I have a few simple rules in life. Well, besides the 267 Rules you will find here… (um over 500 now…) yeah. Um.
I’m going to start this one again.
Hi everyone! I have more than a few rules in this life. One of them is called the Twelve-Year-Old Boy Rule.
The Twelve-Year-Old Boy Rule states that when you produce or create something, like… say, a warning sign at an amusement park…
Or a menu item
Or directions on installing a car seat in an SUV
or perhaps a bouncey-house for children…
(My 12-year-old said nothing, he just pointed, took my phone, filmed this, handed me my phone, sighed, and walked away.)
Whatever you create, the Rule is you have run it past a twelve-year-old boy to check that it is not wildly suggestive of some dirty double entendre or other strange mixed message. Spotting the double meaning is the legitimate superpower of every twelve-year-old boy! In other words that you are actually producing the message you wish to produce.
The reason errors like these happen is in our minds we can clearly see what we want our creation to be. We see what we want so obviously in our heads that we miss what any 12-year-old will see immediately with his eyes. Thus my Rule, run it past a twelve-year-old boy, because if he snickers, y’all need to take another, highly critical, look at your product before it “goes to market.”
I teach my interpreting students to apply this Rule to their academic and practical interpreting goals, because preparing to take the Cerification Test requires two sets of eyes and honesty in two hearts. Not cruelty. Honesty.
(It would not be an Uncle Dale Note without a digressive parenthetical. I always tell my students that my main goal in teaching any skill set is to make myself unnecessary. I don’t have the time in a semester to actually teach them how to produce spoken equivency from sign or interpret a text consecutively or simultaneously. I don’t have time to scratch the surface of legal interpreting or medical or educational interpreting, at least not with any real nuance. So I spend my time teaching them the structure and how to self-evaluate their proficiency in order to grow and develop after the semester is over. I teach them how to not need me to continue to learn. But just because they don’t need me doesn’t mean they don’t need anyone.)
There are two problems with trying to critique yourself:
1. You are too hard on yourself. I often give feed back to students telling them “the problem is you realized you were were doing it right.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means the problem started when you realized you felt like you were doing it right and at the same time your self-doubt screamed “that can’t be right! Because you are doing it!”
This common trait of being the pissy with ourselves stunts development. We become afraid for others to see our work because our least objective and most savage critic, ourselves, has already spoken.
2. You are not critical enough of your own work. I call it “bulletproof.” An interpreter who, at sometime in the past, was told by a random member of the Deaf Community that he “does great work” will too often give himself a pass on all feedback and analysis for the rest of his natural life. He holds that complement like it’s holy relic, fending off any critiques of his work like it’s a cross warding off vampires.
Bulletproof interpreters think people who offer feedback are “picking on them” because so-and-so told them their work was “fine.” Clients who request a different interpreter “hate hearing people.” And certification testing is “bias” or “invalid” (and he never has to try it because so-and-so told him six years ago that he signed better than a certified interpreter).
The cure for both the issues is the same.
An interpreter must always be willing to look at their work objectively and more important must allow others to look at their work and accept feedback at face value. We must do it during our first year of practice our fifth year of practice our twentieth year and, well, forever.
It’s hard. It’s hard to look your work and not see an error as a failure. But we must. I have had to speak to students on occasion about their self-critical aversion to risk. I have students who always have “equipment problems” or can never seem to find a partner for team evaluation exercises. I had one that gave me excuses so often that I told her she had to take a technology class or leave the program. After the initial shock I told her that, from what I had seen she had some talent, but I could not help her fix issues she would not show me.
She started to talk about anxiety and I stopped her and said that if she had disabling anxiety that must be accommodated she needed go get evaluated through accessibility services. If she was just anxious she needed to be willing to subject herself to risk if she wanted to get any reward.
And so must we all. We must be willing to risk failure to get anything worth having.
So, back the Rule. If you want to get better you must risk the evaluation of others. Find someone you trust and who produces work you respect and remember that there is a vast difference between judging you and evaluating your work.
When it comes right down to it, that is what certification is. It’s being willing to subject your work to the analysis of your peers and allow them to examine it for errors as throughly and brutally as a collection of twelve-year-old boys.