By Lucy Kathan
It happened largely by accident. Several unforeseen events occurred to set me on my eventual career path. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, thousands of miles from the U.S. Shortly after I finished my college studies there, I found myself looking for a job in my chosen field in the newspaper ads. Most ads for Business Administration positions stated: “… all applicants MUST have X number of years’ experience and/or have a specialization in Human Resources, Finances, Marketing, etc.” After some time job hunting, I got tired of waiting, mainly because it didn’t look good to be sitting at home under my parent’s roof, doing nothing month after month, while my career went nowhere. I decided I needed to try another path to get my foot in the door while I continued to look for a job in my field. While reading the paper, I happened to notice that there were many ads for bilingual secretaries. I had never attended a secretarial class in my life, although I had taken typing classes after high school in preparation for college to do essays, assignments and presentations, during which I had learned to type proficiently. So I had, out of necessity, learned some secretarial skills. I suddenly realized that I already possessed other skills that were more important and useful than typing which might open doors for me.[pullquote align=”right” color=”#4d648d”]”The need for good language professionals is constant and enormous and it is growing”[/pullquote]
I started life as a monolingual Spanish speaking child, but my parents decided I needed to learn English, so they enrolled me at the North American-Peruvian Cultural Institute (ICPNA), the most prestigious English language institution in Lima. So I had learned English. My typing and bilingual skills qualified me as a bilingual secretary, and they were not demanding experience for these jobs, only the skills I already had. So with a lot of hope and more than a little apprehension, I sent my resume in answer to a few of those ads for bilingual secretaries, and to my surprise I quickly got positive responses. Apparently, the particular skill set they wanted for these jobs —especially the ‘bilingual’ part— was in short supply and I had it. I had found my niche. Before I knew it, I had a job. I was busy, working in an office, answering calls in English as well as Spanish, filing, typing letters, etc. I wasn’t looking to do translations, but in time, that came to me too. My boss asked me if I could translate and I timidly answered yes. I had already begun my career as a translator and interpreter without even realizing where I was headed!
Then I met and fell in love with my husband, and I moved to the U.S. For a while I felt sad to have abandoned my professional aspirations in business administration, but on the other hand felt happy to have a loving husband, a nice home, and soon, a beautiful baby daughter. I had put my career behind me, or so it seemed.
But before long I found myself in situations where I was compelled to help other Spanish speakers communicate with the English speaking culture here. Once again, I realized that the skills I had already acquired in my life, more than what I learned in college, were a natural path for me to follow, and a more lucrative one at that. The need for good language professionals is constant and enormous and it is growing. I realized that if I honed my skills in this direction, I could build a career in translation/interpreting. I started attending workshops, forums and college classes. Then I began working as an independent contract translator for a nonprofit organization in Denver on a part-time basis, and my career has only accelerated since.
I often remember my high school teacher, Professor Gutarra, dissecting the parts of a long, complicated sentence on the blackboard, sometimes calling on the students to walk in front of the class and name the parts of the sentence and how they functioned (reflexive verbs, imperfect subjunctive, present indicative, passive voice, gerunds, superlatives, etc.). Professor Gutarra was very passionate about the subject matter. We kids didn’t seem to care much, or maybe cared only enough to pass the class. Now I find, as it gets later in my life and career, that I have become as passionate as he was. I am increasingly interested and involved in what has became my life’s vocation. I have come to see myself as a language engineer, a specialist, using words and punctuation as my tools to build conduits to transfer thoughts between people and build understanding. As a result of my growing enthusiasm, I finally understand the beauty of the written language; English and Spanish grammar, orthography, their similarities and differences. I not only study but am interested in the finer details: the correct use of the semicolon, the immense and fascinating variety of idioms, the slang and intonation of both languages. My itch to learn more had been dormant, but it is dormant no longer. Now I realize that this is what I was born to do and I cannot imagine any other career.
Lucy Kathan was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She is a court-certified Spanish interpreter, a certified medical interpreter, specializing in legal, business and medical interpretation. She is a freelance translator and works as a staff medical interpreter at Kaiser Permanente – Language Resource Center. She holds a BS in Business Administration from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University, and is a member of the Colorado Association of Professional Interpreters (CAPI). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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