Rave Review for my Vague Language Workshop

I was honored that a participant in my Vague Language (VL) workshop for ASL interpreters was moved to write this review for our local chapter of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (Arizona RID). The writer wishes to remain anonymous, but I found out who they are and got their permission to publish their review on my website. I assure you that this review was entirely unsolicited and is reprinted here in the writer’s original words. Here it is!

Hi everyone. I was able to attend the workshop this past Saturday by Daniel Greene entitled, “Just What They Said: Retaining Ambiguity When Interpreting Vague Language.” This was an excellent workshop for a number of reasons and I’m thrilled that Daniel has taken it up to present this topic because it is one thing I know I have struggled with and it hasn’t been addressed enough in regards to the work we do as interpreters. There was so much that I learned.

It was all about vague language of course which has really been brought to light, I think, by video relay interpreting but certainly applies to the work we do in education. It is a fairly new topic in linguistic studies too. It is the concept that people do use vague and unspecific language in their everyday interactions and often it is for a purpose that they are being vague. This brings up the question, do we as interpreters then clean it up and make it clear, do we interrupt the conversation to get clarification, or do we just render the message as vague as it was given? Keep in mind it might be the person’s goal to be vague.

For example: a teenager might wish to cover up the truth to avoid getting in trouble; a teacher might wish to protect a student’s feeling when giving feedback about work; a person might just be trying to be polite in their use of words; a doctor might wish to be less direct about a person’s life expectancy; a counselor might purposely need to ask an open ended question without leading the client with examples. How much of this can and should an interpreter try to clarify?

I know in my training I have always been told that we need to clarify, expand, provide examples, etc and that Deaf culture is more direct. That is true to a limited degree depending on the goal of the interaction and of our consumers both hearing and Deaf. And we all know Deaf children and teenagers know how to be vague. Look at all the signs they invent at Deaf residential schools so that the adults don’t know what they’re talking about.😉 If their goal is to be vague, then our goal as interpreter should also to be as vague. If the content isn’t there, it isn’t our role or right as interpreters to make an assumption and insert it, clarify it, or even interrupt to get clarification sometimes. That could break the natural flow of the interaction and bring focus away from their conversation to us as the interpreter. Often it is just preferable to render the message as it is and let our hearing and Deaf consumers ask for clarification. That is a part of everyday human interaction apart from interpreters. In the educational setting all the more reason to encourage this kind of interaction for self advocacy of our students and less dependence on the interpreter for clarification.

Mostly what I took from the workshop was, of course we as interpreters always want to be direct and clear when the content is there and the goal appropriate, which is most of the time hopefully, but also to recognize that at times it is okay just to render the message as it is, may it be vague or indirect, but true to the goals of the speaker and the way in which they said it. We don’t necessarily always need to know all the details to interpret just what was said and sometimes this accomplishes exactly the goals of the interaction. There is more detail to what we discussed at the workshop but this is the gist of it. It was great and it was conducted in ASL which was a bonus too. It really was a terrific workshop.

Thank you for that rave review! I worked hard on developing this workshop, learned a lot from doing the research for it, and enjoyed presenting it. I got the feeling that the participants learned and enjoyed as much as I did, and it’s good to see proof in this review.

One thing that really impressed me was that, of the 24 people who registered for this workshop, two of them drove up from Tucson — a two-hour drive — and five of them drove all the way out from Yuma — a three-and-a-half-hour drive. I admire such dedication and am happy that I was able to create such a compelling workshop. The folks in Yuma liked it so much they asked me for a list of workshops so they could bring me out to Yuma to present there.

I also reached out to the Deaf community in publicizing this workshop, welcoming Deaf Interpreters to participate, and promising to present the entire workshop in ASL. It was my first time presenting a workshop in ASL, and I was thrilled to have two Deaf participants– one a CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter) and the other a CDI hopeful. The content and the participants made this my best workshop yet.

Thanks to Bob Cacioppo of Arizona RID for organizing, publicizing, and providing the CEUs and to Joy Marks of Desert Valleys Regional Cooperative for providing the venue and equipment for the workshop– and most of all, for believing in me.

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

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