One of the most uncomfortable things for me is when consumers talk about me while I’m interpreting. Here are some examples of things people say:
- On stage: “I wonder how he’s going to interpret that. Let’s all watch the interpreter and find out.”
- In a meeting: “This interpreter is very expensive, so we can’t afford to run overtime. I wish we could have gotten him for only an hour, but they insist on being paid for two no matter what.”
- In a meeting where several people are coordinating schedules while I’m interpreting, and I don’t know whether I will be able to–or am willing to or qualified to–return for subsequent meetings: “It all depends on the interpreter’s schedule. We’re all waiting on him. If we can’t get him, we’ll have to look for someone else.”
- “I’m sure the interpreter knows.”
- “This is the worst interpreter I’ve ever had. Don’t ever hire him again.”
- “This is the best interpreter I’ve ever had. Hire him again!”
- On a VRS call: Hearing person: “Is the interpreter cute?” Deaf person: “Oh, yeah! Big time.”
- And my most embarrassing moment ever:
- In a sex ed class with developmentally delayed children: “Boys have penises and girls have vaginas”… Teacher going around the circle, naming kids and their parts: “Molly has a vagina, Jose has a penis, Billy has a penis, Monique has a vagina…” She’s making her way around the circle in my direction. Uh oh. “Tyrone has a penis, Guadalupe has a vagina…” Surely she’ll skip me?? I’m not one of her students!! “Daniel has a penis.” Oh, God. :-0
I know, I know– you may be wondering, “What’s the matter? Why so embarrassed?” That’s a fair enough question. I suppose part of it has to do with the “myth of invisibility” that we interpreters internalize even though we know it isn’t true. We really are visible. We really are there. We really are human. We really do have various ways of interpreting things, we really are expensive (but worth it), we really do have schedules (and probably have them with us), we really do possess knowledge, we really are the worst or best interpreter a person has ever worked with– in their perception at that moment, we really are attractive at any given moment to any given person, and we really do have boy/girl parts. So what’s the problem?
Well, I think it’s natural not to want to be talked about in front of yourself. It’s like the joke, “Um, I’m right here.” We are there to interpret, not to converse. When we converse, we have to put one party on hold while we talk to the other party, and then fill in the other party. It can be distracting and disempowering to the consumers who feel the interpreter is there for them, not to be the center of attention but to serve as a communication facilitator.
What do you think? What do you do? I would like to hear from interpreters/transliterators of all stripes, and I would love to hear from consumers of interpreting services as well. Do you talk about interpreters in front of them? What do you do when someone else does?
*In ASL, we have a sign that’s a lexicalized form of the letters D-O, repeated at least twice, glossed DO-DO. It means something like, “what to do?”, “how to cope?”, “what do you suggest?”, or any number of similar concepts.
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