An Interpreter’s Life at Helping Hands Hawaii

Joann Caplett 01.24.17Ever want to experience a day in someone else’s shoes? Take a peek into the life of Helping Hands Hawaii Korean interpreter and translator Joann Caplett. She joined our Bilingual Access Line (BAL) on Oct. 25, 1993 and has worked for 23 years in a variety of settings, such as medical, educational, housing, legal, court and other social service fields.

Below is what a day in her life might be like:

Every day of work is different. I don’t go to the same places or see the same people. As part of my job, I meet people wherever they need assistance communicating their needs and help them understand others.

When BAL contacts me regarding a request for a Korean interpreter, I check my calendar to see if I’m free, and I respond as soon as possible to accept the assignment. Once the job is confirmed, I review the details and enter them into my daily calendar.

To stay on top of all my appointments, I check my schedule each night and scan my weekly calendar each Sunday. This helps me to properly coordinate and organize my workdays as well as my personal commitments.

It’s very important to know which jobs are coming up, because it helps me prepare myself mentally, physically and emotionally for each assignment. I review terminology appropriate to the assignments that I will be dispatched to the next day and make sure I’m familiar with where each job is located.


At 5 a.m., my alarm wakes me up for the day. I get up to make my breakfast: oatmeal with fresh fruits and nuts and coffee. I read the newspaper and listen to the radio for any car accidents and traffic.

Like many other jobs, it is important that I dress professionally when I’m in a work environment. This is essential to presenting a professional appearance and creates a positive impression no matter where my work setting happens to be each day.

At 7 a.m., I leave the house for my first appointment. I make sure that I grab my ID badge, a pad of paper for notes, my Encounter Forms with the addresses and details of my assignments, water bottle and non-perishable snacks.

I leave my house early because you never know what will cause you to be late: 1) bad traffic, 2) looking for parking, 3) a change in the appointment’s floor/room location or 4) lines for security checks. Thankfully, today’s assignments are pretty routine and traffic is looking good.

My first assignment begins at 8 a.m. and is scheduled for one hour. I check in at the front desk and let the staff know that I’m the Korean interpreter assigned for the appointment. The staff informs me that the individual with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) has already checked in and is waiting to be called. I walk over and introduce myself, then I do a pre-session with the individual informing her that I’m the Korean interpreter. I advise her that anything she says will be interpreted exactly as she says it, to look at the person she is speaking to and to address anything that concerns her during the session. We’re called in and the appointment goes well. However, it only takes 15 minutes instead of an hour.

On the way to my car, I check my phone and see that BAL has texted me to ask if I can do a phone interpretation. Once in my car, I call the office and they connect me to the phone request. We immediately begin a three-way phone interpretation, which lasts about 10 minutes.

Next, I check my watch and schedule and leave to go to my next appointment. I arrive at the half-hour appointment one hour early. I sit in my car and go over my terminology notes, make sure that I have the Interpreter’s Code of Ethics, my pre-session notes and my Encounter Form.

At 9:15 a.m., I check in at the front desk to let the doctor’s staff know I’m here for the appointment. I sit and wait for a while, and at 9:45 a.m. the staff informs me that the LEP individual is running about 15-20 minutes late. Luckily, my next appointment isn’t for another two hours.

I continue to sit in the waiting room until 10 a.m. when the LEP individual finally checks in. I do a pre-session with the patient, and the staff calls us in for the appointment. The LEP individual has a lot of questions for the doctor, and the doctor patiently answers each one. The appointment takes one hour instead of 30 minutes.

I quickly walk to my car and double-check my next appointment. I have about 15 minutes to get there. Thankfully, there is no traffic and I arrive in 10 minutes. I check in with the front desk and am promptly taken into the room where the nurse is taking the vital signs of the LEP individual. I quickly get situated and do the interpretation. The appointment is taking longer than usual, and it seems this is turning into a complicated case.

When the appointment finally ends, it’s about 1:30 p.m. and past lunchtime, so I go to my car and eat. It’s important to remain hydrated and healthy. There are days when an assignment may only take 2-5 minutes, and on other days, they take more than an hour. It just depends on the situation. Sometimes, the LEP individual arrives too early or too late. Other times, the doctor’s appointments are running late. Because the assignments vary, I try to snack in between appointments and make sure that I drink my water at all times.

I look over my schedule and don’t have another appointment for the next hour. I quickly calculate if I have enough time to run an errand and I do. After I stop to put in gas for my car, I go to the market to pick up a few items for dinner. Then, I pack my groceries in a cooler that I have in the back of my car.

While doing my errands, I scan my phone for messages and the BAL office has texted me for multiple appointments. I sit in my car, go through my calendar and accept four out of five jobs. The BAL staff will fax details to me, which I’ll check when I get home.

When I arrive at my next appointment, I’m 20 minutes early. I check in with the front desk and find out that the LEP individual is already here and will be seen sooner than scheduled. I quickly do my pre-session with the doctor and LEP individual. The appointment is quick because the patient doesn’t have any questions for the doctor. Ten minutes later, I’m returning to my car.

By 4:00 p.m., I’m heading home. It’s been a very long day, and I’m drained emotionally, physically and mentally. The traffic doesn’t help, but thankfully, the cars keep moving. Still, it takes me 45 minutes to return home.

At home, I give myself about 20 minutes to unwind and take a moment to decompress. Afterwards, I feel better. Dinner preparations are simple, and soon my husband and I are eating and chatting. But, we make it a point not to talk about work. After dinner is done and the dishes are put away, I sit and watch the local and world news.

Then, I go through my calendar schedule and make sure that I have all my paperwork in place. I check my fax and enter the new appointments into my calendar. I review tomorrow’s appointments and the terminology that may be needed. I glance up at the clock and find that it’s getting late, so I decide to go to bed.

Being an interpreter has its ups and downs, but what job doesn’t? Most days it’s pretty terrific. What I love about this job is that I get to set my own schedule and take on assignments based on my availability. Each job is unique and never the same. I get to see the experiences and emotions of LEP individuals – whether it’s relief, happiness, frustration, anger, hurt or loss. Each appointment brings with it a chance to learn new things, which keeps me sharp and continually seeking out information and ways to help clients.

At the same time, being an interpreter can be highly stressful. Sometimes, depending on the appointment, it can be rough on me mentally and emotionally. I have to think on my toes and quickly react in a variety of situations. The cases can be difficult, but I am bound by a Code of Ethics and must make every effort to stay in my role. Despite the interaction with individuals during some of the most trying times of their lives (for instance, when a client receives a medical diagnosis or testifies in a legal case), I cannot become personally involved with them. My job is to interpret everyone’s words exactly so that the LEP individual can understand and be understood.

But, I look at it this way: I’m helping LEP individuals every day and feel I make a difference in their lives. By using my skills and language to communicate in their native tongues, I help them navigate through a “foreign country.” This job is truly rewarding because I continually improve my skills, enjoy working with different people and am able to make a difference with what I do.

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