Featured Interpreter: Giovanna Lester

Q: How long have you been an interpreter and why/how did you get started in the field?

It was 1979 when I first started interpreting for my boss as part of my job. I did not know that was a profession or that it could become a career. The next year I was laid off as part of the company’s reorganization process, and I discovered that my knowledge of English could put food on the table. I started teaching the language, then my students (company executives) started requesting my services as an interpreter and that’s how I started. I had to do it all: simultaneous, sight, consecutive, chuchotage.

Q: What was your first interpreting job?

Interpreting in the office for American Express clients and VIPs in Brazil. In the US, I was expected to interpret as an escort for executives of the bank I worked at, and my first conference was the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative in 1992, under President Bush, Sr.

Q: How do you prepare for assignments?

Research. I am so extremely grateful for the Internet! Most of my work is for international conferences and confidential. Many companies do not understand our oath of confidentiality and refuse to give us material. But YouTube, search engines, TedTalks, and online publications make it a lot easier to fill in the blanks.

The first step, if the client refuses to send material, is to check into the company. Then check the previous year’s event or events in other companies in the same segment. If you can find who the speakers are going to be, check YouTube for any videos – that will help you with style, vocabulary, rhythm, accents, etc.

Recently, I attended a 2-day workshop by Darinka Mangino and Maha El-Metwally on computer aided interpreting and learned a few tools to help with glossary creation, term extraction and training. They will be put to good use.

Q: What was the funniest/most interesting experience on the job?

It was a financial conference in the gorgeous Gaylord Resort, in Texas. We had a special breakout session just for the Brazilian group and, unfortunately, the tech guy provided the team with the wrong transmitter. I had to start on consecutive so as not to waste time. Mind you, since we had the equipment, I left my notepad in the booth and all I had with me was a 3×3 inches “idea booklet” – a souvenir from one of the stands we passed on the way. Well, 30 minutes later, the right equipment arrived, but they chose to continue on consecutive –“It was more fun!”

Q: What was the saddest experience on the job?

Oh, that one almost had me in tears. It was an IME (Independent Medical Examination) for a case involving a severe head injury. After the physician evaluated the patient, it was his wife’s turn to ask questions. They were very young, less than 5 years married, in their early twenties, with all of their dreams still being born… And she asked the doctor when her husband would get back to normal. I had to take a sip of water before speaking.

Q: Which social media do you use, if any? If you do, what are your most favorite pages/accounts/groups to read?

I have three Twitter accounts – one is going to be retired soon. My personal account is @cariobana, and my business account is @ConVTI2019. Right now, I follow avidly @TranslationTalk, a rotationally-curated account with a new curator every Sunday. It has become a vice. @MadalynSklar is a marketing guru and I love the work she does; it is not T&I related, but there is much we, as entrepreneurs, can learn from her. @LinguaGreca, by Catherine Christaki, always has great stuff. @Ana Lucia Amaral covers business intelligence, cyber security and marketing. The other accounts are colleagues and associations – @fit_ift, @FIT_LatAm, @_abrates, @atanet, @NAJITOrg, @NAJITObserver – all organizations I am involved with. I mean, I have about 100 more I can put here.

And I belong to a plethora of groups on Facebook: medical interpreting, court interpreting, conference interpreting, fun groups, colleagues-helping-colleagues group… They are so numerous because I belong to groups in all of the three languages I am involved with – English, Portuguese, and Spanish (desperately want to learn more Spanish vocabulary).

Q: What are your favorite movies/literature in your target language? Can you recommend something to our readers?

 I left Brazil almost 35 years ago, and I am ashamed to say I have not kept up with its classical literature. I read mostly a style called “crônicas” – short stories that stand alone, sometimes shorter than one page. João Ubaldo Ribeiro and Luiz Fernando Veríssimo are my favorite. Their style is very contemporary and fresh.

My favorite movies are from the 80s, Gaijin, the history of Japanese immigration to Brazil, and Eles não usam black-tie (People like us).

Q: What advice would you give to an up-and-coming interpreter?

  • Learn the business side of the profession.
  • Read the Codes of Ethics: they are there to protect YOU.
  • Do not speak in anger. Develop a standard phrase for those situations, like “I understand and will look into it.”

Q: As a former Vice President of the National Board who advised candidates preparing for the medical certification exam, what can you recommend our readers and students aiming to get certified?

My first recommendation is to visit the IMIA website. The IMIA is an umbrella organization and candidates will find information on many areas related to Medical Interpreting, especially resources. The next step would be to visit both the CCHI and National Board websites for more resources and training materials. The tests are not necessarily one easier than the other: they both require 40 hours of training and focus during the exam itself.

Once the candidate chooses which exam to take – many take both – focus on the requirements of that one.

Q: What do you do to develop your professional skills? Webinars, conferences? If the latter, which conferences do you prefer and why? 

All of the above, books, workshops, listen to the radio and now podcasts in both languages I work with. I have not developed the courage to delve into podcasts in Spanish.

Recently, I went to the Cuba-Quebec 11th Symposium on T&I, in Varadero, Cuba, the 3rd Int’l Conference of the Panamanian T&I Association, in Panama City, Panama, the 10th Int’l Conference of the Brazilian T&I Association, in São Paulo, Brazil. I also attend non-T&I related events, such as Unbound (marketing), speakers’ workshops, etc.

I recommend that people join associations in the countries whose languages they speak. That’s why I am a member of the American Translators Association and of the Brazilian Translators and Interpreters Association. It is an affordable way to stay in touch with my languages. I also take courses in both languages. Right now, I am studying Comparative Law at a Brazilian online school.

Q: Is there anything you feel lacking in educational options out there? If you were to choose the topic for a new webinar or course, what would it be?

Jonathan Hine’s business essentials. There is plenty of training on how to be a good professional, but very little on how to run your own business, what tools are available to assist us, how to negotiate fair prices and working conditions. Also, contract negotiations. That is a hard one. Most freelancers in our profession believe they can not negotiate terms and that the agencies have an anvil over their heads. That attitude must change if we really want to be respected as professionals.

Q: What would you like changed or improved in the industry?

Do you have a year??? Just kidding. The number one thing is to teach end users of interpreting services that interpreters are human beings. That interpreters are not always subject matter experts and don’t know all the words in the dictionary. That if clients want to be understood, they have to pace themselves and allow for the interpreting process to take place: stop interrupting the interpreter with extra information!

And payment is not a luxury, it is how we make a living.

Basically, I think most professional training is right on and there’s little improvement needed, but our clients need a lesson on how to use our services. Yes, it is a generalization, so take it with a grain of salt from someone who has been active in the profession for over 39 years, in different countries, in different settings.  

Q: What is the most important to be successful as an interpreter, in your opinion?

Learn to listen actively. Don’t focus on how you are going to frame what was said as much as on the essence of what is being said. Notice the difference in verb tense: be in the moment.

That is, assuming you have the required ability to deliver what is expected of you: a clear message, nearly as eloquently delivered by the speaker as possible.

You can find Gio on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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