I was struck by something my thesis advisor said about writing letters of recommendation for me today: “As a faculty member searching for a colleague, I like to see that a letter has been addressed to the institution” [emphasis added]. Even at 45, master’s degree in hand, I was thinking of applying for a job as begging to be someone’s underling. I needed reminding that I’m a big boy now; nay, I’m a gracefully graying, middle-aged, well-educated gentleman. Of course I know I will be an employee with an employer, and I will be accountable to a system greater than myself. Still, I am now a colleague of the people I’m applying to– I’m a colleague searching for a colleague who’s searching for a colleague. That’s a paradigm shift for me.
Another need to introduce myself as an interpreter came up recently: a little CODA asked me what I was doing while I was interpreting for their parent. I forgot that little bilingual children might not understand that their parent speaks a different language, much less that they need an interpreter. The more aware I become of an interpreting issue (such as the need to explain one’s role as an interpreter), the more I recognize it when it arises, and the more I have to think about how to handle it.
In this situation, which was low key and interactive, I simply took a moment to say sweetly, “I’m interpreting for your [parent].” I realized at that moment that, in the future, I would make sure small children — and all participants in interpreting for — understand what I am doing there.
Doctor to patient: “Hi, I’m Dr. Y.” Doctor to me: “Oh, the patient’s deaf! So this isn’t interpreting; you’re a signer.” Meanwhile, I’m interpreting…
It seems there’s a stigma that an interpreter who works between a spoken language and a signed language is a “signer” while an interpreter who works between two spoken languages is an “interpreter” (not a “speaker”). I actually try to impress upon people that I am an “interpreter” by introducing myself as an “interpreter,” not a “sign language interpreter.” I want them to perceive me and treat me just as they would a spoken-spoken language interpreter. At this appointment, I introduced myself to the front desk as “the interpreter for your [x-o'clock] appointment with [Patient Y.]” I saw the receptionist tell the nurse I was the interpreter, and I saw the nurse tell the doctor I was the interpreter. So it should be! I know doctors are busy, so I don’t want to take too much time introducing myself and explaining the situation. I simply met the doctor where I was waiting for them outside the patient’s exam room saying, “Hi, I’m Daniel Greene, and I’ll be interpreting for you.” At the moment the doctor said this wasn’t interpreting and I was a signer I didn’t feel it was the right time to correct them. I didn’t even feel like it was the right time to correct them after the appointment, so I let it go. Now I’m reconsidering my introductions to consumers. I wonder if spoken-spoken language interpreters tell doctors what language the patient speaks. I could say, “I’ll be interpreting for you and Patient Y, who uses American Sign Language,” but one problem with that is that some d/Deaf people mouth or speak English with or without signing, and this can be a surprising change from the way they communicated with me in the waiting room before seeing the doctor. I also hesitate to say a consumer is “Deaf” because some consumers call themselves “hard-of-hearing.” I honestly don’t know if any amount of introduction or explanation would have dispelled this doctor’s perception of me as a “signer.” Still, it makes me rethink how I introduce myself to consumers. Just about every interpreting job I do leaves me with questions… isn’t what we do fascinating?
P.S. (January 5, 2013 7:21 PM) I thought about how the appointment went, and really the fact that the doctor did not recognize what I was doing as “interpreting” did not affect the interpretation or the interpreted event. If I had made an issue of it, it might have had an effect on the dynamic. The doctor’s statement wasn’t a snag in the communication between doctor and patient; it just gave me a micro moment of pause and a lingering thought about how people could think what we do is not interpreting. Very interesting… ’tis a puzzlement.
Is “freelance” a setting? I’ve heard people say they used to be “educational” and now they’re “freelance.” What they mean is they used to be employed full-time at a school and now they work as an independent contractor for agencies. Yet interpreters can work full-time in schools and be “freelance” if they’re working at that school as independent contractors. By the same token, there are interpreters who work for agencies as full-time employees, and they do doctor’s appointments, business meetings – the same kinds of work as interpreters who call themselves “freelancers.” I think interpreters get their settings and specialties mixed up, and I think it can cause confusion to those entering the field, those who hire us, and even ourselves and each other. Knowing what’s what can give everyone a better understanding of what we do. Here is how I suggest we distinguish interpreting settings from interpreting specialties:
- Academic, post-secondary
- Business, corporate
- Church, religious
- Court, criminal justice, law enforcement, legal
- Educational, K-12
- Mental health
- Performing arts, music, theater
- Recovery, substance abuse, 12-step
- Social services
- Video remote interpreting (VRI) or video relay service (VRS)
- Close vision, tactile (for Deaf-Blind populations)
- Oral transliteration
“Freelance” is neither a setting nor a specialty; it’s just a way of making a living. Tactile, oral transliteration, and trilingual are not settings, since one can interpret for special populations anywhere; it just takes specialization to be able to interpret for them. Of course, some settings require specialization, such as court requires legal.
What are some of the settings you work in? What are your specialties? Do you have any pet peeves about the language people use to describe where interpreters work and what kinds of work interpreters do?
- Redefinition of the (Sign Language) interpreter’s role? (interpretings.net)
- CAAG’s Video Remote Interpreting Revolutionizes Interpreting Services For Deaf And Hard Of Hearing (prweb.com)
- The Professional Interpreter: One Profession. One Real Profession. (terptrans.com)
I’m not talking about blowing up runway models with dynamite; I’m talking about looking at our work like a 3-D model— stretching it out and viewing its constituent parts from all angles to see how they work together. In the interpreting profession, we talk about “models” of interpretation like helper, conduit, ally, etc. We may have seen some flat diagrams of these models, so maybe we’re used to thinking of models as two-dimensional. How can we bring these models to life and apply them to our work? If you’re like me, you need a picture, or better yet, a moving picture. This video shows the way I like to think of modeling our work. Think of this next time you get supervision or case conference, next time you analyze your work within the Demand-Control Schema. Think of this video and see if you are really taking the time to stretch out the scenario and look at all the parts that make it tick.