3 Books that Made Me a Better Interpreter and Why (Part 1)

3 books series

There are lots of different ways to become a better interpreter: taking classes; attending conferences; participating in online interpreter-networks; reading articles and books by interpreters and for interpreters and on interpreting. You get the idea.

Reading books that have no direct relationship at all to interpreting can also be a way to grow as a professional interpreter. In this series I’ll highlight three books (none of which have anything to do with interpreting) that helped me become a better medical interpreter.

First up . . .The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Brief synopsis: This is a fictional story written from the point of view of an autistic boy who embarks on an adventure in an attempt to solve a mystery.

Insights gained:

  • Different ways of thinking, reasoning, and processing information.
  • Understanding of different family dynamics and relationships.
  • Greater compassion for others and their situation.

Better interpreter because:

We often (if not always) interpret for people who think, reason, and process information differently than we ourselves do. Because this is an internal – that is invisible – process, it isn’t easy to pick up on how these forces influence the spoken messages. This narrative gives a peek into what a character is thinking, which gives greater context to what he says and does. With this information, his words and action make perfect sense. Without this information, the reader is left to wonder what on earth the character was thinking when saying or doing such-and-such. It’s a reminder that I need to at least be aware of the invisible elements of communication and when possible use those elements to help me capture the full meaning of the spoken messages.

About the family dynamics, unless we are at a home visit, we don’t usually get to see the day-to-day interactions of family members. (Even then, the natural environment is skewed because of the “new” people in the environment.) When we think about people and their situations only in the context of the medical encounter, we are only seeing part of the person instead of the whole person. Seeing the whole person is valuable in being able to listen and watch for nuances that impact the meaning expressed by the spoken word.  While it’s improbable we’ll ever have an opportunity to get a pure Because I am only ever immersed in my own family experience – or that of close neighbors and friends – this book was a way for my worldview to be stretched a bit wider and deeper. This is very closely tied to the next insight . . .

Compassion for others and their situation. An interpreter need not, should not, must not pass judgment about a situation. But we’re human.  We have a tendency to assess things, situations, and people as good, bad, or a mix thereof. There’s probably more to this story than I am aware. This isn’t to turn a blind eye to situations that are objectively wrong (i.e. abuse and neglect of children and vulnerable adults). Rather, it is to approach – and leave – each situation with an awareness that there is more to any one person or situation that I can possibly come to know in a 15-minute doctor visit. With that in mind, let me always lead and leave with compassion.

Bonus: The book is quite short – a great read while sitting at the beach or taking a long flight!

What fiction book has helped you become a better interpreter? 

Related Posts:

  • 3 Books that Made Me a Better Interpreter and Why (Part 2)
  • 3 Books that Made Me a Better Interpreter and Why (Part 3)
Posted on April 2, 2015 and filed under Interpreter.