The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter

November 10, 2011


Complex, reflective and passionate, sign language interpreters consider themselves artists. Understanding the creative & humanitarian forces that create the goo at their center enriches the experience of knowing one.

If a sign language interpreter could reach inside and scoop out the goo that makes them who they are, a mixture of artistic judgment, emotional labor, and organic creativity would drip from their fingers.  This genuine house blend is the very essence of who they are and why they’ve chosen to do what they do.

To those who work with, play or love a sign language interpreter, it is important that you not underestimate the power of the goo because, at times, it can rival Yoda’s “force!”

So, what are you in for if you find yourself connected to a sign language interpreter?  Let’s examine the goo and find out!

Artistic Judgment

Always remember that a sign language interpreter sees themselves as a craftsperson, an artist.  They spend hours—even years—honing their skills of observation in order to understand how to most effectively deliver their art.  So, they are a quick read of people and are pros at identifying a person’s motivation.  As a result of this artistic judgment, interpreters easily make connections with the people they come in contact with.

Emotional Labor

As artists with a keen sense of observation, sign language interpreters become expert at investing in people.  They quickly and efficiently invest small increments of emotional labor (personal, professional, linguistic, and cultural mediating micro-decisions) with those they come in contact with.  By doing this, they earn the social currency needed to make adjustments in work environments, achieve consensus among meeting participants, and to deliver experiences that are truly remarkable.

Organic Creativity

Sign language interpreters are among the naturally creative.  After spending significant time with one, you’ll note they have a high general intelligence and uncanny ability to adapt to nearly every situation.  This is possible because after working long hours in new environments, they follow with periods of reflection.  These moments of creative exploration give interpreters insight into how to better deliver their art and make connections with people in the world.  An interpreter’s inherent creativity is at the root of how and why they are able to comfortably operate in unfamiliar environments.

Goo Ignites Passion

This mixture at the center of an interpreter makes them determined and extremely passionate about their work.  This passion and raw determination serves them well most of the time.  Note, it can be a double edged sword.  On the one hand, a sticktoitiveness sense of being is essential when honing their craft and is critically necessary to survive in their profession.  On the other, it can lead them into advocacy roles that may put their reputation and relationships at risk.  This due to a belief, and perhaps a naïve one, that the interests of humanity will, and should, prevail.

The Take Away

Sign language interpreters come in all shapes and sizes; most of them are passionate and extremely committed to their craft and the community they serve.  Always remember, it is the goo that makes them compassionate, highly self-aware and work to possess a high level of intelligence.  It is also this goo that drives a passion that can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

All-in-all, to know a sign language interpreter is to know someone who cares deeply about humanity in its many forms.

* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox? SignUp!

Stay Current

Want to be among the first to know when we publish new content?

Are you an interpreter?

We respect your privacy.
We will never share your info.


Leave a Reply

20 Comments on "The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter"

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Nellie Smedes

Thank you Brandon for taking the time to effectively describe us (Interpreters) in a very deep and creative way. Your description helps me to understand myself better with words that I would not have been able to come up with but instinctively know to be true.

Jeffrey Kirkwood

This is great; well written and is a gem! Beautiful!

Catherine Heckel

Ironically, I was having a discussion today about whether signing was art or skill. We had opposite ideas about the subject. I’m glad he brought this article to my attention. It also means I win! 😉

Thank you for writing this.


[…] listening to a young man while he attempted to figure out his career path and life in general—the goo inside.  Lastly, thanks for always being supportive first and constructively critical […]

Drawing upon the goo metaphor, what happens when any body contains too much of one substance and not enough of others: imbalance (or the other side of that sword you mentioned). That passion that drives us can also be the passion that kills us (figuratively or literally!) In the programs where I have taught, I have students do a weekly balance log to try to make it a habit to meet the needs of their balanced life so that the goo doesn’t get into all aspects of their lives and they maintain a balance – time for the goo and… Read more »

[…] humanity in its many forms” — this from an earlier post on this site by Brandon Arthur in “The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter”). In the last twenty-five years, however, Codas have not been as well represented in the elected […]


Heartfelt gratitude, Brandon. Joy into my morning.


[…] intrinsically connected to the fight for humanity, as suggested by Brandon Arthur in his post, The Goo Inside a Sign Language Interpreter? What is our role working within a marginalized and oppressed community? What is our connection to […]


[…] The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]


[…]     Use your powers of observation. suggested by Brandon Arthur in his article, The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter, “As artists with a keen sense of observation, sign language interpreters become expert at […]


Lovely article to read Brandon. Sums us up well :))


[…] your work as a sign language interpreter has made a difference. Probono work will rewarm the goo inside, which will do wonders for your perspective on the work and your role in […]

Forward-looking organizations committed to retelling the story of the interpreter.



(New York)