Quick Notes on Traveling for Work as an Accompanying Interpreter

Kirill Sharkovski, Interpretation Track  

  As an interpreter with hardly sufficient working experience, I am nowhere near qualified to tell others what to do and how to do it during work assignments. However, subjectively speaking, I know a thing or two that fellow interpreting trainees might find handy or at least amusing, which is what motivates me to share.

  While a trainee, one may hardly expect to be invited from the get-go to interpret during ‘higher-class’ events such as conferences and summits. Simpler occasions, however, are more numerous and friendlier to newer generations of interpreters.

  Yours truly is a non-native speaker of both English and Mandarin, yet the ability to work with additional languages is hardly an advantage here in Taiwan. Perhaps, German may be useful anywhere in the world, and Cantonese is also quite handy, which makes me envious of the speakers of the said tongues. Meanwhile, Russian is out of fashion and my dearest Belarusian is little more than a novelty around here.

  There is, of course, a ‘but’ that is borderline a monkey paw. Speakers of all sorts of languages are required in China due to its export-reliant economy; at the same time, recent geopolitical events have pushed certain primarily Russian-speaking autocracies firmer into China’s bosom. Some might call it a win-win situation, and it definitely is a win for China. And while our massive neighbor is not without its (many) problems, I often find myself there, and work is increasingly prominent among the reasons for my visits.


  In my previous contributions, I characterized the overall process of interpreting for (smaller) enterprises doing business in China, as well as the intricacies potentially involved. This time, I would like to share certain aspects to be mindful of while traveling for work with the reader.

  First of all, I would suggest lowering your expectations towards the travel aspect. This suggestion is, perhaps, rather predictable, but it is rooted in experience. Being an accompanying interpreter has its perks, as you generally get to visit different locales and experience local lifestyles, to an extent. Still, traveling for work is still work first and foremost, so don’t make too many plans for leisure activities; instead, keep them in mind for next time and preserve energy unless you absolutely have to see them. Keeping your expectations grounded will spare you from being disappointed and remember that you can always be surprised by something unexpected when you expect nothing at all!

  I would like to expand on the suggestion to preserve your energy. As with nearly anything in life, plans are not as fast as changes, and while you might have approximations and assumptions about the forthcoming agenda, you might be invited for a banquet or on a trip elsewhere, which will effectively prolong your uptime. Although these vocational activities will not be performed during work hours, a no-show is out of the question, as much of actual business is done during such meetings, no matter in which country.

  Also, you will be speaking a lot, much longer than in the booth, so do your best to preserve your voice. Avoid colder drinks and don’t raise your voice unless absolutely necessary. Breaks will be more frequent but less predictable, granted that the content you will be processing is likely to be simpler than what we encounter in the booth, even during training sessions. Nevertheless, try to familiarize yourself with the general subject of discussion (i.e. the industry involved) and keep in mind the vocabulary you are less familiar with, as well as the ways to work with or around it.

  Remember to plan your luggage adequately. A backpack may seem sufficient for a week-long trip, but I would suggest a small suitcase and a smaller backpack or a bag, this would ease the burden on your knees and spine. Don’t bring too much, too. Have you seen the movie ‘Up in the Air’ with George Clooney? It should give you an idea of how much stuff to bring. You haven’t? Watch it sometime! And keep in mind that throughout the trip you will most likely be living in hotels where laundry may or may not be available, so plan accordingly! And remember that traveling even a hundred miles within the same country might result in dramatic climatic differences, especially in the evenings, so always check the weather forecast beforehand and bring warmer clothes.

  On the final note, bring your own toothbrush and toothpaste, the ones provided by hotels are generally underwhelming, not to mention, wasteful :). Hopefully, my ramblings will not discourage anyone from taking up the interpreter profession, or maybe will even prove useful to some!