When a person considers a career as an interpreter, the emotional demands of the job aren’t usually top of mind. While many translation jobs can be stressful due to workload and time pressures, some interpreters can also find themselves in the middle of an emotionally-charged situation, whether in a courtroom or a doctor’s office.

Court-appointed Interpreters

In Canada, everyone has the right to an interpreter in a court of law.  Section 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to an interpreter for a party or witness who does not understand or speak the language of a court proceeding. This right exists regardless of the language involved, and in Ontario, court interpreters are provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General.


With the growing number of immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in Canada, the demand for interpreters continues to increase, but many don’t realize the emotional toll that work can take.  At times, trials or court proceedings involve detailed description of violence or abuse, including very young witnesses, violent acts and highly emotional testimony.  Throughout the proceedings, an interpreter needs to capture not only the words that are being said, but also the essence and meaning behind them. There is immense pressure on a translator because they need to be completely accurate; the outcome of a court proceeding can be directly affected by their translation of events.


In order to cope with the challenges of this type of work, it’s integral that the interpreter is highly trained and emotionally prepared.  Interpreters are often asked if they’d like a debrief after a particularly difficult session in court, however for many, that might not be enough to alleviate the stress of the job.


Due to the extreme pressure on court interpreters, there have been many documented cases where the interpreter resigns or changes roles to avoid the stress of the courtroom.  Undoubtedly many more have gone unrecorded. The circumstances are the same no matter which country or languages are involved.  One such case is of Tsang Man-sang, a Chinese court interpreter due to the overwhelming daily stress, who quit interpretation services after 25 years due to the overwhelming daily stress.


Interpretation and Healthcare

Medical interpreters work in a different environment, but can be subject to similar levels of emotional stress.  They are the voice of the medical practitioner, nurse, or health care provider delivering news directly to the patient or to the patient’s family.  At times, the job requires explaining test results, different treatment options or the severity of a condition.


The interpersonal components of what the doctor and patient “say” to each other is extremely important.  In cases where the patient and health care provider have a pre-existing relationship, the interpreter needs to understand that relationship, and accurately convey the messages back and forth.  Also, a medical interpreter must take precautions when it comes to protecting their physical safety.  Exposure to contagious diseases, mental health issues or harmful bacteria are other aspects that must be addressed.


Given all of these challenges, some interpreters may decide not to pursue a career in these fields. However, while emotional and physical stressors are undoubtedly present, there is also the satisfaction of knowing that you can be instrumental in helping to communicate the story of a victim during a trial, or supporting a patient through a trying medical situation.


If you have any questions about becoming an interpreter or comments about your experience as one, please get in touch! Contact

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