Hearing-related injuries cause interpreter shortage in Canada

Canada is experiencing an interpreter shortage.

Unlike other instances of interpreter shortages that have been reported in recent months, this one has not yet been linked to low pay rates. Instead, federal interpreters in the country appear to be experiencing a rise in hearing-related injuries that have made the job more difficult to complete.

In April 2022, about one-sixth of the federal interpreters that work to interpret meetings between parliamentary committees were unable — either partially or completely — to fulfill their job, hindering politicians’ ability to effectively communicate with one another.

According to a recent report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the rise in hearing problems appears to be correlated with the shift to virtual work in 2020, suggesting that poor audio quality could be causing hearing damage due to acoustic shock.

Acoustic shock is typically associated with sudden, loud bursts of sound that can cause symptoms such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), nausea, headache, and sensitivity to loud noises. While it is most common among call-center workers and telemarketers, interpreters are also susceptible to acoustic shock, especially when working with headsets or earbuds for an extended period of time.  

A 2020 study showed that about more than half of Canadian interpreters report experiencing acoustic shock, ranking it as the 13th least safe country for interpreters, at least when it comes to hearing safety. The recent spike in hearing-related injuries has proven to have a negative impact on parliamentary meetings, slowing political progress, according to the CBC.

“We have to care [for] these people so that we can function,” said Canadian Senator Claude Carignan, in an interview with the CBC. “It is not normal that Parliament’s work is affected.”

The Translation Bureau, which oversees the Canadian government’s language service offerings, told the CBC that it is currently investigating ways to improve audio quality for interpreters, so as to mitigate the effects of hearing injuries on the nation’s interpreters.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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