Taking our interpretation to the sky!
I recently had an opportunity to get out in the field and watch my interpreters in action. It was a great pleasure to visit the training facility at Crestview and meet my interpreters, the students and instructors, as well as the contracting officers overseeing the GSA contract. The experience reminded me just why we do what we do… find the right specialized interpreters for specific events so that everyone can engage and have a fulfilling and productive experience. 🙂
But I also asked one of my amazing Spanish interpreters, Damaris, for her perspective on such unique, long-term assignments. She spent 6-weeks away from home, living in a hotel in another city, and got to interpret on the ground as well as in-flight! I was very excited to see what her experience had been like.
Q: What are the highlights of your experience interpreting in such a unique environment?
A: What I mostly enjoyed during this assignment was being present in this environment, putting to use my military experience and combining that with my passion for interpreting. As interpreters, we are in the business of helping others communicate; it is a feel-good job, and this assignment is no different. We’re dealing with professionals, technical experts, and seasoned military officers with vast knowledge in their field. These are two Nations’ representatives working together towards a common goal for the good of their country. There’s a lot of pride, honor, and a sense of duty and responsibility from everyone involved. Professionally, to connect language, culture, technical knowledge, and experience in an immersive environment is a perfect situation for any interpreter.
Q: What did the interpreting look like?
A: There were three different parts to the setup. The first part was a classroom environment. The interpreters sat in the back of the classroom in a partially divided room, where we could see the students and the instructors as well as the whiteboards and TV screen. We had interpreting equipment that facilitated simultaneous interpreting during the lectures. The second area was in a simulator equipment room. We didn’t have interpreting equipment there, so it was all consecutive interpreting.
Simultaneous interpretation in a classroom setting.
The third part was on the airplane. We also had to interpret in consecutive mode there. During this phase, all the classroom and simulator lessons were applied in context and it’s where the technical and language skillsets mattered the most, especially considering the inherent risks in aviation operations.
Consecutive interpretation on the airplane.
Q: How did you prepare for such assignments?
A: This type of assignment consists of highly technical terminology and procedures and requires a great amount of preparation. We received some of the presentations ahead of time along with translations and that helped with the preparation. I also took time to study aviation terminology and review flight manuals and other information I got from the FAA website and other sources. However, nothing can really help you anticipate what to expect during an assignment like this without already having some kind of experience in this type of environment. The language itself is unique. There are a lot of acronyms and that is something you can’t really learn on the spot. Having an extensive military background gave me that “third language” advantage.
Q: Any unique challenges when interpreting during training?
A: I think the biggest challenge was being able to adapt to the flexibility of a military setting especially with flight operations when events are weather dependent. The cockpit environment is always a real-life scenario and situational awareness is essential at all times. Working with the military, you must be very adaptable, things can change quickly, especially in aviation training.
Q: You also interpreted during flights, how was that?
A: The highlight of the training event was to be conducted in flight and only one interpreter could be on board at a time. For anyone with a sense of adventure, this was a very exciting part of the job. We were on an aircraft flying over a beautiful area, with perfect weather (otherwise we wouldn’t fly), and working with such highly skilled professionals, with a mission-essential crew, in real situations was very fulfilling.
Consecutive interpretation on the airplane.
Q: These assignments were 3-week and 6-week long. What is it like being on assignment for so long?
A: I was in the military for over 26 years, so that length of time really wasn’t too much of a challenge for me. However, I can appreciate the difficulties this may present for other people that may not be used to being away from home for so long. I personally love the adventure, the change of scenery and routine from everyday life. This is the type of assignment I look forward to! The military has been the greatest part of my life and to have the honor to apply my knowledge and skills once again and to be around this caliber of service members is truly a privilege.
Q: What do you do in your downtime on such long assignments?
A: Enjoy the location, the opportunity this trip has given me to see new things, explore, venture out and get to know the area and the people! Some of the days were pretty long and flying can be physically exhausting, but we were lucky enough to be close to Destin, Florida which is an amazingly beautiful bay area with white powder sand beaches and rich culture. It takes discipline to balance work and take the needed breaks. Long hours of interpreting can be mentally draining and it’s really important to manage time and know when to slow down.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience?
A: Besides the intensity of the training environment, there’s also a cultural exchange taking place. It’s important to ensure there is a diplomatic approach during this exchange type of training and as many professional interpreters know, it’s important to maintain cultural awareness. This assignment was a combination of liaison, escort, and cultural interpreting as much as it was technical conference interpreting work. The close interaction with service members from other countries and being able to adapt to their military vernacular language and precise terminology, was crucial to the flow of communication.
Everything during this assignment has been extremely constructive; from the unique technical aspects of this type of event to the culture, the people, the military, the location, and so many other details, that it can all add up to a very steep learning curve. Anyone doing this type of interpreting needs to keep an open mind and be willing to learn.