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.
On my way to Minneapolis – St. Paul to teach interpreters about phonology, orthography, and vague language (VL).
Students take heed: Good grades are to be earned, not demanded.