4 Obsessions of a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter

October 18, 2012

While no two sign language interpreters are identical, there are certain elements of the profession that consume our minds. Brandon Arthur explores four of these preoccupations.

Sign language interpreters come to the profession from a variety of avenues; each possessing a range of life experience that makes their daily work distinct. Though the work from interpreter to interpreter is unique, it occurs to me that there are 4 primary preoccupations shared by qualified practitioners.

Some might consider them obsessions, the non-clinical type of course.

Whether obsessions or preoccupations, qualified sign language interpreters are driven to excellence in their work by 4 dominating thoughts:

1)   Cohesion: It is the role of a sign language interpreter to unite the parties participating in the communication by proactively considering and responding to the specific needs of their consumers, team interpreters, and meeting/event participants and organizers.

The qualified practitioner has fervor for cohesion because they fundamentally understand that a stellar individual performance does not necessarily equate to a job well done. Further, that it is the success of all parties to the communication that ultimately determines if an interpreter has been effective.

2)   Professionalism: It is the duty of a sign language interpreter to ensure they are familiar with both current developments and best practices within the field.

The qualified interpreter is passionate about professionalism because they understand that it is more than a state of mind or verbal declaration. They understand that it is the active pursuit of excellence; one that requires an interpreter to be informed and engaged within the profession and to uphold the social agreements that allow them to do their best work.

3)   Accountability:  It is the ethical obligation of a sign language interpreter to own, in real-time where possible, the inaccuracies found in their work.

The qualified practitioner is resolute in their view that the fear of being viewed to possess an inferior skill-set or to not be invited back to an assignment is insufficient reason to compromise the trust needed to do their work. They summarily avoid this temptation and accept that their best work is not error free and compensate accordingly.

4)    Connectedness: It is the responsibility of a sign language interpreter to recognize that they are part of a larger system of stakeholders.

The qualified interpreter is highly conscious that their actions have an impact on the interpreter that was there both before and after them, and that their actions do have an impact on the broader system of industry stakeholders. Further, they utilize this connectedness to better position themselves to partner with stakeholders to achieve excellence in their work.

A Framework

These obsessions create a framework for an approach to the work that allows a sign language interpreter to cope with the anxiety of confronting new environments, circumstances, and information day in and day out.

Further, it increases the capacity of an interpreter to earn the social currency needed to make adjustments in work environments and achieve consensus among consumers and meeting participants. This is key to their delivering truly remarkable work.

Achieving Excellence

Over the years I have heard interpreters share that a healthy dose of narcissism is necessary to be successful in the field. While I would agree to a point, I do think that a heightened awareness of the dynamics of their working relationships, the level of accountability taken/accepted for their work, and how they connect to the whole of our profession creates an approach to the work that makes certain sign language interpreters more likely to achieve excellence.

After all, and I believe you would agree, people who have achieved something impressive or have made a significant contribution to anything have done so because of a certain level of obsessiveness. I don’t believe achieving success in the sign language interpreting profession to be any different.

What obsessions makeup your framework for success?

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15 Comments on "4 Obsessions of a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter"

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Member
Interesting, such a different expression of our community roots and our tradition of professionals enabling people to communicate… but in such different language for this old practitioner! An “interconnected system of industry stakeholders (consumers, sign language interpreters, associations, businesses, service providers, educational institutions).” Hmmm… I admit to being a bit uncomfortable with the business-speak. I don’t think of interpreters as an industry, but with all the controversy these days surrounding the VRS industry, maybe I should. But it’s hard for some of us old guard practitioners. Don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% with the obsessions and the article; it’s… Read more »
Member

So subscribe to the sentiments Bill expressed! Couldn’t have formulated any better…

Member
I find that Bill’s sentiments resonate with me as well. Business based language for interpreting, while potentially well intentioned, separates the profession from the community, in the same way that the business of “signing for babies” surgically separates sign language from the Deaf (I am not knocking teaching children ASL or treating interpreting as a profession, I am addressing how it is done). I would also add that I get a bit uneasy when the word “accountability” is used. Not because we shouldn’t be held accountable for our faults, but because I recently read an article about the Finnish education… Read more »
Member
Terri Hayes
Hmm – I guess it depends on what you’re definition of “excellence” is. I personally have never particularly obsessed on any of those topics. I find them to be rhetoric promoted by interpreter training programs – who seem to believe that if you aspire to ‘cohesivity’, ‘professionalism’, ‘accountability’, and ‘connectedness’ your work will somehow improve and you’ll be a better than average interpreter. Following that premise, what we end up with is a large group of people all seeking warm and fuzzy, the idea that we need to be nice to each other and then we’ll be considered “practicing excellence”…… Read more »
Member

Surely we all agree with Terri that the most basic and fundamental skill in the interpreter tool kit is skill/fluency in both languages/cultures.

Member

BRAVO! Teri Hayes, Bravo!

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[…] 4 Obsessions of a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter From http://www.streetleverage.com – Today, 12:20 PM Sign language interpreters come to the profession from a variety of avenues; each possessing a range of life experience that makes their daily work distinct. Though the work from interpreter to interpreter is unique, it occurs to me that there are 4 primary preoccupations shared by qualified practitioners. […]

Member
Julie Whitcombe

I’m with you Terri!

Member
Hi all~ Thanks for the article! The comment above about skills by Teri is why I think the certification process should keep the skills portion separate from the ethics exam. The pass/fail certification process should be solely skills based. Here is what I focus on: 1. Arriving on time 2. Giving my full attention to each assignment 3. I do think cohesion is something I do strive for…hadn’t thought of it that way 4. Connectedness and comfortable, natural interactions that encourage the parties to really get to know each other 5. Being as clear and easy to understand as possible…one… Read more »
Member
Terri Hayes

I agree with you about the certification test!

and on all points that follow!
(including and especially the part about love interpreting!!)

Member
From the perspective of an interpreting agency in Los Angeles, your focus points are excellent. Could you possibly package them in a potion so that we can distribute these priorities among our network? Just kidding….sort of. We’ve recently experienced issues we struggle to manage and understand. Interpreters who cancel an entire day of work due to a flat tire. The cancellation is made by email 2 hours prior to the job start. This is just one example, but it happens more often than you might think. This most recent example left a student without an interpreter for an entire day.… Read more »
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Member

I find “obsessions” the wrong word for this article. “Obsessions” come with negative connotations. The terms Brandon outlined are our responsibilities and expectations, at a minimum, of what we do as professionals. Please don’t make it out to be a bad thing.

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[…] 4 Obsessions of a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter From http://www.streetleverage.com – Today, 9:32 PM Sign language interpreters come to the profession from a variety of avenues; each possessing a range of life experience that makes their daily work distinct. Though the work from interpreter to interpreter is unique, it occurs to me that there… […]

Member
I’m a little late on this one but Terry – Bravo! I cannot thank you enough! I have struggled and struggled with the attitude that focuses on the interpreter, on their reputation, on their business ethics, anything but the process of providing as close to equivalency as is possible. I am sick of having to worry about whether the other interpreters *like me*. I am sick of worrying about what my reputation is in the interpreting community (since they are now seperate from the Deaf community). I see ITP students judging eachother on who shows up to Deaf events to… Read more »
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