As interpreters and translators we are expected to constantly improve our language skills. This is part of our professional development.

How can we do this?

First, it helps to have an objective, independent evaluation of our skills. See the “Bilingual or Interpreter” page for ideas on that.

Once we have been evaluated, we can target our weaknesses for growth. However, that is more easily said than done! What are some of the challenges we face?

Many Hispanics who grew up in the US have had more opportunities to develop their written language skills in English than in Spanish. However, they are expected to be able to write in Spanish as professionals in the workplace. If the results of their written language skills are not what they hoped for, what can they do?

  • Daily reading. The Resources page of this blog has links to sites with useful reading material for medical interpreters. As we read, the structures and collocations of the language we read become more natural and familiar, and our oral language improves as well. Of course, we also develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter we work with, which always helps! I would recommend reading regularly in both of our working languages, as recommended in the terminology articles in this blog.
    There are more Spanish resources listed because I am a Spanish translator and interpreter. I am very interested in adding to the resources in other languages!
  • Daily or weekly writing, trading critiques with a colleague. Reading is, in a sense, speaking in slow motion. As we improve our writing skills, our oral skills will also improve.
  • Starting a bilingual Toastmasters club, where members are expected to give presentations in their weaker language.
  • Starting a class using language teaching materials designed for Spanish heritage speakers in the United States.
  • Starting a literature discussion group, where members discuss both technical and literary works.
  • Starting a current events club where members read newspaper articles online and write letters to the editor in their weaker language, seeking input from their colleagues.

There are many other options. Personally, I am benefitting from this type of thing. One of my colleagues has offered to help me continue to finesse my Spanish writing skills. I do a translation for her on a more or less regular basis, she critiques it (and doesn’t hold back) and I do another one the next week. My friend is trying to help me think in a different way and improve. I am also helping another colleague by having weekly Skype sessions to help her with her English reading and writing skills.

It is hard to do this. As professionals, we do not want to be seen as “inadequate”. It requires a certain amount of humility. Critiques without solutions only make us defensive.

As professionals, however, it is important to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses and work with them. We can learn how to use our strenghts to compensate for our weakensses and at the same time look for ways to grow in our weak areas. This takes humility, but when we get to know caring colleagues we can work with them to accomplish this.

On the other hand, as Eta Trabing points out in her Bilingualism article, we need to understand that there are many ways to contribute to our community and our work as bilingual people. When the task we do matches our strengths we get the greatest satisfaction and produce our best work. Exploring other options, looking for a good match between our skills and the job requirements, may lead us in very fulfilling directions. If that is not translation or interpreting, the understanding of this profession will inform our decisions on how to provide language access for others, and the community at large will be very well served.