Arc de Triomphe in Paris

How on International Women’s Day I indirectly lent my voice to those who cannot always speak out

As interpreters, we get to work in numerous situations and scenarios. In a single week, I can go from interpreting about aviation to urology to pet food. It is one of the things I love the most about what I do. However, there are times when I -even if indirectly- get to help and give back by simply doing my job: interpret.

The Event

Last March (2017), at Somerset House in London, the Avon Foundation celebrated International Women’s Day by announcing a new and significant contribution to their campaign against domestic violence and by sharing the findings of a joint research study into non-physical coercive control they conducted together with Refuge, a charity that aids women and children victims of domestic violence. It was a global event with panellists and attendees from all over the world and an elegant yet serious occasion.

My job was to accompany Ms Ada Rico, co-founder of La Casa del Encuentro, an Argentine NGO that fights for Women’s Rights and against gender-based violence, and help her bridge the language barrier so she could communicate effortlessly.

The day started earlier that morning over a cup of coffee in the lobby of the hotel where she and two Argentine journalists were to meet with Avon’s own CEO, Ms Sheri McCoy. As any seasoned interpreter surely knows, in these kinds of events and especially when you have not had contact with the final beneficiary of your skills, sitting down for a moment with the client prior to the interpretation does make a big difference. If anything, it is a good time to agree on preferred terminology, go over the dynamics of the day, and, most importantly, reassure them that you are a pro and know what you are doing.

Showing up early, properly groomed, well-prepared, and calm are the first steps towards building trust, a key element in our line of work. Yes, I am fully aware that the proof of the interpreter is in the interpreting but I would argue that success lies in the small details, too.

The evening event was a combination of keynote speakers whose speeches I was to interpret for Ms Rico and a panel of experts that included Ms Rico herself. That meant that I had to stay “mobile” so I could interpret for her both on and off stage, I had to keep my pen and notepad as well as the event programme with me as I was to interpret her remarks consecutively and also manage the lapel microphone I was wearing, which had to be off while I was doing whispering but on while interpreting consecutively. Basically, I had a lot in my hands.

Being flexible and quick on my feet was as important as being accurate and impartial.

The evening was a success and after the panel presentation, I got to enjoy some stunning London views from the terrace.

Data Sheet – International Women’s Day with Avon Foundation

Type of interpreting: Consecutive with note-taking for the interview and a combination of simultaneous whispering and consecutive with note-taking during panel in the evening

Type of event: interviews with the press followed by keynote speeches and an expert panel discussion

Number of interpreters per language pair: one

Equipment: Standard lapel microphone and note-taking kit

Challenges: Controlling the situation without out-staging the speaker

Lessons learned:  pay attention to one’s posture and demeanour even sitting down and 110% focused on interpreting

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Useful Resources


Photo taken by in Paris, where I attended the Know Your Worth marketing workshop for interpreters by Julia Poger. It was a great workshop and Paris never, ever disappoints.

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