Blogs reach milestones all the time: a hundred posts, a thousand followers, a hundred thousand visits. Bloggers reach milestones as well, of course. This particular blogger marked a very important date over the holiday season: the big four-oh.
Just as WordPress encourages its authors to use their blogging milestones to reflect on how far they’ve come and set themselves new goals, I’ve decided to use the occasion of my 40th birthday to think back on what’s happened so far in my life and speculate on what might come next (warning: this post is more personal than most on the Diaries, and is only marginally related to interpreting, so if you’re not interested, feel free to stop reading here).
Thinking back, I try to picture myself at the age of ten growing up in small town Canada. A typical fifth grader, I spend my days at school, going to dance and piano lessons and playing softball. Like most of my friends, I speak only English, although my Mom will sometimes say a few words in French at home and my Opa teaches me Dutch nursery rhymes at Christmas. I think if you were to ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I would say an astronaut.
I wonder what little, ten-year-old Michelle would think if someone told her that ten years later, she’d not be studying physics or astronomy in preparation for her great space adventure, but instead would have learned to speak her family’s two heritage languages, would be majoring in German and French, and be busy trying to learning a few more languages in her spare time (I’ll tell you which ones at the end of this post).
Flash forward ten years. I’m working part-time at an independent bookstore to put myself through university. A few language study trips abroad have whetted my appetite for travel, and so I’m socking the extra pay away with vague plans to spend it on a trip around the world at some point (the Canary Islands are not on the itinerary, of course, as I don’t even know they exist). The astronaut dreams have long faded by now, and while no major career plans have stepped in to take their place, at this stage I am pretty sure that my future job will have something to do with languages.
I wonder what Michelle, the college girl, would think if someone told her that while she’d never get to take her round-the-world dream trip, the next ten years would see her living and studying in three countries and ultimately setting up house on an island off the coast of the Western Sahara.
By the age of 30, the original idea of finding a language-related job has led me, via a meandering route, to the position of freelance conference interpreter at the European Institutions. I’m increasingly confident on the job but still very green. My better half and I have settled into our adoptive home on the Canaries, although I still can’t get used to the constant sun, the locals’ habit of saying “yes” when they mean “no” (and vice-versa), and the complete lack of seasons. I’ve tried to learn a few more languages, and while more often than not I’ve found myself throwing in the towel after the first few months, I’ve managed to stick it out in the case of Spanish and have successfully added that string to my language bow. My learning focus is also turning to interpreter training, as I try to find out what I need to do in order to help students develop their nascent skills.
I wonder what Michelle, the young professional, would think if someone told her that by the time she reached 40, she’d be the proud mom of two beautiful kids, clocking up over a hundred thousand air miles a year in business travel, not just teaching but designing interpreting courses and writing a blog about her work that people actually read. The mind boggles.
And what does the 40-year-old me think about all this? Well, these would be the first conclusions that come to mind:
1) You really never can know where life will take you
2) The most unlikely people can end up becoming conference interpreters
3) There is not much point even trying to predict what the future might hold, as the world changes so rapidly that we simply don’t know what opportunities (and threats) might be around the corner
4) Be ready for anything, open to new ideas, and seize opportunities whenever they present themselves
5) Do not take language learning lightly (!)
And finally, I’d say that if the next ten, twenty or thirty years prove as unexpectedly fulfilling as the past forty, then I can count myself extremely fortunate.
Crystal ball time
So what does the future hold for this interpreter? I’m not sure. Maybe there will be a Ph.D. in there somewhere (I am the only one in my family without a “Dr.” on my business card and at some point I may decide to remedy that). Maybe we will arrange a long-term stay in Canada so the kids can spend some time closer to their Canadian family. Maybe, having tried and spectacularly failed to learn Japanese, Polish, Finnish, Arabic and Croatian (in that order), I will finally see it through with Portuguese and add a sixth working language to my combination. Maybe someone will finally invent Google Interpret and I will have to reinvent myself as a basket weaver (or go back to the original astronaut plan?).
As to what the future holds for interpreting, I have my own ideas about that, and may share them in a future post. Right now, however, I want to hear what readers think. Let me know in the comments section where you see the interpreting profession in ten years.
I’d like to suggest we all check back in ten years’ time to find out if our predictions have come true, but something tells me that WordPress will no longer be around in 2023…