Note from Uncle Dale: The Single Best Interpretation LIKE EVER!

Uncle Dale here!  One of my students has this issue.  In the middle of a sample interpretation she will just stop. I mean everything will stop. Her hands will freeze and her face will go blank for… let’s say MORE than a few moments.  I would worry she was having a seizure-if I had not seen it before with other students.  It is a phenomenon I call “pre-second guessing.”  Before she even produces an interpretation she is picking it apart in her head.  She was not just back-checking her work, she was inspecting one moment in the process under a jewelers loop, staring at it, re-organizing it.  She stopped at that moment, set up camp there and started a little colony.

As often as I see this with interpreting students it sometimes rears its ugly mug with experienced working interpreters. They get stuck in a moment of an interpretation with which they are not happy and just… live there (why you would live where you are not happy is beyond me).

I told her I can’t give her feedback on an interpretation I never see.  She sighed and asked me, “but how do you know if you have found the, like, the VERY BEST interpretation, you know, EVER.”

Despite her inserting the word “like” in the question in a way that was so forbidden in my home growing up that it still gives me the pee-shivers just to hear it, AND don’t even get me started on “ya know,” NO I DO NOT KNOW, THAT IS WHY WE ARE HAVING THIS DISCUSSION (Did I just become old and cranky Uncle Dale? Oh well, everyone please make a note to stay off my lawn), she asked a good question.  How do you find THE SINGLE BEST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION… LIKE (shiver) EVER!

Short answer? I don’t. Because I usually don’t look for the single best interpretation. I have not the time nor energy to do so. I look for 20 possible interpretations and pick the one that works.

Look, unless I am working with a Deaf consultant on a frozen text, such as a script for a play, with days to prepare and time to debate and rework deep into the night with Diet Coke flowing wild and free, I don’t have time.  In the dynamic moment of interpreting I can’t mount some safari for the elusive single best or even very best interpretation. Anyway that search has nothing to do with what an interpreter does on a daily basis.

What an interpreter does, day in and day out, is start with all possible interpretations, narrow that to the 20 most possible interpretations for the concept in question, eliminate the interpretation choices that are just nonsense and, maybe it’s just me, the ones that create the obvious double entendre or innuendo, sift through what’s left, pick the one that most nearly approximates the presenter’s meaning and intent, produce that, and move on to the next.

At this point student said, and I quote, “OMG I have a hard enough time thinking of just one interpretation!” (maybe when I retire I’ll learn to speak emoji), “I don’t have time to do all that!”

Sure you do. Think of all the time you’ll have when you:

a) stop wasting all of it seeking perfection that will never be; and,

b) when you stop second, third, fourth and fifth guessing everything you produce before and after you produce it.

The problem is one of allocation of mental resources. That, and the invisible metal band around your head.

“WTF! What band around my head? I don’t understand you sometimes.”

(The reason I’m such a good mentor for her is we share so many feelings in common).

So, you have this metal band around your head, it’s been there for years, and etched in it are the words ‘no, that’s dumb.’  You strapped the ‘no, that’s dumb’ barrier there yourself, to keep you from dying of embarrassment in high-school.  It helped you to not yell out that wild guess in history class (it strangely, if you remember, turned out to be right).  It kept you from telling your best friend that her ‘crush’ wouldn’t give her the time of day because she has such a terrible personality.  Most men rely on it to remind them that their significantothers don’t really want to know ‘how their butt looks in those jeans.’ It’s useful, if properly applied.

However, for interpreters the “no, that’s dumb” band is more of a hindrance than a help. It tells us that we should not look outside it’s confines for possible interpretations, and must only seek possible interpretations within the limited area of the ‘not dumb.’

If we’ve got nothing and we approach the border to ‘Dumblandia’ the band pushes us back and says ‘no no don’t look out here.  These ideas are silly.’

The problem with that is the space in which you can look for “possibles” tends to shrink. More and more ideas look ‘dumb.’ You stay, mentally, further and further from the edge and suddenly one day you find yourself standing in the very middle of your brain looking down at your socks… and nowhere else.  It becomes like looking for underwear in your sock drawer; look all you want, you will only find socks. The same socks. Th saaaame old socks.

This is the problem with looking for the perfect interpretation and not even giving the nutty possibilities any play.  Sometimes the nutty ideas are the best of the “possibles”–and even more often, they lead to the best of the “possibles.”

Friend, we need to pry that band off.

“But how?” You may ask, just as my student did at that moment.

Experiment with me. Pick a text, preferably one you have used before many many times (tangent alert! interpreting students, and even some interpreters look at texts they have seen before like used… must. not. say. first. thought… AH! Tissues! Tissues work just as well for this example as condoms… they look at texts they’ve seen onetime and cannot think of any reason to ever touch it again. If I put in a text they have seen before, they all say “I’VE DONE THIS ONE” and can-not see the value in it after it’s initial use.  Like a… tissue. See?

That would be a valid complaint if I was using the text to teach reactive interpreting-which I’m not.  I am teaching how to free your mind to see the possibilities contained within any single concept within this text; what is possible if you are unshackled by the ‘no, that’s Dumb’ band.  If you cannot do the exercises using a text with which you are completely familiar, there is NO POSSIBILITY you could do them cold… well not yet.  If all you use are “cold” texts then the only thing you ever practice is how you react to a cold text; everything becomes, by default, a lesson in reactionary interpreting, which, while vital, is one little part of the vast process. My Tangent is now complete.) So find a text you have used many many times and interpret it.

Now, to cut through your ‘no, that’s Dumb’ band, interpret the same text again, using half the number of signs. Done? Now, do it again using half of that number of signs.  Keep stripping it down until the only have that which you musthave to preserve meaning.  Got it?  Good.

Now do it again, but you cannot use the sign for… “have.” Stripped down version, and now work around this arbitrary rule.

Ok? Again, ‘have’ is still gone and now you have lost the sign for… “car.” No ‘have’ no ‘car’.

“But the text is about what you ‘have‘ to look for when buying a used ‘car.'”

Yes, I know that.

“I don’t see how…”


“Well, I mean I could, like… can I use classifiers?”

I have given you no restrictions but those I have given you.

“THAT’S HARD! That’s not what I thought we would be working on!”

Yes.  Life has a funny way of not working out like you expect.  No ‘have’ no ‘car,’ GO.

It’s amazing what a half hour of this will do. Each time you start again add an arbitrary change to the rules. Keep modifying the same text, over and over and suddenly the band is gone! You have (oh must) get more accepting of the creative interpretation to make the message have meaning.

By the way… its fun.

So, in the end, I don’t look for the singlebest interpretation, I think of 20 possible interpretations, pick the appropriate one from that group and  GO!

As time has gone by even my worst choice, is still pretty good, because I’m willing to be creative in my thought process and I have more experience.

Think about it this way, if you expend all your processing time and energy trying to find THE SINGLE BEST INTERPRETATION, what happens if you don’t? A whole lot of blank stares and no interpretation.

Mic Drop.

(did i use that right?)

Author: uncledalesrules

These blogs (I have two) began as a series of sayings I use to teach interpreting workshops, and political diatribes on Facebook. They moved from Facebook to this blog site: 1. as a way to remove them from my head (cuts down on the noise in there); and, 2. to give a better home to both my "less serious and satire laden posts" and my "more serious and satire laden posts." I guess it's up to you to decide which is which.

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