Staying relevant in a changing world

Why interpreters should embrace change

It’s hard to think of relevance when things are going well in our lives and businesses; we have systems in place and often know what to expect. This is usually the time when people and organisations slow down and take a break because they’ve established predictable processes that satisfy clients and yield financial return – it works. However, this controlled and sometimes relaxed approach has dire consequences for people who don’t see the need to evolve; leaving organisations at risk of becoming professionally obsolete.

Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson is a good example. The book outlines key principles on why everyone should anticipate change in all areas of life; and what happens when we ignore the signs. It tells the story of four mice who live in a maze; and each mouse learns to respond to unexpected change in different ways. These are classic lessons not only limited to business but everyday decision making.

This book is my go-to reminder when I get too comfortable with my routine, work and surroundings. It’s my wake up call to smell the cheese when it’s getting old and start looking for new opportunities out there.

How should interpreters embrace change?

As an interpreter, I mostly use technology to access valuable information; and ultimately create exciting opportunities to offer my professional interpreting services where gaps are identified. This does not in any way undermine the trust, connection and re-assurance that human contact offers. However, it’s important to incorporate both face-to-face and virtual interaction to thrive in any industry.

During the past year; I started my own company Yellow Owl and now I work from home; I enjoy the freedom of controlling my time and choosing which clients to partner with. My social media awareness and online presence keeps growing daily; and I connect with like-minded people from all over the world.

None of this would be possible had I not made the bold decision to pivot my career, skills and creativity in favour of new online clients. I came across some useful tips that helped me change how I understood the interpreting industry and still remain relevant; here are 3:

3 Tips for adapting and staying relevant as interpreters

1) Leverage digital platforms

The internet, technology and social media has made it incredibly easier, cheaper and faster to set up a business or brand; build a loyal following; and offer your product or services to a specific target market. Not only does it break geographic barriers, but it opens up new channels of networking and distribution that previously did not exist.

My social media accounts include Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube – and now blogging, for personal and business use. Why? Firstly, to tell people a little bit more about who I am and what I’m about. I also showcase my products and services through my collaborations, created content, videos and posts. It’s important to be active on social media by commenting on other people’s posts, joining the conversation, and plugging into like-minded online communities.

What works for me is setting time aside intentionally to check my social media, even if it’s 20 minutes at a time. You never know who may be visiting or just stalking your page. The process is interesting and often time consuming – but definitely worthwhile for building online confidence and credibility.

2) Think why, not what

Be clear about why you do something, and not so much what you actually do. If you have a business, why does it exist? If you are an interpreter, why do you offer your services? Then use your what to achieve your why.

My deep intrinsic purpose (my why) is to inspire people to be and do more with their lives; to push boundaries when tackling problems; and to share my life story. The skills that I use (my what) to achieve my purpose (my why) include unique and strategic collaborations through interpreting; public speaking; and using digital tools like blogging to tell my story.

An analogy I like to use is a car travelling on the road. The road is my pre-destined path that I need to follow in order to fulfil my purpose in life. I believe I’m called to inspire, lead; and drive change wherever I am. This path is often long with many twists and bends. 

To travel along my chosen path, I need a car to get me from point A to B and eventually my destination. I chose interpreting as my professional career; I invest in my public speaking skills; and I engage with organisations and people who share similar values. This is what I do daily to keep the car moving along the journey of who I am called to be.

3) Follow trends in the industry

Please allow me to make a disclaimer for this point: The SASL interpreting industry is relatively small and unknown in comparison to other more established industries. Although we play a vital role in bridging communication across different settings; a lot still needs to be done to spread awareness, regulate and develop the profession within the communities we serve.

Most interpreters start their journey interpreting current affairs on TV; or interpreting training, meetings and workshops for both public and private sectors. Some may even interpret at corporate functions or educational institutions. I am fortunate to have gained experience across all these areas; I cut my teeth here and learned to master specific interpreting techniques and strategies.

Unfortunately, these traditional settings are often saturated with already existing service providers – making it difficult to stand out from the crowd and propose new ways of channeling content digitally. This observation frustrated me and eventually inspired me to forge my own path – I had hit the ceiling and I felt unchallenged. Today, I consider myself to be a pioneer and a trendsetter within the interpreting industry. Yellow Owl’s mission is to continue pushing boundaries by strategically collaborating with content creators, creatives and like-minded industry leaders.


Adapt to newer ways of doing business and living; hybrid forms of work and life in the same space will continue for some time. Listening to feedback and explore innovative ways to keep you relevant as an interpreter, and any other industry.

By Yellow Owl

Welcome to Interpreter Insider, so glad you could join us! As an Insider you’ll be a member of this limited group of like-minded thinkers with exclusive knowledge about the ins and outs of the interpreting industry – and other related topics. You will have access to insights, experiences, tips and Yellow Owl's personal take on what the future of SASL interpreting may look like. Thuli Zikalala is the founder of Yellow Owl. This blog is a reflection of her bold decisions made about a year ago that led her to this very moment. It is a collection of the lessons learnt along her journey. Enjoy!

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