Let’s play “Ok/Not Ok”
Investing in an opportunity you heard about interpreting.
Learning CPR while interpreting for a Red Cross course and later performing CPR on a person having a heart attack.
That is Ok.
You see the obvious difference, right?
Interpreting: where you can legitimately say, “they do not pay me enough to do this,” and, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!” on the very same day!
Stuff Uncle Dale Always Says, Explained:
Don’t be so easily impressed, I picked this video.
I have used this video to teach this principle for over 14 years. So, if I sound good interpreting it from ASL to Spoken Hearing, hint, I’ve seen it before…
However, that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Back in the mid-1990s I helped collect videos of native Deaf ASL users telling stories and jokes for an ASL preservation library. I use some of the videos I collected in my classes to this day.
One of the stories is a man telling the Deaf King Kong joke. Remember I filmed this man telling this joke myself. I saw it live while it was recorded and have watched and used the video literally hundreds of times over the years since the day I collected it.
In 2017 a student in ASL to Spoken English suddenly said that the woman Deaf King Kong took up the building with him was named Jennifer. I dinged her for an addition error. She challenged me and… HOLY COW she was right! King Kong does say her name is Jennifer!
Not once, from the day I collected the video to that day, despite literally hundreds of viewings, had I ever noticed that detail. “A” for the day for that student!
Stuff Uncle Dale Always Says, Explained:
You are looking for underwear in your sock drawer, no matter how many times you dig through it you will only find socks. Time to look in other drawers.
When a student keeps making the same error over and over because they are stuck in the same habits instead of incorporating the new skill being taught.
Last night I had the opportunity to see the great Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner perform their poetry performance Flying Words.
It was fantastic. But of course it was, that almost goes without saying.
The room was packed with members of the Deaf community, interpreters, interpreting students, ASL students and their families. It was literally standing room only.
As the program began and Peter and Kenny were introduced my heart leapt to see that the interpreter was one of my former students, now graduated, certified and working as an interpreter at a local college. She was poised and confident and I could not have been more proud.
I looked around the room and saw many of my students, current and former, filling the audience. As I looked at each of them I remembered the laugher and tears I had with each one. Struggles and breakthroughs. Frustrations and insights.
But most of all I could see love. So much love. For each other, for the language, for the community. I am proud of each and everyone of them.
If I am to be remembered for anything let it be for them.
Now. Don’t think that I’m saying I made these interpreters what they are today. I just helped them to find the path and refined the edges.
There is a, possibly apocryphal, story about Michelangelo where someone asked him how he carved an angel from a block of marble and he replied:
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo
I’m not trying to aggrandize myself by saying I am comparable to one of the greatest artist in history. I am simply saying that we talk about him today because he saw the angel and set it free.
I looked at that room full of angels; those who are free and those still finding their wings and I smiled and thought, “if someday, at the end of my time here on this planet, I look back to see what I’ve left in the world for future generations and I see this room full of angels then even when I’m gone I will truly live forever in peace.”
Thank you Peter and Kenny. It was a wonderful show!
Elementary School Interpreters are real interpreters.
VRS Interpreters are real interpreters.
Legal Interpreters are real interpreters.
CDIs are real interpreters.
Middle School Interpreters are real interpreters.
VRI Interpreters are real interpreters
Freelance Interpreters are real interpreters
University Interpreters are real interpreters
Pre-K Interpreters are real interpreters.
Mental Health Interpreters are real interpreters.
High School Interpreters are real interpreters.
My original plan was to write one Note to tackle Interpersonal Dynamics: Deaf Client; Hearing Client; and, your Team. But there is a lot to unpack in all these topics! So much that I split it into three.
I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:
“What would you do if…”.
The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
I addressed ethics, micro-audism and the interpersonal dynamic that exists between the interpreter and the Deaf Client in previous Notes.
So let’s talk about the interpersonal dynamics between the interpreter and the hearing Client.
