Note from Uncle Dale: The Physiology of Interpreting, Balance and a Big Chicken Suit

Way back in 1994, I did not follow my own abridgment of the CPC (See Rule 80) and while interpreting at an all-day appointment alone (“we will give you plenty of breaks…” the break is a lie) I tore two ligaments in my right wrist. It happened at about 1:00 in the afternoon. There was this snapping feeling in my forearm and then it tingled in my fingers, the pain started about ten minutes later.

Oh, by the way I finished the appointment at about 4:30 that afternoon.

That’s not bragging about how committed I am. That is admitting to my stupidity.

Years of physical therapy, weeks in a cast and years and years of better judgment later, it still causes me problems. Again, if you didn’t look at it before, see Rule 80.

Memorize it. Live it.

Years after this incident I had the opportunity to design the course curriculum for the Deaf Studies-Interpreting Emphasis degree at Utah Valley University. I looked at the courses taught at ITPs all over the country and found a hole in the coursework that I couldn’t abide.

There didn’t seem to be any courses that focused on practical self-care for interpreters.

My grandfather used to say if you use a tool incorrectly it will break, but if you use it properly and take care of it, it will break much much later.

We work in a profession where our tools include our bodies and, no matter how careful we are, our tools will break. Hopefully later, much later, than sooner.

I knew my program needed a class that covered the basics of how to postpone that inevitable repetitive motion injury as long as possible. So I used my own experience, consulted with medical professionals, the physical education department at the university where I teach and (pah) The Physiology of Interpreting was born.

The course covers breathing, posture, balance, hand-eye-coordination, sleep patterns, nutrition (because you don’t want to die of heart disease before you have a chance to develop carpal tunnel), we discuss the anatomical structure of the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder and back. We also discuss early warning signs of the most common repetitive motion injuries, ergonomics, low impact sign production (I should not be able to hear the signs!) we self evaluate interpreted texts to identify dangerous habits and we discuss conservation of movement, rest and exercise.

This class is one of the most fun I get to teach, because there are so many cool ways to teach the basics.

For example, we explore the coordinated movements of the muscles of the hand and forearm by teaching the students how to flip-roll a quarter down their fingers and how to “palm a quarter” like magicians do.

I teach them how to tap into the brain’s ability to predict body placement in space and calculate movement (conservation of movement and hand-brain coordination) by teaching the students how to juggle.

And today we did this!

We use Wii Fit plus to evaluate balance.

Now it’s fun, but I have to admit for a video game Wii Fit is a bit… catty. Sometimes it’s downright bitchy.

When I stepped on the balance board today it went “ooff!” (Seriously? Why you gotta do a boy like that?)

Then it told me I was obese! (REALLY?)

In one clip you can hear it saying, “Measuring, Measuring, Measuring…” one of my students popped off with, “Judging, judging, judging…”

(I will admit I laughed so hard I may have peed just a little.)

We do the single leg balance test:

And we play games that require balance and coordinated movement, like hula-hooping, balance board and my personal favorite-THE FLYING CHICKEN CHALLENGE:

(Three comments. First, this class is taught in ASL but this always elicits some yelling from the studio audience-A little leeway, it was getting way crazy up in there; second the avatar on the screen can be made to look like the student dressed in a giant flying chicken suit (ooooh yeeeah! that alone is worth the price of admission!); and, third, yes, that is my foot and those are Captain America socks.)

Overall this is one of the classes I teach that students come back and rave about after they get out in the field and work for a while; because it’s fun and practical.

I can’t keep them all safe in this crazy world-but I can keep them working without pain for as long as possible.

If you have not paid attention to how your “signing style” may impact your longevity in this profession pause and think about it now. Start with this exercise from the course:

Document your life for one week, be brutally honest with yourself:

Everything you eat-use your phone camera as a way to document everything you put in your mouth from a tic-tac to a buffet. Everything and note the time you eat it;

All the water you drink-get a bottle with measuring lines. Try not to change your behavior but realize if you start to carry a water bottle you will naturally drink more;

Document how much you sleep. What time do you shut down. Not just get in bed but actually try to sleep. If you wake up in the night mark it. What time did you wake up? Catnaps? Mark them.

