Debbie’s Inspiration to Becoming An Interpreter
I’ve been running WordlyWise since 2014, but I’ve been a linguist, translator, interpreter and intercultural trainer for nearly 20 years. After graduating from London Metropolitan University, I completed a Master’s in Interpreting with Distinction and my intercultural training for business. My first foray as a freelance translator was in Egypt before I founded my company. I still work as a linguist, interpreter and translator, but my main activity now is to run WorldlyWise Interpreting.
I come from a multicultural family. My father was originally from Armenia and he spoke various languages. My mum also comes from a diverse family and spoke French and Portuguese. I studied English and Spanish at university and realised I really enjoyed learning languages. I also loved learning about different people and cultures. This combined passion for culture and communication attracted me to working with languages and interpreting as my profession.
Language As A Passion
My main working languages are English and Portuguese, so I interpret between the two. I am also fluent in Spanish passively and interpret from Spanish. I can communicate in French at an intermediate level and am studying it further. Russian and Mandarin interest me as well.
Ultimately, we bring people together. People who couldn’t understand each other are able to communicate easily through our services. When interpreting is done well, it feels very natural to the listeners. It doesn’t feel like there is someone in the middle. I love delivering an event together and bridging the gap in communication.
WordlyWise Origin as an Interpreting Company
After working as a simultaneous interpreter, I developed an intricate understanding of the industry. Working as a freelancer, I was recommended mostly through word-of-mouth, either by an event attendee or by a client referral. I realised I had the necessary skills to organise events really well and to provide good service with a fantastic team. So, my work naturally evolved into forming WordlyWise Interpreting. Initially, I worked with a small set of clients and gradually expanding to several languages and larger events.
I think what prompted me to start the company was when I worked as a project manager and as a freelancer for a large Language Services Provider. There was a disconnect between those delivering the job and those involved in sales and project management. Both the a salesperson and project manager were not linguists themselves. Often, they don’t speak multiple languages. So, they don’t fully understand what they are delivering. Linguists would get selected based solely on the budget, not necessarily the best people for the job. These issues all combine to have many things go wrong. Linguists would show up with the wrong language combination or with the wrong variance for that particular job.
A Deeper Look at Equipment and Process
At one point as a freelancer, I was actually taking my own equipment to the events, even though the LSP was supposed to provide the equipment for me. I was so afraid that things would go wrong like the PM would book the wrong equipment. I also found it frustrating that there was no company representative present at the events. The linguists had to pick up the pieces when the job was not performed at the level that was expected. Many times, I had to go beyond my role as a linguist to appease clients, even working unpaid extra hours.
After a while, the entire setup did not make sense to me. If I can do a better job, I might as well have my own company and provide better service to the clients and treat the linguists better. I also realised as a linguist myself, I know how to provide the best sales package as well as organise the events well—because my team of linguists and I know the ins and outs of the industry. All my team members understand the delivery and the preparation required as they are all interpreters and translators themselves. With many years of experience in the industry, they know how to mitigate circumstances for everything to run well.
Language Service Provider Industry Challenges
I have enjoyed building WordlyWise and the challenge of making sure everything is in place as a service provider. I participated in accelerator programmes and took a variety of courses to develop my business skills—everything from marketing, accounting to leadership. By learning from other CEOs and founders, I try to foster my leadership skills. I continue to learn and improve as much as I can. It takes a lot of skills to run a company effectively and make the best decisions for everyone involved.
Sometimes events can involve a great deal of pressure, especially if there is little time to prepare. One event which comes to mind was a medical conference with very specific terminology. As the interpreter, I had to prepare on the train and while having breakfast because I only got the presentation the day before. When the content is technical, you have to learn a lot about the subject beforehand—it’s not just about repeating the words.
When it comes to the real world, the challenge is learning how to be professional regardless of the less-than-perfect circumstances. This means preparing on the train or getting a copy of a politician’s speech five minutes before you’re on stage in front of a large audience. Being able to deal with this sort of pressure is difficult but rewarding at the same time.
Memorable Clients & Events
I’ve met quite a few high-profile people, but in very different areas. I’ve worked with famous cinema directors like Kleban Mendelson. I’ve met famous politicians, including Prince Charles and several Prime Ministers. I also met Deborah Frances-White, a famous sportscaster.
One of the most memorable events for me was with Amnesty International regard mothers who lost their children to police violence in Brazil. The mothers were interviewing with major media outlets like BBC and Channel 4. I had to keep re-telling their stories over and over again. Due to the emotional nature of the content, I found it challenging as an interpreter. An Amnesty representative later told me I was the first interpreter that had not broken down during the interviews. I was actually able to convey their poignant words while maintaining a professional tone. It was not easy, but very rewarding and worthwhile.
As an interpreter, I’ve also travelled to numerous exotic places. One of my best clients have their annual International Congress in a different location each year, the last one in 2019 being in the Bahamas. I have worked all over Europe, Angola and South America. I’ve worked in Jordan with C40. My last job before the pandemic was a G-20 meeting with the financial ministers and secretaries of states in Saudi Arabia. Traveling was very much part of my routine.