How do you, as the interpreter, relate to the other actors in the communication event?
The Hearing Client
Author Douglas Adams wrote a scene in his book Dirk Gentely’s Holistic Detective Agency wherein the reader is given insight into a horse’s opinions on its rider. The author clearly states that it is not a super-intelligent horse or magical in any way. This handsome but quite normal horse formed opinions about its rider because:
It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.
But, the author also observes:
On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.
What’s the point?
People who are Deaf tend to know a great deal about hearing people. However, most hearing people have no idea what it actually means to be Deaf in a hearing world.
That, of course, has never stopped any hearing person from expressing an opinion on the matter. I have heard hearing people expound at length on how, if they were Deaf, they would be “too self-sufficient to demand that someone else provide [them] an interpreter.” (That is an actual quote from an office manager at a medical clinic).
Against my better judgement, because you can’t fix the arrogance of privilege, I responded by quoting the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Padgett M.P.
The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each tooth-point goes,
But the butterfly upon the road preaches contentment to that toad.
I don’t think she got it.
It is easy for one removed from the struggle to advise quiet acceptance to those who live the struggle every day (by the way, find the poem I quoted. It’s a fantastic exploration of watching someone who loudly expresses an opinion, on a topic about which they know nothing, becoming “educated”).
As a hearing person who has lived, worked and studied the Language and Culture of people who are Deaf, I can safely say that I don’t understand the experience of a person who is Deaf navigating a hearing world day in and day out. I never will.
But, I do know how to interpret between a person who is Deaf and a person who is hearing. I can say without fear of contradiction or false aggrandizement that I am an expert in that area. I can and will speak to hearing Clients with authority about what I, as the expert on communication in the room, need in order to do my job.
I’m not shy about advocating for the things I need in order to do my job (affording effective communication) And I am always professional about it.
It is important to clearly explain what I mean by being “professional.”
I always begin very politely, but, I am direct.
I am clear.
I am firm.
If needed I will be blunt.
But always polite, unless the situation calls on me not to be.
Make no mistake, there is a place for directness to a level that some may mistake for rudeness within the definition of professional discourse.
My measure for when it is time to move past blunt is when a lay person, who knows nothing about my job (outside their uninformed assumptions), attempts to “correct” me on how to do my job (specifically when they assume incorrectly).
I first attempt to educate, then to explain, but, if needed, I will correct their erroneous assumptions without negotiation.
Let me emphasize that again. Never forget that as an interpreter you are the expert regarding interpreting. That is why you are there; they called an expert to facilitate communication because they could not do it without your expertise.
That is the purview of the person who is Deaf.
Definitely defer to the person who is Deaf.
Anything regarding the process of interpreting is the area of expertise of the interpreter (If you are working with a CDI, and I hope you have had the benefit of that experience, it is amazing, then defer to the CDI). If (when) the hearing Client tries to insert themselves into your area of expertise handle it as the professional you are.
As I’ve said, “professional” doesn’t always mean the same thing as “polite.”
“Respectful” doesn’t always mean the same thing as being “deferential.”
On one occasion for example I had to educate a nurse who kept telling me how to do my job. I went through the steps I listed above, but to no avail. She just kept giving me orders, to the point that it was becoming impossible for me to do my job.
No one prevents me from doing my job.
My job is too important to allow that. So I finally said:
“I think see the problem here. You mistakenly believe that I work for you. Let me assure you, I do not. I’m an independent contractor that the hospital hired for my expertise. If there is an immediate medical emergency I will defer to your expertise, but, right now I have a job to do. You are interfering with my ability to do that job. That will stop.”
And it did.
In the end just keep in mind that the hearing people who hire you tend to come in two types: Those who know how to rely on experts to do the jobs they need done but don’t know how to do themselves, and those who assume that they are naturally an expert in all things and feel the need to direct the work of everyone else.
