Interpreters are necessary in a variety of industries, from international relations to the entertainment field. Considering this, it’s no wonder that some interpreters have become famous.
Take a look at the backgrounds of some of the most important, well-known interpreters throughout time.
Sacagawea – Interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Sacagawea is an extremely famous interpreter who played an important part in US history.
She was married to Touissaint Charbonneau, a trapper/interpreter from Quebec, and the couple was chosen to join the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804 because of Sacagawea’s Shoshone interpreting skills.
Sacagawea’s presence on the expedition not only helped the party negotiate with the Shoshone, but also kept everyone calm during the trip. She had excellent knowledge of plants, so she could tell the explorers what was edible.
In addition, just having her and her infant son on the trip signaled to Native Americans that Lewis and Clark came in peace, since war parties did not tend to bring women and children along.
Jack Jason – Interpreter for Actress Marlee Matlin
Jack Jason is famous for being deaf actress Marlee Matlin’s sign language interpreter for more than 25 years. This career comes naturally to him; his parents are both deaf, so he grew up signing with them on a regular basis. Still, before he made this his career, he took some interpreter training classes and got his certification.
His first job after college was as an interpreter coordinator, and soon after that, he began interpreting for theatrical productions. He ended up meeting Marlee when William Hurt was interested in dating her and needed an interpreter. Today he is known for being the famous performer’s interpreter and business partner.
Jerry Potts – Buffalo Hunter, Indian Warrior, and Interpreter in the 1800s
Jerry Potts was born in Montana in 1840. During early adulthood, he was known for hunting, trading and fighting in violent battles between Native American tribes. He was also famous for his ability to speak a variety of different Native American languages, making him a great interpreter.
More specifically, he could speak Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota-Sioux, Plains Cree, Algonquin, Assiniboine, and of course American English. Not only was he fluent or at least semi fluent in these languages, but he also had an uncanny ability to appropriately change his interpretations as needed, since he took different cultures into account when interpreting.
Valentin Berezhkov – Interpreter to Joseph Stalin
This famous Russian interpreter was involved in major conferences between well-known figures in history. For example, at the Teheran conference in 1943, he interpreted for Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin, along with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He then continued his career as the main interpreter at the Yalta conference in 1945.
After that, he switched his focus from interpreting to journalism, and then eventually to international relations. He was also a professor at one point, followed by a career in the Soviet Embassy. In the 1990s, he released a book about his experience as Stalin’s interpreter, and then died just a few years later in 1998.
Lydia Callis – Michael Bloomberg’s Sign Language Interpreter
Lydia Callis rose to fame practically overnight in 2012. That’s when people watching New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s televised press conferences noticed her signing right alongside him as he discussed Hurricane Sandy.
Even people who didn’t use sign language couldn’t take their eyes off her animated facial expressions as she relayed what Michael Bloomberg was telling the audience. The professional interpreter soon got her own fan base, followed by a parody on “Saturday Night Live.” If anything, the fact that she is now fairly famous brings some much-deserved attention to the important profession of interpreting.
Thamsanqa Jantjie – Interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s Memorial
Thamsanqa Jantjie is perhaps more “infamous” than famous, since he sparked outrage around the world for his performance at Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa.
The South African Sign Language interpreter was called a “fake” by many viewers for his repetitive hand movements and lack of facial expression. Both the South African government and Jantjie had excuses for his odd interpreting. However, Jantjie’s media frenzy did have one positive effect: it helped people around the world appreciate the skills of qualified, professional interpreters.