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.

More about introducing oneself as an interpreter

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.

The stigma of “signer” upon ASL-English interpreters

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.