On the day Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is finally laid to rest after seventy years of service to her nation and the world, here are three lessons I believe interpreters all over can draw from Her:
One: The duty of service
On her 21st birthday, The Queen famously declared that her whole life would be devoted to the service of Her people. Although interpreters are far from the enormity of such a promise and certainly do not pledge our entire lives, when interpreting we do put all our beings – what we are, what we know, what we can do, what we have done and been through before – at the service of the person we are interpreting for and their message.
While we are interpreting, we owe ourselves to our speakers. It is not about us but about them. Considering we could always tilt the scales a little bit by making our speakers sound better or worse than they are, truly understanding the nature of our service to them and keeping it always at the forefront of our minds is key. No excuses allowed.
Two: The importance of remaining poised and neutral
The Queen has made a point of rising above politics throughout Her reign. This entailed not only refraining from making public comments, but also avoiding any public displays that could hint at her opinion and preferences.
Although it has been proven by scholars that complete neutrality is not always possible, objectivity is certainly a worthy goal for interpreters to aspire to and uphold. Once again, it is not about us; it is about them. Therefore, our opinions, beliefs, and preferences are to be left out of our service as interpreters. This includes remaining calm and always poised; something The Queen was always an example of.
Three: The subtle value of cultural sensitivity
Much has been said these days about how masterfully well The Queen exercised her soft power around the world, always minding the little things, be it by wearing a brooch, adding local flowers to her bouquets, or any other meaningful details.
For interpreters, conveying information is easy. We train for it. But fully conveying messages, especially ones packed with subtle notes, is an art form that takes time, awareness, and sensitivity to learn. And yet, it is the little things that set great monarchs (and interpreters) apart as well as build bridges instead of burning them.
On a more personal – and brief – note, here are three additional things I learned from Her Majesty:
- That women can and do not need to abstain from having a family while at it like Her namesake predecessor needed to
- That it does not matter if you are the shortest person in the room; height and stature do not necessarily correlate
- That it is ok to be quick witted and a bit cheeky; there is room for authenticity even in the most serious and formal of professions
Thank You, Ma’am. May You rest in peace.