In December, winter vacation starts and many students will travel abroad. As can be seen in the tendency of modern society where internationalization is accelerating, the need of connecting people who use different languages has increased. In the era of globalization, therefore, the role of interpreters and translators has become more important and the number of young people who dream of becoming interpreters or translators is also increasing. In this article, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) interviews Shannon Park who graduated from Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) and is now an interpreter and a translator. The SKT now tells the story of her life and introduces the world of interpretation and translation.
Biography of Shannon Park
•Graduated from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
•Member of Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 (2018 PyeongChang) bid committee
•Interpreter and translator at the Seoul Information System Planning Bureau
•Author of Interpreting the World
The Life of Shannon Park
1. Can you introduce yourself including how many languages you interpret or translate in?
I graduated from the Department of Law at SKKU and I am currently a CEO of an English education consulting and interpretation/ translation service company, Eunoia. I do interpretation and translation in two languages, Korean and English.
2. You did not major in English Language and Literature and quit your job when you were 26 years old to achieve your dream of becoming an interpreter. What was your childhood dream and what led you to your current career?
I majored in law, but I was not interested in the bar exam. I wished to change my major but my future career was unclear. I idly graduated from university and decided to gain experience by working at a company first. Then, I was impressed by the story of a person I met who started her own business after working as an interpreter at a company. The business of interpreting was possible because an interpreter needs professional background knowledge about the specific field to interpret technical terms. After hearing that story, I also wished to connect my interest in language with my future career, and decided to leave the company and study abroad. Now, as an interpreter, I think the fact that I act as a mediator is what is appealing about interpretation and translation. The role of an interpreter or translator is often bigger than just mechanical language delivery. This is the reason why working as an interpreter or translator is difficult and charming at the same time.
3. There were some adversities such as a crisis of becoming blind in the past. Can you share what happened? What was the driving force that led you to overcome such difficulties?
In my early 30s, after graduating from graduate school, I interpreted for the Seoul Information System Planning Bureau for a short period of time and then went to a foreign-affiliated firm. I worked there for three years but I was so overloaded with work that I got exhausted. Then one day when I woke up, the letters of books looked distorted. I visited the hospital and was diagnosed to have a macular hole, which is a small break in the macula, the central area of the retina that is responsible for central vision. I left the company in poor condition. Suddenly, one day when I was watching TV, I decided to participate in the TV program Beauty War to help recover my confidence. It was a program where women express their own beauty by introducing oneself, wearing dresses and so on. I made it to the top three and felt that people were saying that I am okay now. Like this, the thought of “Maybe I can give that a try” can be an unexpected breakthrough and lead you to start a new life.
4. What was your most meaningful interpretation or translation experience?
My most memorable interpretation was when I first got praise from the Korean special ambassador, Kim Jin-sun. Before I became a member of the 2018 PyeongChang bid committee, I had left the career of interpretation and translation for more than three years, so my skill of interpretation and translation was rusty. I started studying again to take the exam for the 2018 PyeongChang bid committee, but I messed up my first business trip interpretation. Five people in total were in the setting for interpretation, and it was impossible for only one person to do all the interpretation because of background noise. A speaker even talked to me when I was in the middle of an interpretation. If I had had a lot of experience in the bid committee environment, I might have done well, but I could not since I did not have enough experience. I was scolded and I thought I ruined a major event. For a short time I even thought that I was not qualified at all for this work, but I continued to study hard to develop myself. Around April, I interpreted at a big Olympic event in London for eight hours, so long that my head ached. When I was about to enter the hotel after a long day, the special ambassador praised me and I felt that the few months of sadness was instantly rewarded.
About the World of Interpretation and Translation
5. How do interpreters and translators get work most of the time? Are they members of a company or simply freelancers? Are there any necessary licenses needed to work in this field?
There can be a variety of ways to work as an interpreter or a translator. Most students graduate from a graduate school of interpretation and translation. Graduation itself is acknowledged as a license in the career of interpretation and translation. The graduates can work in two ways, as an inhouse interpreter that belongs to an organization or as a freelancer. Inhouse interpreters, who mostly do not have enough networks yet, apply for interpreting or translating work if there is a position. Freelancers are those who usually have wide networks after working for an extended period in this field or those who have other private circumstances. On the other hand, there are also interpreters or translators who work after receiving a license from institutions such as academies like tourism interpreters.
