Interview with a Thai Interpreter: Sompit Watkins

Sompit Watkins

Melbourne, Australia

Thai Interpreter Sompit Watkins

What languages do you work with?  What are some of the intricacies or challenges of the particular language you work with?

Thai and English, both ways.  Interpreting English ↔ Thai has many challenges, the most obvious of which is the lack of tense and plural form in the Thai language. When interpreting from Thai to English, I have to try to determine the tense and number from the context.  It becomes very problematic when time or number is crucial. For example, when the accused says ‘friend’ in Thai, he may mean he asked a friend or a few friends to help dispose of the murder weapon.  Or if a wife says her husband “always drunk” in Thai, we would not know whether he was always drunk but doesn’t touch any alcohol now or is still always drunk.

What are some of your most interesting projects? Why?

I work in many settings. Apart from international conferences, a big chunk of my work is court and legal interpreting.  I have interpreted in so many interesting cases but the ones that sprang to my mind  first were sex slavery and drug importation cases. 

What is the best part about being an interpreter? What do you love about it?

I feel so blessed to be an interpreter. My work has touched many lives – hopefully in positive ways.  I have learned so much about so many things I’ve never imagined I would know.  Again it’s very hard to pick the best part but I guess the fact that I’m allowed to ‘sit in’ and experience what many people go through without having to really go through it myself.  Using the most interesting cases I mentioned above as examples, I learnt in details about human and drug trafficking without having to be part of it. I knew of every emotion, every pain suffered by trafficked women but yet, I was safe from all the harms inflicted upon them.  

How did you know you were “ready” to be an interpreter?

I wasn’t ready when I first interpreted for someone; I was thrown into the water at the deep end! But after that experience, I wanted to become an interpreter. I was a project manager of an international education project and during the MOU signing ceremony, the Thai party of the joint-venture decided to give an impromptu speech and I had to interpret what he said there and then in front of all the guests!  It was nerve-wracking but also a turning point for me. After recovering from the shock and nervousness, I found I really liked the adrenaline rush, the spontaneity that come with interpreting. And when the opportunity arose a few years later, I grabbed it and never looked back since.

What is the most difficult part about your job?

Each assignment has its own challenges but in general, the most difficult part is trying to stop the feeling of helplessness experienced when I wish I could do more to help the people I interpret for. When I wear my interpreter’s hat, the best thing I could do for my clients is to interpret accurately and truly, to give voice to the people who wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Trying to protect my own emotional wellbeing after having to go through horrendous experiences with my clients is also another very difficult part of my job.

Can you translate a sentence for us? Your favorite quote? Your favorite word?

This might be a bit long but I love this quote by 28th US President Woodrow Wilson:

We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers: they see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening. Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them, nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which come always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true.

เราต่างยิ่งใหญ่ได้ด้วยความฝัน ผู้ยิ่งใหญ่ล้วนเป็นนักฝัน พวกเขามองเห็นสิ่งต่าง ๆ ในม่านหมอกอันอ่อนนุ่มของฤดูใบไม้ผลิ หรือในเปลวเพลิงที่โชติช่วงในค่ำคืนอันยาวนานของฤดูหนาว เราบางคนปล่อยให้ความฝันอันยิ่งใหญ่เหล่านี้สลายไป แต่บางคนกลับเฝ้าฟูมฟักและปกป้องฝันนั้น ทะนุถนอมดูแลผ่านวันที่เลวร้ายจนกระทั่งสามารถนำฝันนั้นสู่แสงแดดและความสว่างซึ่งจะมาเยือนเสมอ สำหรับผู้ที่เชื่อมั่นอย่างจริงใจว่าฝันของเขาต้องเป็นจริง