COVID Stories: The Impact on Language Professionals – August 2021

By: Cheryl

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 second interview in the series is with Ana, a Spanish interpreter who has been working with MCIS for 17 years! She is proud of her specialty interpreting in social services and human trafficking settings.

How and why did you become a language professional?

I always knew that I was going to be working as a language professional. Overseas, I have more than 30 years of experience as an interpreter and translator in another language that is not Spanish. And then, when I immigrated to Canada, I felt, “Well, this country has this need for language interpreters,” and my language is very important. So, why not?

And so you’ve always been a language professional then?

Yes, the languages that I speak are Russian, French and Spanish. I’m fluent in the three of them. Spanish and French I learned from my father and mother, so I was bilingual. Russian, I learned as my third language.

Have you found that the pandemic has changed you as a person?

No, not at all! I look at myself as a human being, and I said, “Well, this happens all the time in life.” Things that are out of our control, that is. I am an outgoing person, but introverted as well. So I keep to myself; I keep to my distance. At the same time, I am very empathetic, but knowing that human beings are self-centred and respecting that, I am going with the flow. In life itself, when you experience something difficult, you have to make the best of it. That’s the best perspective. You have to be open. Yeah, there’s a pandemic and we’ll have to do A, B, C, D, E, the sooner, the better, and then go with the flow. This will become a habit, so no panic. Just take it and accept it, because as much as you are going to fight is how much you will suffer. So yes, go with the flow. That’s my approach. We know that this life has challenges, so like I said earlier, why do you have to be without a happy face? Let’s put on a happy face because then everything else and everybody else will come to you. That’s a little thing I learned in my life.

Is there anything new you’ve learned about yourself throughout the pandemic? Or are there new skills that you’ve learned?

I learned to be more patient as patience is hard, especially when you are not naturally [patient]. Some people are like that. I’m very patient with children and sick people, and older people, but well, with some people, it’s challenging to be patient! Whenever these situations happen, I always breathe, relax, come back new, and continue the conversation.

I also learned the importance of being willing to communicate, and read, and convey others’ emotions. There’s a difference between communicating and being willing to communicate. People can feel if I can feel their emotions. I can feel through the phone what is happening with this person. And, and you’re in a position when you’re interpreting, you’re in the position where you have to convey the feelings that those people are communicating, not just the words.

The word interpretation is very accurate because it is not only to convey the message in different languages but other aspects such as emotions. So you have to be very attentive, at least myself. I can figure out what will happen next because of experience. And I very rarely make a mistake in that perception. Again, it’s a matter of perception. Often when speaking, the tonality in the speech changes, so as language interpreters, we should convey that.

Have you maintained a daily routine to keep up with responsibilities, and what does that look like?

Yes, I think it’s important to be organized—the same thing with discipline and that added love towards yourself. My routine is to get up very early and have a big nutritious, delicious breakfast. That is mandatory in my life. I then take care of myself, pamper myself with a nice shower, and maybe go to my balcony to take care of my garden. And then just check what my agenda has for the day. There are a nice variety of things when you are a language interpreter as well. You don’t know what is going to be next. So your brain is ready for that.

Are there certain things or aspects that have been helping you cope with any challenges during the pandemic?

Yes, of course, talking with friends! And also, I’m a painter, and when I paint, I put on my favourite music. I don’t allow phones to disturb me. I only hear the cardinal singing outside, focusing on my paintings. Breathe and see that life is about expecting the unexpected, and then you embrace that.

Do you have any concerns, whether it’s for yourself or your family or your friends?

Not really, because I’m kind of a curious personality and observant of society, and life. So again, I believe in history, and I read a lot when I was younger. I learned many things. And the most important is to not repeat the same mistake twice, if possible. And don’t be afraid. Embrace life. It is the only thing we have day by day, minute by minute. Why get upset about things that don’t matter at the end of the day? Once you analyze it, you will see how silly it is. Why did you get upset about that? For what? There’s no need for that, right? This is so simple, and I can see we are surrounded by marvellous young people with very good brains. And they know what they have to do. So be afraid for what? Again, this is going to pass as everything else will pass. Be open and positive.

Have you ever worked remotely? If so, was it a major shift or adjustment for you to start doing a lot of interpretation from home at first?

Yes, I have worked remotely in the past, so I’ve had that practice. Any situation that can arise, I can solve because again, it’s about life. You know what you know, and then life presents you with certain things. You are always in the position to learn.

There was actually no major shift. I embraced that with a lot of happiness because I thought, “What new things will I learn? Wow!” And I thought, “Wow, that’s fabulous!” The set of skills you need to be an interpreter is easy, but there are multiple sets of skills, not just the ability to speak another language. It’s not an easy profession. You deal with multiple personalities—meaning the clients—and also the service providers, for multiple things.

When you’re communicating remotely, what is your preferred way to communicate?

I like working with a computer, and I don’t mind the phone, either. But I prefer communication through the computer. I learned quite a bit, and I enjoy it. I’m proud of myself that everything is possible to learn. That’s something we have to embrace and say, “Well, technology’s not perfect.” It’s perfect when it works. And if it doesn’t, what can we do? Reschedule? What can we do? It is what it is. And we call these marvellous IT people from MCIS, and that problem is solved.

How do you create your boundaries and the balance between work and life?

As a language interpreter, every day is different. For example, yesterday I worked in the morning, then I decided, “Okay, that’s enough.” I always make my list of pros and cons, and if it’s more pros than cons, I go for it. You have to watch if there are more cons than pros, because if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot do anything. Everything starts and finishes in yourself. So you have to balance and pace yourself in order not to burn out and exhaust yourself. So, yes, it’s different, but the most important thing is to take care of yourself.

If there is one thing you could say or some advice you could give to anybody who will be reading this, what would you say or what would you tell them?

I would say embrace life; you don’t know how marvellous it is. Even in the pandemic, know yourself, love yourself, and take care of yourself, first of all. And also tell people that’s my boundary. But until then, with a smile, my boundaries tell me that you have to keep it there, and I have to keep it here. I’m a nice person to you, and you should be the same to me. That applies to everything, not only as a professional language interpreter, but for life.