6. What is the most vital quality or condition for interpreters or translators?
The ability to speak a foreign language at a mother tongue level, intellectual curiosity, and intellectual ability are truly important. In order to build up knowledge about a specific subject in a short time, it is necessary to find out which field of specialty the orator is in and study the orator’s recent projects. Especially, in the case of consecutive interpretation, where the speaker first speaks for a certain period of time and the interpreter then interprets in a refined language after note-taking, the ability to memorize and overcome stage phobia are needed.
7. Simultaneous interpreters need to interpret the speaker’s words, but speakers have different pronunciations, speeds of speech, and intonation. How do you respond to these differences?
There must be preparations in advance. As an illustration, by searching and watching the speakers’ previous interviews or speeches, I can become familiar with the speakers’ pronunciations. In addition, I try to go to the interpreting setting early and have a talk with the speakers.
8. Languages contain the culture of countries. Have you ever had difficulties with the cultural differences?
The cultural differences may or may not be in the language itself. I personally experienced difficulty due to body language. When I interpreted as a member of the 2018 PyeongChang bid committee, Ottavio Cinquanta, the Italian president of the International Skating Union, shrugged in the middle of a talk. His gesture was saying “You know what I mean.” Body language like this is a form of culture, but it is hard to interpret the meanings into words. I tried not to get embarrassed and attempted to grasp the context considering what the speaker wanted to say. I always hope to be able to prepare for these situations in advance but it is not easy to do so. The ability of adapting to various circumstances, therefore, is one of the necessary qualities of interpreters.
9. You mentioned that you worked as a member of the 2018 PyeongChang bid committee. If an interpreter makes a critical mistake in an official place or inflicts harm on the national interest, is there any system to take the responsibility or to provide compensation?
There is no such system, but if a mistake is made, that interpreter will lose their job. Numerous people who are involved in the setting of the interpretation listen to the interpreter’s interpretation. If inappropriate words are used by the interpreter, they can pose problems. In fact, when I was a member of the 2018 PyeongChang bid committee, an interpreter had to leave due to a mistake in their selection of a word. There are no set guidelines on how to translate words, but there are some expressions that are mostly used in accordance with organizations or industries. Organizing the official names and vocabularies which are mainly used is necessary because interpreting or translating with consistency is important, but an organized list of words is not given to interpreters or translators by the organizations in advance.
The Future of Interpretation and Translation
10. Some experts think that the prospects of interpreters or translators are not bright due to the wide spread of interpretation or translation machines such as interpreting applications or Google and Naver translating websites. As a professional interpreter and translator, do you feel a sense of crisis?
I do not feel a sense of crisis yet. The machines are developing but I believe it will not be easy to catch up to the level of interpreters or translators. Especially, in the case of Korean, offering a high quality English interpretation and translation service will take a long time because the roots of the two languages are not closely related. Moreover, I believe that unlike machines, interpreters and translators have strengths in creativity and grasping context. Literature translations, for instance, are currently difficult for machines.
11. There are not many universities where interpretation and translation departments are established. Moreover, there are many students who hesitate to go to graduate school for interpretation and translation due to the cost. Do you think there is a problem in the education of interpreters and translators in Korea? How do you think Korea’s education system should be changed in the future?
In my opinion, there are some problems. First of all, I have doubts about offering interpretation and translation as a university course. Interpretation and translation training is efficient when students already have a significant foreign language skill. I wonder how many university students are on the teachable level. Next, faculties are usually short of recent experiences. The interpretation and translation market changes very quickly along with the situations of companies. In terms of education, current faculty members might have difficulties in delivering appropriate knowledge. Students need recent market information, but faculties seems to have outdated experience. I discovered that there is a Graduate School of Translation&TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at SKKU and most of the faculty have specialized in English Literature. Since the ability to interpret and translate English is different from the one required for English literature, this seems to be a problem. In addition, literature translation is a field that is not being spotlighted by companies than other translation fields such as video translations. For instance, in the past, video translations involved mostly adding subtitles to movies, but nowadays they are also used in corporations. As a result, one needs to understand the characteristics of video translation and be able to handle the tools, but only a few departments have experience in this newly rising field. Furthermore, the education of interpretation and translation itself should be further subdivided in specific fields.
12. Finally, what would you like to say to Kingos who dream of becoming an interpreter or a translator?
The job of interpretation and translation is not easy and the market changes quickly. If you are interested in this field, however, you should give it a try without worrying about how the industry will turn out in the future. There are a lot of opportunities to feel rewarded when you work hard in this field. In addition, I think it would be better to first study another major in university and learn the technical part of interpretation and translation in graduate school. Foreign language skills are important, but there must be a specialized field that you surely have enough knowledge in. In my case, after studying law in university, my basic knowledge about law helped me do law-related translations easier than others. Good luck!
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