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Interpreter Spotlight: Zhanna Utepova, Russian Interpreter

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Each month at Boostlingo we highlight one of the interpreters assisting customers as part of the Boostlingo Hub. These 13,000 professionals are located all over the globe and represent over 300 languages.

This month, we’re highlighting Zhanna Utepova, a Russian to English medical interpreter and community interpreter based in the United States. Zhanna has been interpreting since 2018 and had an impressive career in the international medical field from her native Kazakhstan. Get to know her a little better with these excerpts from our conversation.

How did you learn English?

Actually, I learned English from my early childhood. Every year I studied in a special school, where we started to study English since second grade. Wow. That was special, that school. I didn’t know that [at the time]. We have many schools in Kazakhstan where we use to study English from second grade, you know? And even right now, there are some schools, high school as well, where they are already starting to learn not only one foreign language, but probably two or three in sixth grade.

Because the environment shows how important it is to know different languages. This is not only about English, you can choose German, French, even Chinese, and Turkish. So now parents are paying lots of attention to that.

Then I graduated medical university. And after medical university, I visited England. Just for six months, and I graduated college courses in English as a Second Language.

In the pharmaceutical business, I used to work with many American companies — companies like British GlaxoSmithKline, German companies, and French companies as well. Their headquarters are located in Europe or in the United States. So, I’ve got my bosses who are English-speaking people, even if they’re not American, or English people. So, the business is using English language—it was a must. And it really helped me a lot in my career. It helped me to be promoted, because it gave me an opportunity to read some studies in English to translate them, especially when I worked in the marketing sphere. So, I translated all of that information, those medical studies into Russian. And then I used it in my work; we had lots of meetings, I traveled a lot. So, it really helped me a lot in my career.

How did you become interested in medical interpreting?

Well, that was related to my movement to the United States [in 2018], of course. Because I was just willing to try interpreting just to earn some money. I tried, and then finally, I realized I’ve found another occupation.

Before I became a Russian medical interpreter, I used to work in the pharmaceutical business. I devoted a lot of years to this business in my native country in Kazakhstan. I started as a Medical Sales Representative. Then I became Training Manager. Then I switched to marketing and became a Product Marketing Manager. And finally, I became the Medical Director. So actually, my work was dealing with pharmaceutical medications, all of medicine. It was a really nice, exciting business.

That is why for me, I would prefer to be medical interpreter because I’m familiar with medicine. Well, not with all of course, but with a majority, about maybe 80%. And it doesn’t give me any trouble, to translate everything, this medical terminology.

What surprised you about becoming a Russian medical interpreter?

Actually, I can’t say that this is an easy job. I’m trying to assist both parties. You know, here is our two parties and sometimes it is very stressful. Sometimes, because clients are very different, especially Russian-speaking clients.

They are quite specific people. I say that because the Russian language is quite a common language for all CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries, even for Ukrainians right now that are in a horrible position due to this war. So, it means I can talk to many, many people for whom Russian language is the common language.

For example, you see Ukrainians, people from Kazakhstan, from Tajikistan, from Uzbekistan, from Georgia, from Armenia, from Russia; so the Russian language is not just the language for Russian people from the Russian Federation, but this is also covering all people from CIS, former USSR. So, it means a huge, huge, huge population. That is why some Russian-speaking people also can talk with different accents. And sometimes they also have a hard time understanding the Russian language at all.

Russian-speaking people like to talk, they’re very talkative people. And sometimes it is hard to stop them, because they don’t understand that a Russian interpreter needs to make pauses in order to give an opportunity to interpret in order without any gaps.

I think sometimes they’re missing home, especially elderly people. You know they’re always lonely, sitting in their apartments; so probably they’re just using this opportunity to talk to somebody in their native language. In their nature, they really talk to people, they are open minded. They like to talk and they talk wildly. Russian language is quite a complicated language. And there are lots of aphorisms, idioms that they can use.

What is your advice for organizing your day as an interpreter?

I get up early — very early, and then I drink one glass of water. Then, I walk in a very energetic way. This morning exercise really helps me. And when you come back home, you eat some kind of breakfast, and you feel really, you know, fresh.

If you really are very hungry, you’re going to have low blood pressure and you’ll feel sleepy. So definitely, you need to stop just for 10-15 minutes, and eat something. Otherwise, you will have low energy, and you will not have an opportunity to use all your skills.

There are some peak hours, like mornings until noon, for example, that are the really busy time. But then the afternoon is less stressful. So, you have a period of time when you can rest a little bit. And when you have a rest, then it’s no problem at all. You’re just recovering the energy.

But at weekends, you really have to be actively relaxing. Take the break. Drive somewhere, meet friends, just go out to change your lifestyle a little.

How has being an interpreter changed who you are as a person?

I think interpreters are more detail-oriented people. They’re active listeners. Before, I didn’t pay too much attention to details. Now, while I’m watching the news, I’m already starting to use this professional, active listening. And it really opens the whole world.

If you really listen to any kind of news, you really are like taking part in it. Because before I had this problem: I didn’t pay much attention when people are talking. I could just skip some information. I couldn’t be so detail oriented.

But when you are interpreting you really need to not miss any kind of word. You have to be extremely accurate, especially in medical interpretation, because this is very important. This is medication, dosage, diagnosis, symptoms, and so on.

So now I think interpreters’ active listening and accurate speech skills are much more developed than other people. They’re using their voice skills as well for articulation, because you need to be understood by both sides. That’s the important part. So, I think interpreters, they’re really special people in this life.

I’m trying to be more patient as well. Before I was in a hurry; I remember that I was trying to push or interrupt, but now I’m trying to calm down. I say to myself, “Just calm down, Zhanna. Now, don’t be impatient. Just listen, listen.” And when you’re just listening, you can’t be nervous, you know. It helps me when I’m not in a hurry, and I’m not pushing this side or this side. You’re just relaxed and listening to both sides.

If you are not nervous, you will not make them nervous. If an interpreter is calm, then this calmness will spread to both sides, and everything will be in a perfect way. As soon as you become an impatient interpreter, then you are raising your emotions, and this discussion might not be very successful.

What is your advice for aspiring interpreters?

You need to like this job. You need to like what you’re doing. If you are a bad communicator, if you don’t like people at all (because there are people who just don’t like to deal with people. They become easily irritated, or they’re extremely emotional.) this job is not for you.

If you are impatient, if you can’t repeat one sentence over and over, for example, if the person is elderly with dementia, this job is not for you.

If you don’t like kids, if you hate when they’re screaming while they’re getting vaccinations, this job is not for you.

You really need to be a very great communicator. It doesn’t matter which language you will use in your interpreter work, you need to like people. You need to be willing to help people.

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