COVID Stories: The Impact on Language Professionals – Paloma’s Story

In 2020, MCIS allocated funds from its Social Benefits Initiative (SBI) to assist community organizations experiencing challenges related to the pandemic. The purpose of this was so these organizations could provide critical information that they would otherwise not have been able to without funding. MCIS’ SBI fund supports free/subsidized interpretation and translation services, such as a direct telephone line for COVID-19 related conversations and the translation of COVID-19 related information. We also interviewed these community organizations, wrote blogs, and posted them on our website as “COVID Stories”. 

Then late in 2020, as planning for 2021 was underway, an idea was floated around about continuing the COVID Stories, but from a different perspective. This is when “COVID Stories: The Impact on Language Professionals” was born.

For almost 18 months now, language professionals have been at the frontlines alongside healthcare professionals, settlement workers, social services workers, educators, and many others, providing language services to Non-English or Limited-English Speakers (NES/LES). Language professionals, often seen as having a behind-the-scenes profession, have also had to pivot drastically in how they work, as the majority of in-person meetings were moved to remote meetings. And while their work may have shifted online, some language professionals continue to work in-person, choosing to risk their health so others can have access to critical information. As a result, language professionals are heroes in their own right.

This series of COVID stories is a collaboration between MCIS staff and the kind language professionals who generously allowed us to interview them. The stories will be posted right here on our website on a monthly basis.

Our third interview in the series is with Paloma, a Spanish translator who has been working in the field for over 20 years!

How and why did you become a language professional?

I have always loved languages since I was a little kid. And at school, I learned English, and I just loved it. So I had this idea that I wanted to help people communicate because I thought,” Hey, there’s people who speak Spanish and don’t understand English. So maybe I can help.” And that’s why I decided to study translation.

Has the pandemic changed you as a person?

It has been challenging. I don’t know if I have changed, but I have definitely adapted; adapted to the new life, to the new circumstances.

In which ways have you adapted?

My life has changed a lot. Even though I’m used to working from home for the past ten years, I’m used to my routine. Before the pandemic started, my husband would leave for work and then I would drop my son off at school, or the daycare or the preschool. And then I would come back home, study, work, manage my time, and then pick up my son and all that. So I used to have this routine, but now I have everyone at home. My son is not going to school, he is studying from home and needs me since he is young. And with online classes, you need someone beside you. It’s really hard to pay attention due to the increased screen time.

Have you learned anything new about yourself or picked up any new skills?

Well, it’s been hard to manage my time, but I have given myself time to study. I took a course last year at the University of Toronto for translation. I’m taking a course in Spanish that I am about to finish! The course is on the new rules on Spanish punctuation, grammar and all that. The language is always evolving!

What activities do you do to remain focused or motivated when you’re distracted?

I like to listen to music and read! I try to make time for myself because it’s really important. If you are not focused or don’t feel strong enough, how can you do all the things that you have to do right? Mental health has been an issue. Before the pandemic, I could just maybe call a friend and say, “Hey, let’s grab a cup of coffee.” With this pandemic, it’s harder because you need to stay inside.

Are there certain things that have been helping you cope?

I feel lucky to be with my family, with my husband, with my son, and enjoy the simple things like having the three meals of the day together. I truly feel blessed.

Is there anything that you are concerned about during these times due to the ongoing pandemic, short/long term?

Well, how this pandemic is affecting or has affected my little one, maybe we can’t see it right now, but I’m sure we’re going to see the long-term effects down the road.

Despite these challenging times, are there things that you’ve found to love and enjoy?

I think during this pandemic, I have been in contact more often with my friends. I have a lot of friends back in Peru. I’m from Peru, and I have a lot of family and friends over there. And I feel we have been in contact more often; we have been sharing more. It’s been hard on everyone, so I think it’s been important for them, and for me, to be able to share what they’re going through because everyone experiences things differently. We all are going through different struggles and just being able to know that you can call someone and grab a coffee at any time, or see that person or get together during the weekend, even if you don’t choose to do it every weekend. It’s just knowing that you can. So you learn to appreciate things more, in a completely different way.

When you were learning how to adapt during the pandemic, was there any support you wished you had?

Well no, I’ve had all the support from my family, and it’s been very important for me. During the week, I have all these things to do that sometimes there’s not enough time to do work, study, or do anything really, and my family has been very supportive of me. They have sometimes given me the time during the weekends to dedicate it to study or do a little work. It’s a blessing because they are so kind and supportive, and they know how much my work means to me.

Is there a preferred method for you to communicate with people?

I use video calls a lot with my family. I think it’s important for my family to see my husband and son so that they can see they’re doing good! When it’s work, I use email because it is easier, more organized and faster.

If you could say or give advice to anyone who’ll be reading your blog, what would you tell them?

I would say that these are hard times, but try to be positive; everything will be alright. Just do the best you can. Get help if you need it. That’s very important. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel so that everything will be alright! I also want to say how lucky I am to contribute through my work and make information available to people who have a language barrier. Especially at these times, these hard times. It’s really important to have updated information available.