LanguageLine Blog

How Does an Interpreter Cope with Difficult Calls? (Video)

Written by Patti Geye | April 27, 2017

Can you imagine not being able to share very personal thoughts with a loved one, not because you don’t want to, but because you speak different languages? Misunderstanding, frustration, and even sadness can cause problems when you can’t communicate. Professional interpreters are relied on every day to help with difficult experiences like these. They must accurately convey even the most intimate thoughts while remaining impartial.

Interpreters remain objective, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by the situations they interpret.

Meet Christina, a Korean interpreter who tearfully shares the time she helped a patient deliver sad news to her husband. She had to place herself in the middle of a very emotional discussion and remain composed. It left a lasting impression on her.

 

Our professional interpreters never know what kind of call they are answering and how demanding it may be. They often deal with complex and emotional situations, including 911 emergencies, end-of-life discussions, and challenging medical dialogue.

But what happens at the end of the call? Interpreters rarely know the final outcome; they have investment but no resolution. They may be distressed, worried, or upset. How does the interpreter recover and ready themselves for the next session?

LanguageLine has processes in place to prepare our interpreters ahead of time to handle stress and regain composure - or to avoid becoming stressed at all. Because the emotions they experience are similar to those of the dispatchers for whom they interpret, LanguageLine Solutions approached 911 centers nearly 20 years ago to learn how they address these cases.

In 1999, LanguageLine implemented a Stress Management and Peer Counselor Program that is similar to those used by police departments and 911 centers around California. The program was developed by public safety training consultants and police officers, with input from our interpreter training manager.  

The training covers how to identify stress, as well as coping techniques to avoid or alleviate cumulative stress or trauma from a critical incident. These tools are invaluable to support competence and composure as interpreters handle call after call. As a result, our interpreters are able to maintain the highest level of professionalism during and after emotional calls like Christina’s. 

In addition to participating in the training program, interpreters have access to the Peer Support Program if they need to defuse stress after a critical incident.  

One interpreter notes, “I needed peer support after a dreadful 911 call. The peer supporter logged me off, allowed me to tell her the incident, and let me cry. Then we did some breathing exercises and she recommended I take a 15 minute walk. She said if I felt fine, I could go back to the line. It did help and I could continue with my day.”

We applaud our more than 8,000-strong interpreter workforce for their continued commitment and passion, caring for each and every call no matter the circumstances. Helping people drives LanguageLine. Our interpreters love making a difference in someone’s life no matter how easy or difficult an interpreting session may be.

Please visit our video page to see more interpreter stories like Christina's.