By Cynthia E. Roat
(Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The teenagers sprawled all awry in their beds,
While visions of skateboards caromed in their heads.
And I with my headset and glossary too
Had just settled in for a session or two.
Telephonic interpreting seemed to make sense
To help pay a bit of the Christmas expense.
I’d picked up the phone and was just signing on
When something big zoomed by outside and was gone.
And up on the rooftop I heard such a noise,
I muted my microphone, really annoyed.
“Now what could that be?” I grumped, a bit irked,
“They know not to bother me when I’m at work.
I’ll just have to go check; I can see I’m committed.
Background noise when interpreting isn’t permitted.”
I crept from my office and down the front stairs
And into the living room, not a bit scared,
When what from the fireplace suddenly appeared
But a man dressed in red with a fuzzy white beard.
The cap on this head and his bag did the trick;
I could tell in a moment this must be St. Nick.
But he didn’t look jolly or jovial or cheery.
“Quick girl, do you speak any Reindeer?” he queried.
Now it happens that I, among other fine traits,
Am facile with languages, and I speak eight.
Among them –a secret not too many know –
Are Penguin and Reindeer and a smidgen of Crow
Which I learned one September when I was just two
And I got left behind at the Woodland Park Zoo.
(A wonderful place if you want to learn Trout;
But the wolves’ accent I never could figure out).
So there I was talking to jolly St. Nick
Who looked like he might be about to be sick.
“I need an interpreter! I’m in a stew.
The reindeer won’t fly. I don’t know what to do!
I need to find out what the problem could be,
But I don’t speak Reindeer, and they can’t talk to me.
I’ve shouted, used sign language, practically cried!”
“This sounds like a job for a pro,” I replied.
The next thing I knew I was up on the roof
With the red-suited man and his reindeer to boot.
I did a quick pre-session, gave a small glance
And faded back in my interpreting stance.
It didn’t take long, to old Santa’s delight,
To learn that the elves had the harness too tight.
A terrible problem (but easily fixed)
When you’re pulling a sleigh with a whole load of gifts.
The harness adjusted, the reindeer at ease,
St. Nick left some presents down under the tree.
Then he handed me one that he’d left till the end.
“And this is for you now, my bilingual friend,
To thank you for saving our Christmas this year.
What would we have done if you hadn’t been here?”
Then I opened the box and I smiled to myself,
For I found there a bilingual gloss’ry of Elf.
We laughed and I wondered just how he had known
I’d been studying Elf late at night all alone.
He leaned close and said, “We sure need you around.
Chief North Pole Interpreter – how does that sound?”
Then putting his finger aside of his nose,
He smiled and then up the chimney he rose.
And I heard him cry as he zoomed off with a streak,
“Merry Christmas to you all, whatever you speak!”
Excerpted from Healthcare Interpreting in Small Bites: 50 Nourishing Selections from the Pacific Interpreters Newsletter, 2002–2010 with permission from Language Line Solutions.
Cynthia E. Roat is a national consultant on language access in health care. In addition to training interpreters and interpreter instructors, she assists healthcare administrators improve their language access programs. Ms. Roat is the author of a wide array of key resources in the field, and her book Healthcare Interpreting in Small Bites is used as an ancillary text in various interpreter training programs. She is a founding member of the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) and is known nationally as an engaging speaker, a knowledgeable resource, and an energetic advocate for language access in general.