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Interpreter Spotlight: Julio & Edvin, Indigenous Language Interpreters

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Each month we get to know one of the interpreters in the Boostlingo Hub. This month we’re lucky to have spoken with two interpreters who work with Barbier International (a partner in the Boostlingo Hub). Julio is based in Guatemala and is a K’iche’ interpreter. Edvin is also based out of Guatemala and is a Mam interpreter.

The mission of the Boostlingo Hub is to expand language access and help more people access quality interpreting. Part of that work is a commitment to expansion of indigenous language access. The two interpreters we’re highlighting this month are key to this initiative as speakers of Mayan languages of lesser diffusion: K’iche’ (Julio) and Mam (Edvin). Providing interpretation for speakers of these languages outside of Guatemala is an important step toward insuring global, equitable access to important services regardless of native language.

We’re excited to share a bit about Julio and Edvin’s personal journeys and the backgrounds that make them such great assets to the Boostlingo Hub.

How Did you Get Started as an Indigenous Language Interpreter?

Edvin: Well, I began being an interpreter, I guess it was in 2020. I used to work at a call center. But due to the pandemic and everything, we were laid off. I sat home basically just waiting to see what what’s going to happen. But suddenly, I heard someone post on Facebook, we were looking for an interpreter. If you speak Mam, English and Spanish you can get hired. And I was thinking like, why should I keep working at a call center if there are opportunities working for all better things?

They told me “Yeah, it’s actually you’re more than welcome to join. And there are no pressure like your time metrics”, those things that I used to have [in the call center]. I was like, “Okay, so let’s try it.”

I gave it a try and I really liked it. So, then I decided to leave the call center.

I would say that everything started actually years ago since the first time that I decided to be to become a volunteer. Because that gave me a different sense of life that made me think differently. But I thought that it can be done only if you are like volunteer. So you can have that feeling.

Julio: When I was a child I would learn with a couple of Americans here in my village. Because, you know, here always, when we see new people, when we see Americans, we feel like, I don’t know, you feel like “Oh, wow, who is he?” So let’s talk with them. But we don’t know how to talk with them when you know, we can’t speak English. So that’s why we try to understand and they say good morning or what’s your name and we caught all of that information and so I would try to learn a lot of things with them.

And then I tried to study more about English. Then I became an interpreter four years ago because I started to help the Americans. They called me and they said, “Julio, you are able maybe to help us because you already here. So maybe you can help us because you know, you’re a teacher and you can help us to give some classes with the children and maybe start to read some letters or something like that.” And I said, okay, it’s going to be a great experience for me. So, let’s do it. And I met with them and help them.

And all of the things that I learned there, oh, wow, I say it’s an amazing because, you know, my experience I think it was very difficult because I didn’t do anything like, for example, interpret like preach in a church. Wow, it’s very difficult for me and I said, “How am I going to do this?” So that’s why I tried to do this new experience. And then I learned a lot of things with them.

What do you love about being an Indigenous Language Interpreter?

Julio: I identify myself as a lover of my own language. I feel very happy to support my own people. Most of the people that I interpret for appreciate that I didn’t forget our language and where they have come from.

I’m so happy to do this. And you have my people, maybe I’m not there. But their expressions made me feel that we are in the same town or connection.

Edvin: Being honest, whenever I’m doing this, I don’t feel that I am working. I more feel like I am helping people. Because in the past, I used to be a volunteer. I used to help people and I know that feeling so I felt like I was doing exactly the same thing. Now, the only difference is that I am being paid for this.

I am being paid for this. This is amazing.

I mean, it’s not only about the money that we make, but it’s about the feeling. Because it’s hard for me to just imagine being at a hospital trying to explain that your stomach or your head has a pain but you cannot say it. I mean the doctor would love to help you. But if the doctor doesn’t understand us, how is it possible? I see myself as someone that’s really important for that, because the doctor is able finally to help a patient.

What’s your advice for interpreters?

Julio: First thing I think is to lose the fear. Lose the fear and prepare. Those are the most important things. Take this time to help our people.

So always I tried to learn that if I hear a new situation, try to write new vocabulary. Something very important that I say is, Day by day, I try to learn new things, new vocabulary. So that’s why I try to write in my notebook, for example, try to, to speak with someone. For example, my mom is a nurse, so I speak with her. I say, “Mom, do you know what this is or this?” because I’m not a doctor.

The most important thing is to help our people. So you need to take more trainings and learn day by day. Don’t stop learning new things.

Edvin: Being an interpreter, sometimes it’s hard and you feel shy. “They are going to think I don’t speak English. Oh, my God, what am I doing?” So, I have to show them that I’m professional. I learned that sometimes you don’t have to know everything. I mean, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to learn. I mean, if you don’t know it’s better to say, “Sorry, I don’t know it.” It is something out of my control, I can learn, I can try to do my best.

You have to prepare yourself wherever you go to. Being an interpreter, you have a big responsibility in your hands. Because you’re talking about people’s life, you’re talking about medication. So, if someone wants to become an interpreter, this is what I said to my little my youngest brother because he speaks English as well, it’s not just that I want to get a job.

You have to prepare yourself; you have to be conscious about what kind of interpretation you are going to do. Because if it’s medical interpretation, legal interpretation, I mean, those things you have to be as exact as possible. So don’t be afraid about getting better. Because if you get better, of course you will have success, but please don’t do it just because you want a job.

If you want to help people, you cannot help people if you are not the best one. So, train yourself, work on yourself, and then do your best, and you’re gonna be a good interpreter. Just simple as that.

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