Interpreter Career Interview
Janet Bonet has been an interpreter for 25 years and has near-native fluency in Spanish. She owns and operates a freelance translation and interpretation (T&I) business in Omaha, Nebraska.
Interpreter Career Path
“In college on an exchange program in Mexico, I was given the opportunity to train as a conference interpreter,” says Janet. “The program closed, and I moved back to the U.S. I began working as a business escort and community volunteer interpreter while working full-time as a bilingual telemarketer.”
“As the demand for translation and interpretation services grew in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska,” she continues, “I used my bilingual skills and college training to start my freelance translation and interpretation business, Protrans.”
Janet started her undergrad education at University of Nebraska at Lincoln before earning her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and Spanish from the University of the Americas in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. She also earned her Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
Janet didn’t work in the field until she gained near-native fluency in Spanish.
“No one should interpret until they have attained that level of fluency,” she adds.
Janet has gone through various training programs in translation and interpretation. She has spent over 25 years in the field with the last 13 full-time self-employed. She has also worked at a variety of volunteer events and at schools’ parent-teacher conferences.
Interpreter Degree Programs
Although it is possible to find work with only a high school education, an ideal interpreter needs a Bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting with a minor in the specialty language field.
“There are not many such programs available, so a degree in a related area and at least a minor in the second language are great,” Janet explains. “To be competitive in the job market, a qualified interpreter should have at least an associate’s degree.”
Interpreter Job Description
Janet is a full-time, self-employed, professional translator and interpreter, and she is the owner of Protrans, a translating and interpreting company in Nebraska.
Interpreter Daily Routine
As a freelancer, Janet’s days aren’t exactly normal.
“You do it all,” she says. “Medical, legal, community, and business [translating and interpreting]. You work when the clients need you. You do all the business end, like any self-employed independent contractor.”
“On the average, I spend 20-25 hours per week with clients in sessions,” Janet continues. “Another 10-15 hours doing billings, being in contact with clients for setting appointments, follow-ups on appointments, chasing down unpaid invoices. Then, as any good professional does, another 4-5 hours per week studying my trade.
As a board member of two T&I organizations, I also have the duties related to each of them – another 5 to 10 hours per week.”
Interpreter: Steps to Success
“A truly dedicated translator or interpreter will have an endless love of words and boundless curiosity about language and culture,” Janet says. “Good people skills and excellent communication skills. The ability to separate the job from your personal feelings is essential; i.e., you may not like interpreting foul language or sitting next to a defendant accused of incest, but you do the job to the best of your skills and ability with not allowing your emotions or morals to influence you in doing it.”
Interpreter Job Opportunities
Although there is a lot of competition for translating and interpreting positions, the field is expanding as each country’s culture spreads.
“Globalization of our communities is happening at an even faster pace, and those who can speak two languages well will have greater employment opportunities and job security,” Janet explains. “Interpreting and translating pay well and are recognized professions now.”
Interpreter Favorite Aspect
Janet enjoys the variety of jobs, people, topics, and opportunities that her interpretation job includes.
Interpreter’s Future Ambitions
“I hope to become even more proficient in Spanish AND in English,” says Janet. “I want to teach T&I, and I want to write a book about it.”
Advice for Prospective Interpreters
An interpreter should never lax in their study of both their languages.
“Just because grandma understands your homey conversational heritage language rendition does not mean that the sick patient in a hospital or an anxious defendant in court will understand you,” Janet explains. “Even native English speakers need to study English. So if Spanish is your heritage language, but you never really studied it seriously and only learned what you know from your elders at home, you will probably not be qualified to have someone’s life or liberty in your hands as an interpreter.”
Janet also recommends knowing everything about being an interpreter, not just about the languages you are studying.
“Go live for at least 6 months in a household in a country that speaks your second language – even if it is your heritage language,” she advises. “Know the difference between dominant language, native language, heritage language, second language, and levels of fluency.”
Janet adds, “Your colleagues will only respect you if you hold to the professional code of ethics and follow the professional standards of practice.”