Record your aches and pains. Do you wake up each day with a pain you ignore? Do you get an upset stomach eat the same time each day? Document when you feel it. If something makes it worse or better mark it.

Exercise. First define what exercise is for you. Time at the gym? Walking to the next class all the way across campus… mark activity, time of day and duration.

Bad habits. So you smoke? Mark each time to take a smoke break and how many you smoke. Weed? Mark it. Alcohol? Mark it. Any chemical enhancement without a doctors note.

Medications. Do you take them on schedule and in the proper amounts? Document it.

At the end of the week look at your documentation. How different is your real life from how you tell yourself it is. What habits should you change?

This gives an honest starting place from which to develop a self care plan. Try it. It is usually shocking… mainly because we are with ourselves all the time but never remember eating that poorly or sleeping that little.

Take a workshop on self-care, or a course on healthy living. Even if you don’t have access to a class like that (or the one I teach), be careful out there, take care of your tools and watch out for each other.

Oh, and ain’t technology grand?! Cluck cluck.


ps. Ok I just had to add this. We did hand eye coordination exercises this week:

And last but not least this nearly awesome moment!

All work and no play!!!


Note from Uncle Dale: Does This Speaker Register as Distant to You?

Hello People my People!

You know when you are in the middle of a lecture, or even a chat, and you realize that you had assumed everyone knew what you were talking about and then suddenly it hits you-dead eyes, fixed smiles with the occasional slack-jaw; they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but you know that they should!

It happened to me in a class last week.

Now, this was not a class of dim bulbs (I will admit, like every teacher I have had one or two that could not generate the wattage needed to read a cereal box. It’s rare, but it happens), this class is bright. But the concept upon which my lecture was based had somehow eluded them, and long after it should have been imbedded in their psyches.

We were talking about Register.

The problem is, while I was lamenting that my class, each of whom would have been exposed to discussions on Register in no less than two to three courses prior to the one I was teaching, did not have a good understanding of what Register is-my friend to whom I was whining chose that moment to rather sheepishly confess that he had never really understood the academic meaning of Register either. Oh he could tell you the names of the levels of formality (my whole class could), but if I asked him to define it he would say, “it’s like irony, I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

Then my friend, who is a highly experienced interpreter, gave me the Children’s Sunday School answer as to what Register is, the same answer my students all regurgitated on cue, “Social Distance.”

I call that the Children’s Sunday School answer because in my Christan denomination if you are teaching Children’s Sunday School no matter what question you ask most of the kids will just say, “Jesus?” because about 80 percent of the time that is the answer you are looking for, so the odds are with them that you, the teacher, will just accept that answer and move on.

No such luck for my students or my friend. “Ok, what does Social Distance mean?”

Blank stares.

Finally one brave soul popped up with, “it has to do with the signs you can and can’t use in a given situation, like, you can’t use swear words if you are working in Formal Register.”

Almost, but not quite, exactly incorrect.

Register is established by the answer to two queries:

1) Are you taking questions; and,

2) In what form must the question be presented?

Think, for example, of a text associated with Frozen Register: The Pledge of Allegiance or any of a number of specific prayers or recited religious texts. These are all set scripts. They are read or presented each time in the same way and without deviation.

In short, you don’t take questions in the middle of The Star Spangled Banner (I was going to make a reference to a recent rendition by a popular singer at the NBA All-Star game, but that would date this post).

How do we as interpreters maintain this “no questions asked” policy? Well, with Frozen Texts most clients are familiar with the protocol of whatever text they are viewing. They have gone to church, or seen the pledge before a city counsel meeting or observed a sporting event. However, if that is not the case eye-gaze and attitude are the tools here. Use unfocused or elevated gaze to hold the floor. But again Frozen Register is rarely the problem (I did not say never).

