Whenever people ask me ‘how did you become an interpreter and translator’, my thoughts always wonder back to the scene when I was visiting my late grandma one day as a five-year-old. I was flicking through the pages of a new calendar given to grandma by a friend and the calendar was titled Famous Landmarks Around the World. On the last page, a unique-looking building with a gleaming white sail-shaped roof had me absolutely mesmerised! After finding out the building was the Sydney Opera House, I said to grandma: “I really would love to visit there one day”. And her answer was “you had better study English hard!”
My first ‘interpreting’ opportunity came when I was in Year 5. My cousin was studying in America, and her landlady Maggie came to China for holiday and asked to visit my cousin’s parents. Speaking no English at all, my panic-stricken uncle and aunty placed all their trust in me, a 11-year-old to interpret for them and Maggie. The detail of that experience is all bit blurry now, but I still vividly remember the one word I kept interpreting for my aunty to Maggie was ‘eat’! The laughs we shared and that proud-as-a-punch feeling filled my little heart in the weeks to follow.
English was unquestionably my favourite subject throughout schooling. I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful English teacher, John, in my last two years at high school. With his extra coaching and guidance, I was accepted by one of the universities on my wish list to major in English. John is 84 now, and we still keep in touch with each other.
In my last year at the university, acutely aware of the fact that my spoken English was not quite there, I decided to work as an English tour guide for a local travel agency on weekends and during uni breaks. The job was not just limited to showing clients around tourist attractions, but also involved interpreting for clients who were in town for business. At times, I was feeling like a fish out of the water, but it was such an invaluable experience which sowed the seeds of my love for bridging the gap of communication for people speaking different languages.
Fast forward ten years, not only did I see the Opera House with my own eyes, I also decided to live in Australia, this beautiful country permanently. However, I was at a career crossroads after giving up a successful corporate job in China. I held certain expectations of what type of jobs I would like to have but kept being knocked back due to my lack of local work experience. Just at the time when my self-confidence was taking a big plunge, my husband came across an article about the interpreting and translation courses offered by the University of Western Sydney. Although it had never crossed my mind to go back to a classroom again, I decided to give it a shot. I was keen on studying interpreting, unfortunately where we were living at the time meant it was not feasible for me to travel back and forth for classes, and therefore, I took up the postgraduate course in Translation Study. I completed the 1.5 years’ study via correspondence, travelling to the Bankstown campus from time to time for major tutorials.
After I acquired my NAATI accreditation as a translator, I decided to challenge myself to sit the Paraprofessional Interpreter test followed by the Professional Interpreter test, despite I had no formal training in interpreting. It took me two attempts to pass the Professional level test, and I have not looked back since I embarked on this amazing T & I journey!
I used to assume that most of my Mandarin-speaking clients speak little English or none at all, until I met a lady who is fluent in both the languages. She probably read the question on my mind and said to me: “ I have no problem conversing in English in day-to-day life. However, when I am in a special environment like hospitals, I immediately feel vulnerable, and my mind shuts down. I cannot comprehend the concepts I usually can, and I cannot express myself as well. That’s why I need an interpreter like you to be my ears and mouth.” Her words have really stuck with me and time and time again, have reminded me of the importance of our job as an interpreter or translator. Being the vital link in communication for the CALD communities has given me a great sense of satisfaction!
I have been an interpreter and translator for the past 11 years. The majority of my work nowadays are for hospitals, courts, tribunals and community organisations. It has been a fantastically rewarding career, not only in the sense of constantly receiving gratitude from the clients and the professionals, but also of what I have learnt along the journey to upskilling and bettering myself.
I hope my late grandma knows her words of 43 years ago put me on this career path, and she would be proud of what I have become and what I have achieved……
Jiting Pan has a Bachelor degree in English Literature in China. After migrating to Australia, she acquired a Postgraduate degree in Translation Study at the University of Western Sydney. She is a NAATI Certified Translator from English into Chinese, as well as a Certified Interpreter between English and Mandarin.