By Séverine Hubscher-Davidson
A challenging environment
Psychological health has become an increasing concern for language practitioners. In 2021, the ITI published a position statement on translators’ mental health and wellbeing, and in 2020 and 2021 the CIOL published two guides on the topic of stress management and resilience. According to the CIOL Insights Survey 2022, “personal, health and well-being concerns” continue to be one of the biggest challenges that language professionals face.
There are a number of reasons why translators, interpreters, and other language professionals might feel that their psychological health is threatened. These range from continuous changes in language technology tools to low rates of pay, unreasonable deadlines, and increased competition. Research in organisational psychology has shown for some time that psychological health is linked to professional success, but there are currently few opportunities for language professionals to learn how to manage their emotions and respond to stressful situations at work, both of which are key to maintaining psychological health.
My research has found that professional translators with high levels of emotional competence are likely to stay longer in the language professions and to be more satisfied with their jobs. What’s more, learning emotion management strategies through dedicated evidence-based training has been shown to increase emotional competence with significant benefits for health, work performance, and other key outcomes such as employability and life satisfaction.
Training language professionals how to handle emotions is therefore a worthwhile pursuit, and it aligns well with the critical requirement for continuing professional development that responds to the rapid changes taking place in the sector and to external events (CIOL Insights Survey 2022).
In my experience, freelance translators and interpreters respond enthusiastically when given the chance to attend training in so-called ‘soft skills’, but it is more challenging to convince other sectors that employ language practitioners (industry, government) of the benefits of targeted emotional skills training.
In 2022, I was contacted by a large international organization that employs hundreds of language professionals. Those in charge of professional development in the organisation had identified a gap in their training provision for professional linguists. Specifically, they acknowledged the need for training in the area of emotional competence for translators and revisers, as a result of significant changes currently taking place in their workplace. It was agreed that organising four 2-hour training workshops online on the topic of emotion management would be the most efficient way to reach a large number of staff.
I delivered these workshops in December 2022 and January 2023 and over 100 translators and revisers attended, with 58 participants completing the feedback survey. Results showed that 93.1% of participants found the emotion management workshops to be relevant to their work, and the same proportion also agreed that they learned something in the workshops that could be useful to their employment. 91.4% would recommend the workshop to colleagues.
It seems clear that all professional linguists, whether freelancers or employees, value opportunities to learn about and reflect on the emotion-eliciting events in their work and life. In particular, they appreciate evidence-based training that is able to link the worlds of translation and psychology: practical coaching activities delivered alongside relatable examples and relevant theoretical concepts. As one participant noted, it's important that serious research and training is being undertaken on the topic of emotions, as it is sure to contribute to the wellbeing of language professionals.
A commitment to CPD that helps develop human skills, alongside technological and subject-specific ones, will be critical in the future to prepare all of us for the challenges ahead.
So, if you’re a language professional or an organisation currently deciding what training to engage with in 2023, remember to include psychological health as part of your decision-making. After all, as Aristotle once said, educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.
Views expressed on CIOL Voices are those of the writer and may not represent those of the wider membership or CIOL.