Formal Register is where it starts to get interesting. Think of a speaker at a podium. The speaker says, “Good Morning everyone, I hope you all slept well and enjoyed the breakfast provided by the hotel.” The speaker is not inviting a discussion on the comfort levels of the hotel beds or fielding complaints about the hotel running out of cheese danish. The speaker is not taking question! It’s a formality… unless the speaker is taking questions, then it’s not.

The speaker controls the Register and may upon a whim step out of Formal and into whatever level of Register the speaker wishes; even Frozen-think poetry.

“Can someone turn the lights on in the hall,” is the interpreters signal that the form of turn taking has changed and the new normal must be pinned down ASAP! Is it Consultative? Or informal

One more thing to think about. Remember when my student said swearing is by definition not Formal Register? A speaker can use profane language to illicit a visceral response without inviting a physical or aural response. Dynamic speakers use rhythm and intensity in speech patterns to do this.

Some cuss like sheepherders.

Either way it is a tightrope the interpreter walks. You must again rely on eye-gaze, body position and other methods of controlling the flow of communication to alert the Client that the Register has not changed just because the F bomb was thrown.

The next level of Register on the scale is Consultative. Now, finally, we ARE taking questions, but in a highly regulated and structured manner. Perhaps the protocol is to raise your hand and wait to be acknowledged by the speaker before proceeding.

This is a classroom situation, usually with a teacher and multiple students.

Well may you ask why this tends to require multiple students. You did ask? And well, you may!

See the setting in your mind. Now remove all of the other students, it’s just you and the teacher. Do you raise your hand? Not so much. Even if class is in session, not so much.

One on one discussions or even with one or two other students involved can easily slip into Informal or Casual Register even if the setting is more associated with Consultative.

It will almost always slide into Casual Register if the bell rings AND the teacher steps from behind the podium. If the teacher retains the podium she is maintaining the classroom level of formality. Stepping out from behind the podium invites discussion in an Informal or Casual Register.

The hallmarks of Causal Register are less structured turn taking. Not unstructured, there can still be a protocol but it is more freeform and peer exchange oriented and oh crap I seriously just slipped into academic speak.


Where was I?

Oh yeah! informal or Casual Register. There is still a turn taking protocol here and it keeps the conscientious interpreter on his toes! Because it is based on aural cues or prosody markers. Slight pauses in the conversation invite participants to jump in and speak, but not over top of one another. Vocal (or in ASL visual) cues indicate the end of discussion on a specific topic or an invitation to raise a new topic. When interpreting in Informal or Casual Register the interpreter must be assertive enough for the Deaf Client to jump in to the discussion, but not overly aggressive in a way that makes the Deaf Client come across as lacking social protocols. Hearing interpreters you know these cues in the back of your head and most of you (again I said most… there is always someone…) can ride this conversational current effortlessly. It is however a completely different story when you are navigating the conversational rapids for and in behalf of a Deaf Client.

Practice. It’s the only way to learn and this is one of the skill sets we almost never invest time in. Practice.

The final level is Intimate Register. Here there is only the turn taking protocols that grow organically between intimates. Sometimes more formal, and sometimes less so.

There is an older movie called Broadcast News that has what may be the finest example of Intimate Register ever put on film.

At one point during the movie Albert Brooks (the voice of Marlin in the Nemo movies) calls Holly Hunter and says, “meet me at that one place we went that one time.”

Holly Hunter replies, “ok,” and hangs up.

Intimate Register may not require turn-taking (not with my daughter and her friends anyway) and often doesn’t even require complete sentences.

This is the Register of husbands and of wives and of husbands & wives. The Register of Significant Others. Parents with their own children. Best friends.

It can be a nightmare to interpret because the context need not be stated by the participants; it is understood because it preexists this conversation.

When I was a young interpreter we almost NEVER worked in Intimate Register. Every now and again for a parent and a child in the Principal’s office or family therapy, but that was it.

Now there are interpreters who work in Intimate Register much of the time. Thank you VRS.

Let me give you an example. Imagine this VRS call:

Deaf Caller: (the moment the Hearing Caller says “hello”) CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

Hearing Caller: I KNOW! RIGHT?

DC: Yeah.

HC: So do you know for sure?

DC: One Hundred Percent.

