My fascination with languages started just before I went to high school while learning the English alphabet during the last winter of my primary school days. My love affair with the English language would continue for the rest of my life.
My first encounter with an English-speaking person was probably as a young university student back in the 80s. I was asked to interpret for an elderly American missionary at our small church near Seoul. I somehow enjoyed the novel experience, beginner’s luck I suppose. The old gentleman ended up marrying me and my wife a few years later, on a cold wintry day in my hometown.
My journey as a translator started when I was first offered an opportunity to translate a small book. From then on, I translated at least one book a year for the next 10 years. Never did I dream this annual translation exercise would see me migrating to Australia. A T&I career takes you to places or materials you never imagined it would be possible to go near.
The excitement of seeing people understand each other through my involvement was highly addictive. The more I did it, the more I wanted it. Opportunities were limited in Australia, while teaching full time at high schools. Whenever an opportunity knocked on the door, I didn’t hesitate.
Some Scenes Never Leave You
By now I have spent more than half of my time in Australia as an interpreter/translator and have been to many places and met people from all walks of life. The wailing widow before her husband’s dead body at a Sydney morgue, the conscience-stricken wife of a harmless-looking man accused of murdering her lover, a group of scared North Korean sailors locked up in a prison located in the middle of the South Australian outback, a former high profile Korean politician whom my parents used to admire during a Supreme Court trial, a former female prime minister of Australia in Canberra or a former foreign minister in a hotel lift, my favourite ABC journalists in their studios. Priceless!
Despite being a sensitive sod, I have never suffered vicarious trauma for no clear reason, but I suspect it was my tendency to leave everything there and then. But certain things sink in the deepest part of your consciousness and leave a lasting impact on you, moulding the person you are. No experience is to be wasted.
The Joy and Challenge of Teaching
Having spent most of my early career teaching teenagers, I was hoping for a change. A chance meeting with an academic at a Sydney university opened a door and I found myself teaching adults translation and interpreting at universities and then TAFE colleges. Not all of them would behave better than teenagers but, boy, what a joy to teach students dedicated to becoming a T&I practitioner. Robert Frost once said “I am not a teacher, but an awakener,” but I confess that being a teacher has awakened me far more than I have my students!
Dae Young Kim is a NAATI certified translator and interpreter and educator in Korean