5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Interpreting

Apr 26, 2023 2:08:35 PM | interpreting 5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Interpreting

Dawn Flanigan looks back at her 30+ years of interpreting to give beginning interpreters 5 important tips.

Interpreting is a challenging and fulfilling career that requires a unique set of skills and experiences. As someone who has been interpreting for over 30 years, I have had the opportunity to witness the evolution of the industry. While I credit my instructors at Mott College in Flint, Michigan, for the vast amount of knowledge and resources that I possess, there are a few things I wish I had known when I started my interpreting career that would have made my journey easier.


1. Get a Car that is Comfortable and Fuel-Efficient

One thing that I wish I had truly understood when starting my interpreting career is just how much time I would spend in my car. As an interpreter, you will travel far and wide to attend different appointments, meetings, and events. Therefore, it is important to invest in a car that is fuel-efficient and comfortable for spending long hours in.


You will eat meals, take naps, and drive more miles than you have ever driven before, so you need a car that can accommodate all of that. I recommend getting a car with good gas mileage, enough room to take a nap when needed, a good sound system, and a comfortable interior.

Trust me, your car will become your mobile office, so it’s important to make it as comfortable as possible.

2. Be Prepared to Answer the Same Questions Over and Over

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As an interpreter, I have memorized answers to common questions about my career, but I still get asked the same things over and over. When I started my career, people often thought interpreting was just a hobby. Now, people understand what an interpreter does, so the challenge of getting people to see the importance of what we do is not hard. I suggest memorizing answers to the most commonly asked questions, such as "How did you get into that?" and "What does an interpreter do?" This will help you get through these types of questions quickly and efficiently.



3. Your Wardrobe Will Consist of A LOT of Black and Dark Blue

As an interpreter, I wear clothes that contrast with my skin tone. So, I tend to wear black, brown, or perhaps dark blue clothing, as I do not detract from my signing. However, after 30 years in the industry, I have amassed a wardrobe of black and dark blue that would rival every funeral director in the state. At first, I started buying black clothes in preparation for work, trying to be thrifty and make the clothes suitable for work and after-work activities. Then, I started to like them. Now they have taken over my closet. 30 years later, I crave color and contrast in my wardrobe. I just know I will be one of those retirees who dresses in wild and outrageous patterns with big purple hats.

(But I never want to retire!)

4. Strive for Perfection, But Accept Mistakes


Even after 30 years of interpreting, there are still jobs where I feel inadequate. Sometimes I do a job, and I have a bad day. I wish I had known there would always be a struggle for perfection. It’s OK to strive for perfection, but understand that it may never happen. It’s OK to make a mistake (own up to it), and while we reach for perfection, we should also accept our mistakes and learn from them.

Remember, you are still a great interpreter, even if you make a mistake.

5. Interpreting is a Fulfilling Career

Finally, I wish I had known how fulfilling interpreting would be. As an interpreter, I have had the opportunity to “visit” so many other careers during my lifetime. I have witnessed births, deaths, miracles such as a cancer cure, arrests, and graduations. I have had the ability to make a difference in people's lives simply by being present and providing a service. I don’t need an accolade. I don’t want a trophy. I want to make a difference, and I do, and so do my fellow Interpreters. We make communication happen, and then we leave as if we were never there. It’s a beautiful thing, and I couldn’t be more proud to be an interpreter.

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Remember, being an interpreter is a challenging and rewarding career. By following these tips, you can make your journey easier and more fulfilling.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan