At the Idaho Association of the Deaf Conference that Cliff and I attended a few weeks ago I had a chance to talk with Deaf youth about interpreters and interpreting services. Part of our conversation was focused on them identifying characteristics of both ideal and problematic interpreters. I thought their insight was valuable, interesting, and worth sharing:
The Ideal Interpreter:
- Remains very engaged in the process with the Deaf person
- Works with the student to develop appropriate signs for the class
- Willing to be a friend
- Signs clearly
- Is willing to adjust and accommodate requests and needs
- Shares knowledge of other sign languages
- Has good ASL skills
- Asks the teacher questions if the information is not understood to ensure an effective interpretation
- Is friendly
The Problematic Interpreter:
- Does not maintain eye contact while interpreting
- Stops interpreting abruptly without a clear reason
- Shows up late resulting in the Deaf student being unable to understand what’s going on and participate
- Signs too fast so that the information is incomprehensible
- Does not acknowledge my efforts to communicate my needs
- Does not know the subject matter
- Gets distracted by other stuff while interpreting
- “Too SEE”
- Does not receive feedback well
- Defends self when getting feedback, “Well I learned that way!”
- Knowing ASL is not enough- need to be able to interpret
There are some key themes that emerged in their descriptions of ideal and problematic interpreters. Good interpreters, according to the Deaf youth of Idaho, are the ones who have linguistic fluency in ASL as well as interpreting competency. They are constantly engaged in the interpreting process and interaction with the Deaf students to ensure needs are met. Positive rapport is a key value for those Deaf youth. Extralinguistic knowledge is essential. One student commented on the importance of having an interpreter who knows and understands Chemistry.
The Deaf youth in the discussion vary in how much they use interpreting services. Some attend the school for the Deaf without needing interpreting services. Some are mainstreamed full-time. However, they all agreed on what makes an interpreter ideal. Their insights are in line with things I have heard from Deaf adults over the years. What can you do, as an interpreter, to incorporate the wisdom of those Deaf youth in your practice?
Feel free to comment below.
Cliff and I just attended the Idaho Association of the Deaf conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The conference focus this year was on interpreting. I presented to several different stakeholder groups about interpreting. In my interactions with Deaf people over the years, I have heard the same story about how they did not know they had a voice pertaining to their own interpreting services. In my workshop with Deaf consumers at this conference, my goal was to remind them that they do, indeed, have a voice.
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) was originally established for maintaining a registry of American Sign Language-English interpreters. RID’s purpose has evolved to include testing, certification, and ongoing training of interpreters (Fant, 1990). Professionalization of sign language interpreting within the United States began with the founding of RID. Typically, the process of developing a profession becomes dominated by those within the majority group, disregarding insights from the population they intend to serve, namely the Deaf community, and this practice further promotes political and cultural tensions between the Deaf and interpreting communities (Kent, 2007). One result of the professionalization of sign language interpreting in the United States was the exclusion of Deaf perspectives in the testing and training of interpreters (Cokely, 2005) as well as in interpreter education programs (Cokely, 2005; Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005; Forestal, 2013; Shaw, 2013). It is important to note, however, that this is not only happening nationally. The Deaf voice is minimized in other countries as well (Leeson & Foley-Cave, 2007). While some Deaf people continue to fight for participation in the profession (Kent, 2007), many Deaf people have accepted the status quo.
When interpreters do not receive feedback from Deaf consumers about their services, they may make the erroneous assumption that Deaf consumers are satisfied with services received. It is very common for Deaf people to discuss amongst themselves their own assessments of interpreters’ hard and soft skills, as well as their level of involvement in the Deaf community (Bienvenu, 1987; Corker, 1987; Napier & Rohan, 2007).
In my conversation with the Deaf consumers at the Idaho Association of the Deaf conference, many of them did not realize they could offer feedback directly to the interpreters and/or communicate their feedback to organizations scheduling interpreters. In addition, many were unaware of the RID’s Ethical Practices System (EPS) that allows them to file grievances against RID members for any violation of the Code of Professional Conduct. Regardless, the RID EPS does not have the teeth to push for appropriate consequences. The establishment of the interpreter license law makes the quality of interpreting services legally binding, which could mean a future that will entail stricter consequences (Andrew & Snow, 2017).
I emphasized to those present that if they want interpreting standards to improve, they have to speak up; otherwise interpreters will continue doing what they have been doing. I also believe that interpreters need to begin asking Deaf consumers for feedback and checking for their preferences. If interpreters are proactive in this manner, it will help the Deaf community understand that they do have a voice in the provision of interpreting services.
Andrew, L. & Snow, S. (2017, August). HB46 Interpreter Law: What is it. Presentation at the
Idaho Association of the Deaf Conference, Post Falls, ID.
Bienvenu, M.J. (1987). Third culture: Working together. Journal of Interpretation 4, 1-12.
Corker, M. (1987) Deaf people and interpreting: The struggle in language. Deaf Worlds
Cokely, D. (2005). Shifting positionality: A critical examination of the turning point in
the relationship of interpreters and the Deaf community In. M. Marschark, R. Peterson & E.A. Winston (Eds.). Sign language interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice (p. 3-28). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Fant, L. (1990). Silver threads: A personal look at the first twenty-five years of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Silver Spring, MD: RID Publications.
Forestal, E. (2013). Foreword. In S. Shaw Service learning in interpreter education: Strategies for extending student involvement in the Deaf community (p. ix-x). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Kent, S. J. (2007). “Why bother?” Institutionalization, interpreter decisions, and power relations. In C. Wadensjö, B. E. Dimitrova, & A. Nilsson (Eds.), The Critical Link 4: Professionalisation of interpreting in the community. International Conference on Interpreting in Legal, Health and Social Service Settings (p. 193-204). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Leeson, L. & Foley-Cave, S. (2007). Deep and meaningful conversation: Challenging interpreter impartiality in the semantics and pragmatics Classroom. In M. Metzger & E. Fleetwood (Eds.) Translation, Sociolinguistic, and Consumer Issues in Interpreting, (p. 45-68). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Napier, J. & Rohan, M.J. (2007) An invitation to dance: Deaf consumers’ perceptions of signed language interpreters and interpreting. In M. Metzger & E. Fleetwood (Eds.) Translation, Sociolinguistic, and Consumer Issues in Interpreting, (p. 159-203). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Shaw, S. (2013). Service learning in interpreter education: Strategies for extending student involvement in the Deaf community. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Witter-Merithew, A. & Johnson, L.J. (2005). Toward competent practice: Conversations with stakeholders. Alexandria, VA: RID Press.
by Naomi Sheneman
I was thrilled to see how my recent blog post generated so much discussion. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the concept of extralinguistic knowledge. Some of the discussions included the idea that we need to broaden our horizons. While that is a good idea, it is not always possible as we have no control over the type of incidental learning that may emerge in our daily lives. It is little things that appear in our conversations that help build our extralinguistic knowledge.
You may have caught information from scrolling down your Facebook feed and were able to apply it to your interpreting work. Or you may have seen a conversation about a topic at a gathering that eventually benefited you in your interpreting work. Or you may have learned something new from a book you were reading.
Sometimes when I share a tip with someone on how to do something I get asked how I came to this knowledge. There have been instances when I was unable to remember specifically where I picked up this piece of information. I just could not quite put my finger on where specifically it came from. We are exposed to so much daily that it’s hard to identify what we have learned if the learning was implicit. It is only realized when you later apply that knowledge in different situations.
Granted, it could be argued that one’s extralinguistic knowledge is limited if the person chooses not to live and experience things. The same could be said about someone not being up to date on the current events of the world. However, you cannot control what knowledge you pick up along the way. The point is not to just live, but to keep yourself open to new opportunities to learn through interacting with people, keeping up with the news, and participating in various activities. If you are open, you will be surprised by all the golden nuggets of knowledge you come across that could be beneficial in a future interpreting situation.
I spoke with a Deaf person recently explaining the meaning of extralinguistic knowledge. He said that sometimes he meets interpreters who have all the right hard skills, referring to signing fluency with clear facial expressions, but that he can easily tell if the interpreter appears lost. He beautifully described this phenomenon in ASL: INTERPRETER DON’T-KNOW TOPIC, MEAN NOT UNDERSTAND… MEAN INTERPRET NO-GOOD THEN ME STUMPED. Translation: When the interpreter doesn’t know the topic, this is an indication that the topic/message is not understood. This in turn makes the interpretation no good and in the end, I do not understand the intended message.
Feel free to comment or chat with Naomi by using the reply section below.
by Naomi Sheneman
In the interpreting profession, we often talk about how important it is to take jobs tied to topic manners that we are familiar with. For example, someone who hates or knows nothing about cooking may not be best suited for interpreting for a culinary arts student. The interpreter may not be prepared to provide a conceptually clear interpretation of “Fold in the eggs.” How would one express the ASL interpretation for the word, fold in? There is actually a name for that contextual knowledge that is discussed in spoken language interpreting research: extralinguistic knowledge (ELK). Daniel Gile (1995) was the first known researcher to present the idea of extralinguistic knowledge. Let’s first dissect the word, extralinguistic. Extra- outside. Linguistic- language. Extralinguistic knowledge essentially means any knowledge one possesses that is outside knowledge of the language. As sign language interpreters in the United States, we know English and American Sign Language. Those two languages make up our linguistic knowledge. Everything else is knowledge that we built upon throughout in our lives through our experiences, including implicit and explicit learning.
Gile (1995) proposes a formula to represent the relationship between extralinguistic knowledge (ELK) and knowledge of language (KL): C= KL + ELK. The letter C is comprehension. Gile’s premise is that if one has the right type of extralinguistic knowledge, there will be comprehension which is necessary for processing interpretation or translation outputs. Back to the example I mentioned earlier, the phrase “fold in” would not be understood by the interpreter which in turn compels them to go with the form typically used for the words FOLD IN. If the interpreter chooses to go with the form rather than meaning-based interpretation, the consumers will then not understand what is going on. It is in my belief that with the right type of extralinguistic knowledge and language knowledge, the interpreter is able to let go of form and focus on the meaning, opening them up to range of sign choices appropriate for the interpretation. Research in spoken language interpreting thus far has supported the value of having the right extralinguistic knowledge for any given situation. Several studies have reached the conclusion that the right type of extralinguistic knowledge improves the quality of interpreters and translators (Kościałkowska-Okońska, 2012; Kim, 2006; Wu, 1994).
What does this all mean? I am challenging the notion that many interpreters usually take by calling themselves “medical interpreter”, “educational interpreter,”, and “legal interpreter.” Those labels are very broad and do not offer the actual picture of what those interpreters know. One medical interpreter who is familiar with oncology and without any familiarity in cardiology might not be fit to interpret for cardiology appointments and would be best for oncology appointments. Notably, sign language interpreting is a vocation that many depend on as the sole source of income. In order to ensure livelihood, it is easy for many of us to focus on that automatically without considering carefully whether we are the right fit for the job. Remember, it is about providing optimal communication access to Deaf consumers. The second tenet of the RID’s CPC states: “Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting,” (RID, 2005, p. 2). Interpreters and translators with appropriate extralinguistic base could greatly benefit the Deaf consumers that they serve.
Gile, D. (1995). Basic concepts and models for interpreter and translator training. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Kim, R. (2006, June). Use of extralinguistic knowledge in translation. Meta, 51(2), 284-303.
Kościałkowska-Okońska (2012). Translation professionalism and translation quality in
interpreter training: A survey. In L. Bogucki & M. Deckert (Eds.), Teaching translation
and interpreting: Advances and perspectives (p. 93-106).
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2005). NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. Retrieved from http://www.rid.org/UserFiles/File/NAD_RID_ETHICS.pdf.
Wu, J. (1994). Task-oriented and comprehensive training of translators and interpreters. In R.K. Seymour & C.C. Liu (Eds.), Translation and interpreting: Bridging east and west. Selected conference papers Volume 8 (p. 85-98). Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature.
Naomi Sheneman, M.A., M.S., & CDI has been working professionally in the interpreting profession since 2000 in various roles. She is currently working as the Vice President of Business Affairs for Network Interpreting Service and as an adjunct ASL-English interpreter education faculty at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. She is also a doctoral candidate at Gallaudet University in the Interpretation program. She co-developed ASL-English Interpreting Diagnostic Assessment Rubrics. She co-authored a case study of hearing and Deaf interpreters’ work in an international conference involving several sign languages. She recently published her study of Deaf interpreters’ ethics.
“Why didn’t ‘I’ get those hours!?”
