COVID Stories: The Impact on Language Professionals – July 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 first interview is with Ted, a professional Hungarian interpreter. Ted has been working with MCIS for many years.

Here is his story.

A Personal Story

I did an interpretation and it was quite emotional. I had to go take one of the client’s grandchildren to the emergency room. It was emotional. I had an assignment that went for three hours, and then it went for another two and a half in the emergency, and could have gone beyond, but the hospital said they have their own interpreters and I had to leave. The aunt of the young 13-year-old girl was not happy that I had to leave. She was so happy with me—and the whole family too—but the hospital insisted that they have their own. It was quite an interesting situation for this young girl to end up in. COVID contributed to that, as her emotional well-being and schools being the way they are now, really disrupted her young life. You know, because online learning is not the same as in-person.

Many times in my career as an interpreter and I go above and beyond, and I also feel the emotions. And of course, because I’m a human being, I interpret with the same emotions the client is giving. It’s not as simple as the verbatim interpretation. You also have to express the way they speak, the sound of each word, just like reading a story. You would not just flat out read it. You read what the character, what the person, is telling you through their voice.

Why did you become an interpreter?

I became an interpreter because I wanted to keep up, from the day when I arrived in this country, many moons ago. I was a young boy, a teenager. My family and I came to this country. I decided that I had an incredible task, not only to learn English, I also had to learn French as it was mandatory. I also decided that I wasn’t just going to learn English, but I was going to learn it the best I could, and I put my head forward, I said, “I’m going to really, really going put all my efforts to learn the language as best as I can.” Also, when you are a new immigrant in this country, unfortunately, especially in those days, and even today, there’s this unfortunate discrimination against immigrants and refugees, both alike. I went from Hungary to Italy, from Italy to Canada, and I was waiting for a visa for my family for around a year. So when I arrived, to avoid this harassment and bullying I wanted to immerse myself totally, to become a Canadian without the accent. And I did. I was very determined.

My native language is Hungarian. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t lose track of Hungarian because I am very proud to be Hungarian-born. I am very proud of the culture that I brought with me from Hungary. After some time, I finished my BBA at York University. I decided to contact ASR on the Internet, or somehow somebody brought it to my attention. A company called All Languages. That’s the first company I worked with. I tried it and I said, “I like this.” And my Hungarian, as you know, is quite good, and English, of course.

So I started to interpret and the main reason why is because I wanted to keep both the Hungarian and English, and that’s why I became an interpreter. And plus, I like to help people. I must not forget, that’s my biggest forte. I have a good sense of humour. I like people. I like social interactions between people. Now with this COVID, of course, that has almost gone nowhere.

How has the pandemic changed you as a person?

The pandemic has been mentally straining. This January, I lost my only brother to COVID. He was gone in 10 days. And you know what? This is really upsetting. I asked them to transfer him. His only daughter was pleading with them to transfer him. They sent the papers. Or they said so, they claim. I spoke to the head nurse. But, then when we went to send them [the papers] to the hospital, they sent them back. I also couldn’t go there because the airlines were locked down.

Stress is at the highest level, and I have anxiety, and I don’t know when I’m going to have my freedom back. I want to travel now.

The pandemic has also changed me because, well, so many things are restricted. I love to go to the movies. We’ve had no movies for almost two years. You know, I like watching TV, but sometimes you want to go out there with your wife, with your friend, or, you know, you want to socialize. I have a best friend of 30 years and I can’t go to dinner with her to a restaurant, have a conversation, and now can’t even go to a patio.

However, I am so pleased to work for MCIS because no matter what, I would do this. I do it because of the need for the stimulation of the mind, and the body, and the brain. It’s very critical to keep busy, especially at my age.

Have you learned anything new about yourself or picked up new skills over the last year?

Well, I learned more about my depression, which I knew was bad, but I learned this past year or so that my depression can come on even worse because of all these restrictions.

However, in regard to learning new skills, I certainly have developed new skills such as working on Zoom and by phone. I am also part of some groups and some committees still, and all events take place on Zoom and we are doing nothing in person. It’s really sad for me and the community. I’m a member of the Rexdale Community Health Centre. I’m on the board over there as a member and all our meetings used to be so nice to get together. Every couple of months we got together and we all had certain celebrations throughout the year, especially the year-end. One of them was during Christmas time and now there is nothing.

I also learned that I have excellent support at home with my wife!

What are certain things or aspects that have been helping you cope with the everyday challenges of the pandemic?

Well, it certainly helps to have the Internet. I am a very versatile and very computer technical oriented person too. I was in sales of entertainment equipment for a number of years also! Secondly, always try to be patient, which is difficult at times. However, you need more patience with this COVID and everything else. And lastly, try not to worry! I’m a worrier, by the way and the worst part about worrying is that you worry about stuff before it even happens. So, I try to always remind myself: YOLO!

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

Well, I love interpreting. I always did. And this is why I’m an eager-beaver to go do the assignments as much as they allow me or give me before the others grab them. However, I enjoy it more, because at least I have some socializing. If I have just phone appointments, without Zoom, that’s okay, too, but the best is still in-person. And, especially now that I have the first vaccine and even before that I was doing it with caution, of course, with proper PPE. I really appreciate the in-person meetings. Talking to and meeting with people who need my services, and meetings are what I love doing.

I also learned to watch movies on Netflix in between appointments and everything else. I’ve been a member of Netflix for almost 10 years, ever since they started actually. And now I hooked up to Amazon Prime and I really recommend watching the Underground Railroad if you’re concerned about discrimination. And Black Lives Matter of course. I put it on my Facebook that if you’re really concerned about Black Lives Matter, you should watch this movie. Yeah, it’s unbelievable. It hits home, for sure.

If you could say or give advice to anyone who is going to read this afterwards, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that I hope I was informative. I hope I opened some eyes to the benefits of being an interpreter. I hope the clients will understand a bit more about what an interpreter goes through in completing the task at hand and to be open-minded about anything you wish to do and never turn down opportunities.

The final message is that yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. So live for today.