Later, a chance meeting on a plane with a top-level international conference interpreter convinced him to move into high-level language training.
The interpreter recommended one of the world's most demanding Chinese-language programs at Fu Jen University in Taipei. Dawrant describes it as "special forces training except for linguists" and out of the class of just seven people, only three passed the first year.
"It reconfigures your cognitive apparatus permanently," he says. "The way you listen, the way you access memory, the way you construct meaning and the way you mediate between languages is permanently altered."
First interpreters have to learn analytical listening skills, and then practise consecutive interpreting.
"Most people have never listened with 100 percent focus to someone speaking. We tune in and out listening for new information or interesting things," he explains.
Consecutive interpreting is where an interpreter can listen to a 10-minute talk and then deliver that speech in full in another language, maintaining the tone, nuance and interest of the original speech. In the second year of the course, students learn simultaneous interpreting.
After completing his study, Dawrant gained a job with the Canadian government working at interpreting almost every kind of conceivable meeting that needed Chinese-language skills.
Since coming to China in 2000 he has built a company, Sinophone Interpretations, that specializes in English, Chinese, French, Japanese and Korean and works on business and government meetings, events and talks across China and the Asia-Pacific region.
As well as providing interpretation services, Dawrant also has a major role training China's future interpreters to an elite level, heading up Shanghai International Studies University's conference-interpreting program.
Dawrant is the inaugural head of the program, which is considered the best in China and ranked in the top 15 in the world.
His students have gone on to work as high-level simultaneous interpreters everywhere from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Dawrant says top interpreters must rigorously comply with a high ethical standard, providing total confidentiality of private business and government meetings they interpret.
Despite having reached such a high level of language proficiency, Dawrant says he is always working on improving the way he expresses himself in both his native English and in Chinese.
"The holy grail of interpreting is clarity, a clear understanding of what people are trying to say and a clear delivery of the message," he says.
For more information about Sinophone Interpretations, visit www.sinophone.org or e-mail to email@example.com.
(Shanghai Daily December 23, 2009)