Taking ASL is like taking dance, language, communication, & anthropology

I put this diagram together on Popplet to impress upon my students how many skills it takes to learn ASL– and how many skills they can develop by learning it. Like dance, ASL involves coordination, movement, and space; like any language (foreign, world, modern, spoken), ASL involves grammar and vocabulary; like communication, ASL involves conversation and structure; like anthropology, ASL involves culture and diversity.

There are also several connections that are shared by ASL and at least two other disciplines (I colored these magenta): like communication and dance, an ASL course involves structure, articulation, memorization, rehearsal, partner work, and audience; like language and communication, an ASL course involves conversation; like anthropology and dance, an ASL course involves culture.

So much goes into learning ASL, and so much can come out of it! I hope that this diagram and these words will help give students a greater respect for the complexity in store for them as they embark upon learning ASL.

ASL is Multidisciplinary

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?


The customer is the person we need, not the person who needs us.

At first glance, this quotation seems paradoxical. In truth, we need each other. But good customer service means forgetting, for the moment, the truth that the customer needs us, and focusing instead on the truth that we need the customer. People sometimes feel embarrassed and powerless when they need something from someone. As an interpreter, I serve customers who need my help to communicate with each other. I find that when I focus on the truth that I need my customers, my attitude improves and so does my customer service. I believe that when customers feel proud and powerful instead of embarrassed and powerless, they are more able to communicate with each other and more inclined to ask for me again.

Just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s vague

“What about slang words and acronyms, aren’t they vague language?” Someone asked me this recently, and I wanted to say no right away, but I had to think about why. After thinking on it, I say no, slang words and acronyms are not vague language because they do not have inherently vague meanings; if anything, they are very specific. Vague words have inherently vague meanings– vague language is language you know, but can never be sure of. Take the word noonish– we know it means sometime around noon; we just don’t know exactly when. We also don’t know how late someone might be when they say they’ll meet you at noonish: 12:05? 12:10? What about quarter past– is that noonish anymore, or just plain late? I don’t think a dictionary, slang or otherwise, will ever tie noonish down to the hands of a clock. When people talk with each other in front of you in a language you don’t understand, they’re being cryptic, not vague. Or maybe you’re just being paranoid.