The attitude of entitlement in the interpreting community
by Michelle Schoonderwoerd
We’ve all been there… we have worked an ongoing gig, or got wind that we would be requested for future work. It’s a boost to the old ego for sure (and for the bank account as this is our source of income)! But have you checked yourself recently and paid attention to your response and/or body language when you realized you ‘didn’t’ get that job?
Have you found yourself blatantly asking the consumer questions you really shouldn’t, such as, “Well then, who is coming?” Or, “They found someone else?” Or maybe you looked at the deaf person and said, “I was available, remember, I checked my calendar.” Or maybe you aren’t as ballsy as that, but a simple, “Darn, I have NO work this week and that would have been nice!” Maybe you think a comment like that can be innocent, but have you considered how unprofessional it can be, or how you can make a consumer feel when pressuring them for information?
If we sit back and look at all the possible variables of the “why” the job went to someone else… we may start taking things less personally (which could do wonders for our self-esteem, relationships, and the acne that is presenting itself on our faces because of the unnecessary stress of wondering why the hours are not “ours”).
Here are just a handful of variables that come to mind when trying to create the perfect schedule… I am not listing them in order of importance, just jotting down what comes to mind. I am sure we could add to the list, but let’s start with these. 🙂
Client/Consumer Conflicts- These are the big kahunas that fall under the CPC. These are also the intuitive feelings that arise when you take a job and then immediately regret doing so. There may be no rhyme or reason for the conflict… it could be just because!
Teams Jiving or Hiving- This means the scheduling office may know of an issue or issues with specific teams working together, and maybe they are choosing to NOT put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, so you lost hours because you can’t play nice with others (or vice versa). Side note- we should have followed our mother’s advice and been nice to others.
Subject Conflicts- Maybe math just ain’t your cup of tea… maybe you failed history yourself and you should NOT be interpreting this subject, or, maybe blood and guts gross you out so biology is not an option. We all have strengths and weaknesses and it’s great when our coordinators know this about us because it saves us a ton of embarrassment and anxiety when we struggle in such subjects (see the bright side of that one?). Subject and venue conflicts shouldn’t be taken personally.
Requests from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and/or the Hearing Consumers- Maybe your team got requested to do another gig with that specific client, but you didn’t… stop taking it personally and instead find a way to grab some coffee and a bran muffin with an old friend. The big points here are, we need to realize that Deaf people also have freedom of choice and they DON’T have to pick you, and they also don’t have to explain their decisions or justify their reasons.
Hours of the Day and Specific Times- Maybe you’re not a night owl and getting called at 10pm to go to the hospital isn’t something you wanted to do…so don’t be offended if a follow-up appointment of some sort is given to a different interpreter on a different day. Days and times tend to get the most blame from people when they insist “but, I ‘was’ available!” As I have explained above, though, it isn’t as easy as fitting an interpreter into a time-slot with no other variables involved.
Location- If you live 20 miles away, and another person lives 5 miles away… the closer interpreter may be asked to run over and fill a last minute gig and honestly, if we step back and look at what’s “best for the consumers”, I think we can all agree that a ‘put-together and on time interpreter’ is better than a ‘frazzled and late one.’
Skill Set- There are times when various skills are needed for certain environments. I’m talking about soft skills (the playing nice with others), talents, personality matches, etc… The examples that immediately come to mind are: the platform interpreter that doesn’t mind the audience attention; the K-12 interpreter and the patience that it requires to work in that environment all day long; the mental health interpreter that has a natural ability and niche in that venue; and others that I am not thinking of…. These variables are also considered when scheduling and querying interpreters for jobs.
Thank goodness we come in various sizes, shapes and colors… we can’t fit square pegs in round holes and scheduling offices are basically trying to figure out how to sand down the corners of the peg to make the darn thing fit in the hole! And kudos to them… let’s toast and raise a hat to the coordinators that run through a list of all these variables on a job by job basis. I challenge my fellow rock star interpreters: Instead of asking the “whys” and “whos”, let’s start focusing on the “Yay, another Deaf person got their needs met and communication was facilitated.”
In conclusion, the next time we find out we “didn’t” get that gig… let’s professionally smile, thank the entity for the work we DID get, acknowledge and thank the Deaf consumer as well, and then scoot out to our car to drive across town to the next job. Thank goodness for the snacks and jerky in that messy car to keep us company as we drive away telling ourselves “it’s not ALL about me.” And it shouldn’t be either.