Why Interpreters Make the Best Parents

First, the big news: Alejandro Moreno-Ramos (aka Mox) has just published his second collection of cartoons for translators. Mox II: What they don’t tell you about translation has come out just in time for Christmas and is sure to make the perfect stocking stuffer for the freelance translator in your life.

Now for my part in the story: I was invited by Alejandro to contribute to his new book. What follows is the Interpreter Diaries’ humble contribution to Mox’s mission of bringing a smile to the face of translators (and interpreters) everywhere. Enjoy!

Why Interpreters Make the Best Parents

As a freelance conference interpreter with two small children, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how these two aspects of my life interact. I often worry about how having an interpreter for a mom might be detrimental to my kids’ development, and try to find ways to ensure that my hectic travel schedule, my schizophrenic way with languages and cultures, and my obsessive need to be informed about absolutely everything (to mention just a few of my better features!) have the least possible impact on my family.

Today, I am going to give myself a break from all that brow-furrowing and instead take some time to think about why interpreters might actually make the very best parents of all. I’ll go through the various phases of childhood and demonstrate why the children of interpreters have got an edge over the rest. Maybe, by the end of this exercise, I’ll have managed to convince even myself!

In the early years:

We will happily sing you various language versions of all the classic lullabies (did you know there are Dutch lyrics to “Frère Jacques”?).

We will not feel compelled to bring in a nanny to teach you Chinese, Polish, or whatever language is currently in vogue at the nursery, since we reckon we can teach you everything you need to know about languages ourselves.

When you’re at preschool:

We will have just as much fun as you do watching Dora the Explorer teach Spanish words to English kids (and English words to Spanish kids), although we may go a bit overboard when editorializing on the regional variations reflected in Backpack’s choice of terminology.

We will ALWAYS have a pen and pad in our bag for you to doodle on when the wait gets too long at the restaurant.

At show and tell, when you are asked to explain what your mommy or daddy does for a living, you will have plenty of answers to choose from (examples from real life: “My mommy sits in a glass box all day”, “My mommy gets paid to talk”, “My daddy packs suitcases for a living”).

You will benefit from early exposure to trends in comparative literature (“You know, the Little Mermaid actually died at the end in the original Danish version”).

In primary school:

We will teach you the correct pronunciation of foreign footballers’ names – a skill guaranteed to amaze your friends at recess.

You will have the coolest collection of foreign coins and banknotes of all the kids in your class (until we requisition them for our next trip).

If you are a very good boy all year, you may end up getting presents from Santa AND the Reyes AND Sinterklaas.

We will fill your shelves with the original language versions of Tintin, Le Petit Prince, and other foreign kids’ classics – then happily sight translate them for you at bedtime.

We will amaze you and your friends with our Trivial Pursuit skills (warning: the fact that your mom would appear to know everything, while seemingly cool now, will swiftly become a liability in the next developmental phase).

During the teenage years:

You will graciously overlook the fact that we constantly embarrass you by spouting useless factoids in front of your friends, because we will now be able to help you with your English homework, your Spanish homework, your German homework, your Geography homework, your History homework …

Since we are used to commuting a thousand kilometers or more to work, we will never complain that Saturday’s swim meet in the next town is too much of a drive.

Although we will insist that our iPhone is for replying to client emails and our iPad is for listening to Portuguese news podcasts, you will often be able to sneak in a game of Angry Birds when we’re not looking.

We will teach you a few choice phrases to impress the cute new French girl in class with (although you may want to double-check the translations before you try them out on her).

And the all-time most important reason why interpreters make the best parents ever is …

… we will not let you grow up to be interpreters.