The Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter

September 2, 2011

Working sign language interpreters are autonomous decision-makers who often work for unseen employers. Brandon Arthur exposes three temptations interpreters face and how to avoid them to maintain professional accountability.

The dynamics of working as a sign language interpreter are complex and require that a person be comfortable operating in the unknown with limited information. As a result of navigating these complexities, we are accustom to owning the decisions—or choosing not to own them—that influence the value and outcome of our work. Unfortunately, with this ownership comes the temptation to give in to one of what I will  refer to as the Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter (note, I borrowed the temptation concept from Patrick Lencioni’s, The Five Temptations of a CEO – A Leadership Fable).

When giving in to one of these temptations, even the most skilled interpreter reduces the value of their service and calls into question the label we have advocated for years to achieve, a professional.

T1:  Dismiss that our actions reflect on the Deaf participant.

As interpreters, we give into this temptation in order to reconcile in our minds that our choices couldn’t possibly be the deciding factor in whether a qualified candidate gets the job, which ultimately supports their ability to fund their child’s college education.

It’s more comfortable to believe that our actions are conveniently invisible.

When confronted with this temptation, let’s remember that from poor interactions with meeting participants or not adhering to our Code-of-Professional-Conduct to tardiness or disheveled attire, the impression we make is lasting and inseparable from how the Deaf participant is perceived.

T2:  Avoid ownership of the errors in our work.

Interpreters give in to this temptation because we are fearful. We fear losing the confidence of meeting participants. We fear being viewed to possess an inferior skill-set. Ultimately, we fear not being invited back.

The damage, when an interpreter gives in to this temptation, is significant. For individuals to part an interaction believing they have an understanding of the other person’s position, only to find their understanding—and the work done since—is incorrect challenges the trust needed for the interpreting process to be successful.

Being indifferent to the errors in our work, may appear as validation of the view that we are part of an industry that is past feeling.

T3:  Misrepresent the amount of time on assignment.

Interpreters regularly work outside the view of those who hire them. Consequently, we may be tempted to misrepresent the amount of time we are on an assignment. This usually takes on a shape similar to, “I was only 10 minutes late and the meeting hadn’t started anyway” or “I was teaming with the regular interpreter and they would have started the assignment anyway.”

In either case, giving in to this temptation erodes the very nature of our being called a professional.  If those that hired us can’t trust that we will ethically represent our time, can they trust us to effectively represent them and/or own our errors?


While resisting these three temptations can be a challenge, it is important that we never lose sight of our accountability for the outcome of our work. It’s my view that if we truly consider the impact of giving in to these temptations, its far easier to overcome them.

If one, or more, of these temptations make you feel uncomfortable, consider the reason and adjust accordingly. As interpreters, let’s be confident in our abilities, welcoming of the accountability for our decisions, and remain focused on contributing to positive outcomes.

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8 Comments on "The Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter"

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[…] in to one of the three temptations of a sign language […]


[…] On the one hand, a sticktoitiveness sense of being is essential when honing your craft and navigating different customers and environments day-in and day-out, and is critically necessary to survive in […]


[…] believe in myself, but to always consider the effect of my actions – real or […]

Aaron Brace
Hi, Brandon, Wow, you’ve really started something with this blog- it’s already stimulating lines of discussion that, I’m hopeful, will fill in gaps in our understanding of our work and our relationships to Deaf people. The temptations you’ve listed, as worded, are immediately recognizable as ethically bankrupt. More dangerous than these, to me at least, are those temptations that sound perfectly reasonable, given our enculturation as hearing Americans, and yet are equally destructive. They’re innocuously intuitive to interpreters and the hearing people in their lives… sometimes even the Deaf people in their lives… and *understandably* difficult for some to identify… Read more »

[…] act of mentoring elicits an awareness of the challenges and temptations we have overcome and the skill building we have invested in to get to this point in our careers. […]


[…] of the interests of those who purchase our services, and our succumbing to one or more of The Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter. None of which is good for us individually or collectively as a […]


[…] 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. [Link: 3 Temptations […]


It is so important to be aware of these temptations. We are supposed to be advocates for the deaf so not doing our job correctly or not as well as we should will not only effect The interpreters work but the deaf consumer. We must always hold ourselves accountable for our actions when in the field.

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