Regardless of whether linguists work in translation, revision or interpretation, they are exposed to the most diverse environments and contexts on a daily basis. Yet it’s not always easy for these professionals to keep the proper distance from the feelings and emotions that they come into contact with in their daily work. We won’t be exploring one of our areas of specialisation today, or at least not in as much detail as usual. Rather, we’d like to address something that isn’t usually discussed but is in some cases quite present within the language services world: emotional detachment.
As reported in various trade journals and national newspapers, there have recently been cases of experienced linguists, in this case interpreters, being overcome by emotion while interpreting between languages. Videos of the two incidents quickly circulated on social networks; they involved two linguists interpreting two separate video conferences of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into English and German.
The subject matter and the inevitable emotional impact of the words with which the Prime Minister described the seriousness of his people’s plight moved the two linguists to tears while interpreting.
Every profession has its own critical aspects that can influence the psycho-physical conditions of workers in both the short and the long term. It’s certainly true that the work of a translator, or in this case an interpreter, is not among those professions considered physically demanding or dangerous. However, it’s always best to be careful.
EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT: A SORT OF PPE (PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT)?
These situations generally don’t directly concern us. At ASTW, we work in the field of language services mainly related to intellectual property, life sciences and scientific and technical translations.
By their nature, these texts lack any notion of feelings and emotions. Our linguists mostly have to be precise and have specialised knowledge, along with attention to detail. It is therefore unlikely that our translators will find themselves forced to establish an emotional detachment from the text they are working on.
We have written this article not only to recognise the work done by our fellow interpreters, but with the aim of creating a space for sharing and mutual growth with all our readers. An environment open to exchange is the mission promoted by the European Language Industry Association – Elia for example, which we fully support.
Considering the subjective nature of the matter, it’s difficult to establish and study ad hoc strategies. University courses focused on language mediation provide students with a number of tools, including the proper distribution of work over the work day, allowing for the necessary breaks to avoid total immersion in the subject matter (if particularly sensitive), but every translator and interpreter will have to develop their own techniques and methods to enable them to do their job to the best of their ability.
Let’s get to the point: what are your techniques and how would you have acted if you had been in a similar situation? Do you think that this “shield” for protecting our emotions is a strength of a language professional, or a technique to be avoided, instead fully immersing yourself in the subject matter?
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English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider