Mise-en-place your life– I know I need to!

Mise–en–place (French pronunciation: [miz ã ‘plas])

Mise en Place for Scallops with Shallots, Pasilla and Chard
Mise en Place for Scallops with Shallots, Pasilla and Chard by Don LaVange, on Flickr

Yesterday morning, I listened to a story on NPR called “For a More Orderly Life, Organize Like a Chef,” which talked about applying the French culinary concept of mise–en–place (literally, “put in place”) in everyday life. One chef told how he uses mise–en–place for his daily “list.” He said:

What I used to do is, let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So I’d take a pad and I’d write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list up and throw it out.…On my way to work I’d write the list again. And you become one with your list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched into your head.

–Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of New York restaurants wd~50 and Alder, as quoted by Dan Charnas, NPR.

I’m all over the place

This got me to thinking about my schedule. As a freelance interpreter, I work for several different agencies and drive to many venues to interpret for classes, consultations, and conferences. In a hectic week, I often can’t remember where I’m going from one job to the next without looking at my calendar. I use GPS to get places; I look at my phone once I’ve arrived at an address to see what suite I need to get to, and even what the name of the venue is; I look at my phone again when I get to a venue before I can tell the front desk the client’s name.

Putting myself en place

I’d rather be like a chef who knows where everything is and how he’s going to get from one thing to another than a rock star who can’t remember what city he’s playing. I need to mise-en-place my schedule. Case in point: I recently had a morning job that I knew was medical and far away. I left in time to get there early. Fine. However, I did not remember the name of the patient, the medical office, or even what kind of specialty it was. I also didn’t realize I was scheduled to come back the next morning. I had taken the jobs separately and not seen the connection. When I showed up, another interpreter was there because the office accidentally booked two interpreters for the job. I just figured I would let her do it because she got there first. What I failed to consider was that I was scheduled for the follow-up as well, and it would have been better for me to stay so I could provide continuity to the clients.

If I had it to do again:

I should look at my schedule for the week and note that I was scheduled to interpret for the same patient at the same doctor’s office two mornings in a row– this would remind me of the patient’s needs and preferences and alert me to the repetition; I should look at the name of the venue and note the specialty– this will help me find the venue when I arrive at the building or complex and I can spot the name on the outside, and it should help me prepare myself mentally for interpreting in that specialized setting; I should note the suite number– this should help me locate the venue either from outside the building or inside. I should call the venue the day before or the morning of, the latest, to confirm the appointment– this would have either alerted me to the double-booking, saved the clients the change in interpreters, and saved one of us the drive.

Mise–en–place = Me at work

There’s another big reason to mise–en–place my schedule: so I can get more work! The way I get jobs is the agencies I work for send out mass emails with the dates, times, and locations of jobs they need to fill. I have to have my smartphone with me at all times to get the mass-emails the agencies send out, and I have to respond instantly or the jobs will be snatched up by those who respond faster. There have been many times I have responded in two minutes only to get the reply “covered, thanks” a minute later. I have spoken with many interpreters in the area who report the same experience, so there might be more to covering these jobs than speed-of-response; still, to speed up my response time, it would help if I had my schedule memorized. See, it takes me a minute or two just to switch to my calendar app and see whether I’m available before I can even reply. If put my schedule in my head, I might put myself in the job.

My “list”:

  1. Memorize my schedule, including:
    1. Day (so I know what I’m doing “next Tuesday”)
    2. Date
    3. Time
    4. Venue name
    5. Venue geographical area
    6. Venue suite or room
    7. Client names (have I worked with them before? how do I work best with them?)
    8. Specialized setting (environmental goals, tone, mood, protocol, barriers to communication)
    9. Topic (specialized vocabulary, sensitivity, overarching theme)
    10. Pattern (does this job repeat? how often? how many times? have I done this job in the past?)
    11. How to get there (routes, alternate routes, time to location, security or other hurdles to cross before getting to where I need to be on time)
  2. Confirm the job with both the agency and the requestor (call or email to make sure it’s still on, and let them know I will be there — this would save double-booked interpreter hassles and pointless drives)
  3. Check my phone and email before I leave for a job to see if I’ve received a cancellation (this could save a lot of pointless drives too)
  4. Keep intouchbysmartphone:
    1. Keep the ringer on whenever I can
    2. Listen for notifications
    3. Respond immediately
    4. Check my smartphone at every break
    5. Always check my email before anything else (like Facebook, which can be a distraction from getting jobs)
  5. Inform interpreting agencies of my schedule as often as possible
  6. Call or email interpreting agencies to see what I can do for them
  7. Let agencies know if there is to be a follow-up appointment and let them know I am available for it (if I am)

I could probably go on, but it would be a start if I could just memorize my schedule for each day, let alone each week. I think I might try what the chef did and see if I can write my schedule by hand without looking at my calendar. Even if I could just have the details of a single job memorized before I get to it, that would help.

I believe in sharing my failures and successes, problems and solutions, and I write about them so others might learn from my experience. I would love to learn from others’ experience, too. Please comment if you have any mise–en–place practices you find helpful in your daily life.

Bimodal interpreters, not just sign language interpreters

Sign language interpreters are spoken language interpreters too

To talk about our work, it helps to have efficient terms that accurately define it. Typically, we ASL/English interpreters call ourselves “sign language interpreters,” while we call (for example) Spanish/English interpreters “spoken language interpreters.” Yet signed language is only half our language pair; the other half is spoken language; therefore, we are also spoken language interpreters.

How to distinguish, then, between interpreters who work with two spoken languages and interpreters who work with a spoken language and a signed language? Saying “signed-spoken” and “spoken-spoken” is a mouthful. Luckily, there are better terms for this comparison: bimodal and unimodal (Emmorey, Borinstein, Thompson, & Gollan, 2008). What we share with unimodal interpreters is that we are bilingual. What sets us apart is that we interpret between two modes: signed and spoken; therefore, we are bimodal interpreters.

Visual language interpreters are aural language interpreters too

I like the name of the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada better than the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf because we are interpreters for the H/hearing as much as we are interpreters for the D/deaf. Yet the term visual language interpreters fails to acknowledge that we are also aural language interpreters. This is where bimodal is more accurate. We interpret in two modes: call them aural and visual or audible and visible; either way, we are bimodal interpreters.

We are also bimodal when we do sight translation; i.e., interpreting from written text to signed language for those who have difficulty reading. An interpreter might also do tactile sight translation for a Deaf-Blind person who does not read Braille or cannot obtain a certain document in Braille. There are many different ways we facilitate communication; not all of them are visual, but they are all bimodal.

We need terms as inclusive and specific as our work

Bimodal is an accurate and comprehensive term for what we do to facilitate communication between D/deaf and hearing people. We, as a collective of individuals, serve a diversity of deaf (not always Deaf) consumers using a variety of methods to make audible language visible and vice versa.  Some use American Sign Language (ASL); some use manually coded English (MCE), a.k.a. pidgin sign English (PSE), or, preferably, contact language; some use oral methods such as mouthing and gestures; still others use cued speech. Whatever opinion people have of these modes of communication, there are D/deaf people who use them, and there interpreters and transliterators who serve those D/deaf people and their hearing interlocutors. Not all of these methods are bilingual, but they are all bimodal.

To be even more accurate, some of us sometimes interpret using audible, visible, and tactile methods between hearing, D/deaf, and Deaf-Blind people, so when we do that, we are trimodal interpreters.

