Note from Uncle Dale: Dear Interpreting Students

You know how you can hear things from friends that you would never accept from your family? And you know how you can accept things about yourself from strangers that, if a friend told you, maybe you would ignore because “that’s just my friend talking.”  Hi. I’m Uncle Dale. As this blog had just under 30,000 views last week from 23 different countries it’s likely we’ve never actually met. Hi.

I am actually writing this to you  while sitting in a Starbucks.  Humm. Even though I have become a cliche, I hope you won’t feel it presumptuous of me if I tell you a few things that your instructors want you to know, but may be hard for you to hear.


You are in an interpreting program. Although you will continue to learn Sign Language for the rest of your life (I will have a Rule about that) at this moment you have more than enough vocabulary to interpret and express any idea from any text given you in class, because it’s not about the vocabulary; it’s the visual concept.  Stop thinking you don’t know enough signs to do this.

You must not let the phrase “I don’t know the sign for that” stop you from interpreting the idea anyway.  As Morpheus says to Neo “stop trying to hit me and just hit me.” Stop trying to interpret and just interpret.  Wow, Starbucks and a Matrix reference. I’m on a roll.


Look around the class, you see “THAT” student-the one who makes it look easy (see Rule 16), the one who always seems to get it? For someone else in the room “THAT” student is you.

When I was in law school my Professors would say things like “of course you will remember this from elementary school” and I didn’t,  everyone else seem to. I kept thinking “maybe I was sick that week?”  Well, one day a Professor hit on a topic I knew something’s about.  BEST CLASS EVER! She kept asking me questions and I kept answering and even if I got it wrong the discussion was great.  When class was over a student sitting a row behind me said “I didn’t get half of that, but of course you did. You’re the smartest one in the class.”   At that moment I realized all the fears I had were the same fears everyone else in the class had.  In this classroom, right now, you are someone’s “smartest kid in the class.”  Spend not one moment try to argue with me in your mind or dismissing the idea. You are.  Everyone is nervous, everyone is afraid.  You are fine.


I have students every semester who tell me that they did not raise their hand, or that their homework is late, because they are “nervous about messing up.” Preview of an upcoming Rule: you will mess up, and I absolve you.  I absolve you because if there was ever a place to try something and fall on your face, it’s here, in the classroom.

This is class.  You are expected not to know how to do this-that is in fact the whole reason you are here!

If you don’t try, I can’t evaluate your progress. If you try a little and pull back, I don’t know what your potential is. Listen, I’m not judging you, I’m grading you.  You can roll your eyes or even laugh, but there is a powerful distinction between those two ideas. The first says that I attach your worth to your work; I don’t. I am looking at your work to see if you have or have not applied the principles I have taught, Yes=good grade, No=lower grade, and that is it.  My evaluation of your work says nothing about you personally. I don’t think less of you for struggling; it actually gives my job purpose. Think of Rule 7, don’t tie your ability to do this assignment to your self-worth or think for one minute that I do. I just want to make you better, and frankly I understand.

I understand because I was not born into this-I had to learn it too. I struggled and learned from someone more experienced  (Never try to learn math from a person who has never struggled with math.  They say things like “and so you see…” or “it’s obvious that…” but I DON’T SEE AND IT’S NOT OBVIOUS). My point is, I understand because I’ve been there. And believe me when I tell you this is the place to step up and try because, Rule 6, no matter what your work in this classroom looks like, it will never end with the client in the morgue or in jail; just a grade.

Well, I’m going to let you get back to it, but, one last thing.  Don’t apologize to me for your work or any mistakes before you give it to me. It’s your work, it will tell me everything I need to know.  If there are errors, I will likely notice-its kinda my job. More than that, I will know- that you know- there are errors because I will likely have asked to to analyze them.

Good talk. I hope I said something you needed to hear. I will try to stop by sometime later and we can talk about certification.

Rule 81

Federal court? Check. Complex pre-surgical instructions with informed consent? Done. Doctoral defense for candidate who is Deaf? No sweat! But, this my friend is “The Pirates of Penzance,” a 140-year-old musical, adapted from opera, cut from 2 1/2 hours to just under 50 minutes, sung by 5th and 6th graders (including the children of your 4 Deaf clients) in a school cafeteria using donated sound equipment. You need prove your bravery in no other way.