HC: So?

DC: Yeah.

HC: Ok, I’m still in shock.


HC: Ok, well, I’ll be there.

DC: You know where?

HC: Yep!

DC: Ok. See you!

HC: See you!

WHAT? I mean what?

Intimate Register, welcome to it.

So that is Register. No more glassy-eye-slack-jaw-blank-looks from you!

You’re welcome!


Rule 482

I’m not sure if it’s about Clients or colleagues… but there is a lesson here, somewhere.

I could not make the captions work. He leans into the Bear and whispers “but she’s so pretty…”

Note from Uncle Dale: When You Are Ready and Not a Moment Before.

A graduate of my program and I were talking a few days ago when she reminded me of a lesson I taught her in a class called “Professional Issues in Interpreting.” A lesson that she has used as a mentor.

(How I know that this happened is not important… ahem.)

On the first day of an undergraduate course in Gross Anatomy (for those who have never had the pleasure, is the class where pre-med, nursing and other medical field students study the human body using cadavers) the Professor, who looked exactly like you would imagine a professor of Gross Anatomy would look, divided the class into teams of four, assigned each team to a body and passed out a thick packet of papers to each team.

The Professor then told them to read the entire packet of instructions, then pick up a cutting blade and follow what the written instructions dictated to the letter!

The teams began to pour over the pages of instructions. While they were reading the Professor began to walk around the tables and stare at each team. She looked at each of the individual team members a little longer than was comfortable. She would frequently look at her watch.

She began to look at her watch more often and frown.

Some of the groups began to elect a person on the team to begin cutting (the first instruction). Others were still reading and the Professor began to tap her watch, frown and sigh.

Soon every group, while still reading, was through the process of electing a team member to begin cutting and every team was prepping their cadaver for the first incision.

Suddenly the Professor yelled “STOP!”

She looked around the room at the students who were reading the packets with blade in hand and poised to cut.

“How many of you have completed the reading?” She asked.

No one had.

“Why,” her voice as sharp as any of the cutting tools, “do ANY of you have a knife in your hand?”

Now remember, these are pre-med students. God complexes in training.

One of them stepped up to the challenge and said, “I don’t appreciate you setting us up like that!”

“Like what?” The Professor’s voice was a little too sweet.

The student charged ahead, “You told us to read the whole thing and then you stared at us and looked at your watch and frowned and sighed.”

“And so,” her voice was pure patience with a razors edge, “you were fully prepared to cut into a human body, without fully understanding why, nor with any actual plan in mind, because I looked at you?”

There was an uncomfortable shuffling of feet.

The Professor was now at the lectern. “Someday you hope to be doctors or nurses and someday you will have a sick child in front of you and you will have no idea what is causing it. But you will have that child’s parents staring, frowning, or worse crying and begging or screaming and demanding that you ‘DO SOMETHING.” The Professor paused. It was dead silent in the room (no pun intended). “At that moment I want you to think of how much regret you feel right now for your pride and arrogance making you pick up a blade and telling you that it was ok to blindly cut into a human-being’s body, with no real plan in mind, because I stared at you.” She paused again to the choking silence in the room.

“I believe you all need some time to think. We will try this again next time. Class dismissed.”

I think about this every time I am working with a young interpreter and their hands start to fly before the second syllable of Hel-lo has left the speakers mouth.

I ask, “why didn’t you wait for a full idea?”

The student usually humms and haws a little and the braver soul says, “I got nervous because you were watching me…”.

“Someday you will have a Deaf Client in front of you and they will be looking at you and wanting you to start interpreting before you have the complete meaning processed in your head.”

Maybe it’s the doctor telling them the test results.

Maybe the boss giving them their evaluation upon which their raise depends.

Maybe it’s a cop telling them he is sorry but there has been an accident.

“The most important job you have at that moment is to deliver the interpretation accurately and completely,” I explain.

I then look them in the eyes, “never be pressured to start moving your hands before YOU are ready, having processed the interpretation and prepared the interpretation. ┬áNever sacrifice the process because the Client is looking at you.”

Class dismissed.