Let scholarship inform our practice

The demand for bimodal interpreting services has always outpaced the supply of available practitioners, and consequently, federal funding has primarily been directed at increasing the number of available practitioners, not on research and development. As a result, we contend that the field has adopted and maintains a “culture of practice” rather than a “culture of scholarship.” (Nicodemus & Swabey, 2011)

There is a time and place for specialized terminology. I am not suggesting we start calling ourselves bimodal interpreters outside of the profession. I do not plan to say to hearing clients, “Hi, I’m your bimodal interpreter!” I will continue to call myself an interpreter first, and an ASL/English interpreter second. I might even slip and call myself a sign language interpreter if I am careless. However, when talking about our work vis-à-vis the work of interpreters who work in spoken languages only, I would like to see us compare bimodal interpreters with unimodal interpreters instead of sign(ed) language interpreters and spoken language interpreters. Fellow interpreter educators could start by introducing the term bimodal bilingual, if they have not already done so, and fellow interpreters could use the term in professional discussions. It would be ignorant to use the same terminology we have always used when scholarship informs us of a better option. We are professionals, and part of professional practice is scholarship. I believe it is time for us to take a more global, research-based view of what we do, and start talking about it in ways that demonstrate greater awareness.


Emmorey, K., Borinstein, H. B., Thompson, R. and Gollan, T. H. (2008). Bimodal bilingualism. In Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11(1), 43–61. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2600850/

Nicodemus, B. & Swabey, L. (2011). Bimodal bilingual interpreting in the U.S. healthcare system: A critical linguistic activity in need of investigation. In B. Nicodemus & L. Swabey (Eds.) Advances in Interpreting Research. Inquiry in action, 241–259. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/5270051/

Interpreter, appreciate thyself.

Physician, heal thyself.

–ancient proverb

Yesterday was Interpreter Appreciation Day. I’d like to propose the day after be dubbed Interpreter Self-Appreciation Day. It is reassuring to be appreciated, but our consumers and colleagues may not always take the time to express their appreciation. What is more, even when people express their appreciation, we may not absorb it, claim it, revel in it– unless we appreciate ourselves.

So, appreciate yourself, dear interpreter! Soak up all that appreciation you received yesterday–and any day of the year–and own it. Next time someone tells you you are good at something, say to yourself, “Yes, I am.” Next time someone tells you they appreciate you, say to yourself, “So do I.” After all, you have to believe you deserve appreciation in order to, well, appreciate it.

Do conference interpreters make more than medical interpreters?

I find it interesting to follow the interpreting field in general, not just the ASL-English interpreting field, and the other day I saw a surprising post on a blog I follow called The Professional Interpreter: Many medical interpreters are missing out on a prestigious and profitable field. The author, Tony Rosado, a Spanish-English interpreter, says that most medical interpreters do not venture from interpreting medical jobs to interpret medical conferences. I don’t think of conference interpreting as more prestigious and profitable than interpreting in medical settings, but things may be very different between signed-spoken and spoken-spoken language interpreters.

Qualified interpreter means an interpreter who … is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.


According to the article, until recently there were no standards for medical interpreting. It is important to note, though, that the author is not talking about interpreting between deaf and non-deaf people; he is talking about interpreting for people who do not share the same spoken language. Interpreters for deaf people are provided as an accommodation mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and previous laws such as PL 94-142 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Such mandates create a demand for quality; in fact, Title III of the ADA sets the legal definition:

Qualified interpreter means an interpreter who, via a video remote interpreting (VRI) service or an on-site appearance, is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Qualified interpreters include, for example, sign language interpreters, oral transliterators, and cued-language transliterators.


I am interested in hearing from interpreters of all language pairs to see what you think about conference interpreting as opposed to medical interpreting. In your experience, have you found conference interpreting to be more profitable than medical interpreting? Do you find that your colleagues and/or consumers respect you more for doing conference interpreting than medical interpreting? Personally, I find both equally rewarding, both personally and financially. It can be stimulating and glamorous to interpret for someone charismatic while facing a large audience, yet it is challenging and rewarding to interpret for a doctor and patient in a private room. I like both settings, and feel respected in both settings. What do you like?

Searching for a colleague who’s searching for a colleague

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.