participants

Interpreters may also face challenges when dealing with emotional participants. Service users can often be in highly stressful and emotional situations and can react with anger, pain, frustration and disbelief to name but a few. This presents a number of challenges. Emotions can be difficult to convey accurately, and interpreters must be able to maintain their impartiality and professionalism while dealing with emotional individuals. They must also be able to remain calm and neutral in order to provide effective interpreting services, even in difficult or challenging situations.

Adequate or sufficient training

Adequate and sufficient training can go a long way to overcoming the challenges faced by interpreters. Unfortunately, it is sometimes possible for those who have no training, or very limited training to find some work as an interpreter, or provide interpreting service for friends or family and an untrained interpreter poses a risk to all those involved in the conversation, partly due to the challenges outlined above.
In conclusion, interpreters face a range of challenges in their role, including difficulties hearing the speaker, hasty speech, conveying humor and sarcasm, knowledge of local culture, translating idioms, misunderstandings, public speaking, lack of preparation materials, emotional participants, and ethical challenges.
The Learn Q Level 3 Certificate in Community Interpreting is an ideal qualification for those starting a career in interpreting, as it is designed for those with little or no interpreting experience, provides comprehensive training and helps prepare individuals for the challenges they may face in their role. This training includes a range of skills and techniques, such as understanding the role and responsibilities of the interpreter, interpreting techniques, and knowledge of how to prepare for technical vocabulary, which are essential for providing professional, ethical and effective interpreting services.

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