If you want to reduce problems and arguments during assignments you need to speak and act as the expert you are. Ninety percent of real problems that come up during appointments happen because we didn’t speak up when we felt like we should. The other ten percent happen because we say too much. There is a fine line between professional self-advocacy and arrogance. I find that line lies at the border of “this is what must happen to do my job” and “listen to how much I know.” Finding that line is both a science and an art. Staying on the right side of it is an imperative.
The key for me is asking myself a simple question. “Am I stating clearly to this hearing person what I need to do my job or I’m I arguing with a jerk.”
Never argue with a jerk, even if the jerk obviously wants to argue with you. You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.
Be clear, be direct, be professional and when in doubt remember Rule 8!
Hello! It feels good to be back and typing furiously with my thumbs!
I love working with teams. I always learn something by watching how another interpreter handles tricky linguistic issues or does the simple things better.
There is no such thing as plagiarism when it comes to interpreting. No interpreter has a copyright on a great way to interpret “that” no matter what “that” is. If you see something you can use then collect it for your toolbox and use it when you need it.
Stop looking at other interpreters and wishing you had the skills that he or she has. Figure out what they are doing, that you wish you were doing, and start trying to incorporate what you observe into your own work.
“It’s that simple,” you ask?
Well, yes. And no.
It’s as simple as opening your eyes and ears and mind. But, so many things block our ability to observe and incorporate breakthrough skills we see into our own work.
Number one barrier? Petty jealousy.
As I get older I have to admit more and more that the next generation of interpreters will be better at this than I could ever have hoped to be in my lifetime.
And that is a great thing. They should be better. Their skills and abilities should pass me by. That each generation of interpreters accomplishes more than the previous is good for the Deaf community and good for the profession.
It’s also to be expected because they have something to help them develop their skills that I never had. They have me.
I don’t mean me personally (though I try to do my share in the classroom) I mean they have the wealth of understanding contained within collective experience of my generation like I had the benefit of the giants who came before me. The next generation should build from the beginning on the solid foundation of the mistakes that taught me and crafted me into the interpreter I am today. They should not need to make the same mistakes I made to learn the same lessons I learned (though that is sometimes unavoidable). They should start above the noise and confusion by standing on my shoulders. This leaves them open to learn their own lessons, deeper mysteries of language and culture that I never got to because I was dealing with the lessons this profession had for my generation.
I have grown used to being the one who dazzled by reason the ease with which I handle difficult concepts. It is sometimes hard for me to admit that this young interpreter has produced a more clear concise interpretation than I.
It’s hard to admit that I still have things to learn. And harder to admit that this kid has something to teach me.
But that is the beauty of this profession, if we are willing to learn there is always something we can learn.
Our best resource is the Deaf community. If I have one lesson to pass on to working interpreters it’s this-prosody.
Take every opportunity to observe how people who are Deaf make themselves understood. How do they indicate the beginning of a new idea? How do native ASL users show the end of an idea? I’m not talking about grammar or vocabulary, I’m talking about dynamic functional punctuation.
When we look and really see how people who are Deaf transition between ideas or indicate turn taking or emphasize a point or refer back to a past idea… any myriad of structural linguistic guides that they produce with subtle shifts and facial expressions so naturally that these markers are almost imperceptible in flow of communication, but without which there would be no flow of communication, we quickly see how ham fisted and awkward our attempts to accomplish the same thing using crass signs are.
The economy of movement is inspiring. A native user can often accomplish with a nose wrinkle a meaning takes an interpreter 5-7 signs to produce in equity.
If we look and really see the structural perfection of it all we cannot help but say, “why aren’t I doing that? I should be doing that!”
And we can do “that.” We can do “that” if we are willing to see, process what we’ve seen and incorporate it into our work through applied practice.
There are always lessons to learn. There are always opportunities to be better at what we do, if we are willing to be taught.
When the phone rings at 1am and you know you are working a 8am, kiss your significant other and your bed goodbye, tell them both how much you will miss them, and remind yourself that you are doing a job you love and you will see both of them again… eventually.