It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter

September 24, 2013

The transition from student to working interpreter can be challenging when current practitioners are hesitant to step forward as guides. Brian Morrison pushes back on some negative mindsets regarding passing the torch, and makes suggestions on how to reach out to the next generation.

With fall upon us, students in interpreter training programs all over the country have begun another semester on their journey to becoming a sign language interpreter. Along with the classroom lectures and hands-on practice teachers are planning, they are also reaching out to the interpreting community for one of the most crucial pieces of the students’ development, observation and mentoring opportunities. However, these opportunities are becoming increasingly difficult to find. While some of the scarcity can be attributed to specific requirements of the situation, some of the difficulty is also due to a lack of support by the sign language interpreting community.

“Why would I train students to take my jobs?”

The statement above is a common one given as an explanation as to why sign language interpreters don’t want to work with students.  This statement saddens me not only as an interpreter, but as an interpreter educator as well. Personally, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have today if it wasn’t for the mentors and interpreters that I looked up to and served as models during my early development. As an educator who is striving to find opportunities for students, it’s equally frustrating.

How many of us benefited from these types of relationships that our students are striving to find and often cannot? What if, while we were developing our own skills, interpreters had given us the same reply? Would we be the interpreters we are today?

Where’s the disconnect? All interpreters who have gone through an Interpreter Education Program (IEP) experienced similar requirements for working with interpreters as students are doing now. Has it been so long that we’ve forgotten what it was once like when we were in their shoes?

Overall, students in these programs truly want to become interpreters and be contributing members of the profession. They sacrifice their time to focus on their skills and are committed to that process. As Stacey Webb highlights in her article, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter:

In order for students to be successful sign-language interpreters, prior to graduating it is critical that they develop a relationship with both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community (DHHC) and current-working professionals within the DHHC.  This would include interpreters, educators and DHHC advocates. By fostering these relationships, students will create educational, professional and personal opportunities that would not be available to them outside of the classroom environment.”

So while students do make attempts at networking to cultivate these opportunities, it is very often a struggle.

“They have no respect for the elders in the profession”

This statement above, and variations of it, is another common sentiment towards students. While I don’t deny that attitudes reflective of this statement do exist among students, I also have to wonder how much responsibility can be attributed to the current state of the ‘system’?  What I have learned is that students are very observant.  They learn by watching and they often emulate what they see. In our reluctance to work with students, have we conveyed to them that we don’t value them or their work?   Have we somehow systematically disrespected the label “student” through our actions or lack thereof? In her article, What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?, Carolyn Ball stresses the importance of civility in the field of interpreting and interpreter education. She states:

If all interpreters, educated through formal training, were given a clear sense of the importance of civility in the workplace and in interactions with colleagues, perhaps more recent graduates would benefit from repeat business and high levels of job satisfaction.”

As educators, cultivating an attitude of civility is definitely something that we can incorporate into our interpreter education programs. In turn, as experienced interpreters, we can also be the models of civility that we want them to emulate by embracing these students and guiding them into the profession.

As a profession, we recognize there is a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters. While several factors contribute to this, the fact is that most of these graduates will go on to work as interpreters. Many of them, like most of us when we started working as interpreters, will not be as prepared as they should be. Additionally, at some point, they will become our colleagues. If, as a profession, we made a commitment to being more involved with students early on in their professional lives, we could be training the team member we will want to work successfully with later. The latter scenario also suggests apossibility, the interpreted interaction as much more successful.

“I can’t believe you don’t know that!”

Interpreter education programs have a finite amount of time. We know that they aren’t able to teach everything we would like students to know before they enter the field. The field of sign language interpreter education has grown in the last several years thanks to organizations such as the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE), and National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). New research, new curricula, and improved standards for education programs are now available and these programs have access to materials and information which weren’t previously available.  Rather than viewing interpreter education programs negatively or putting the sole onus on them for having not taught students all they need to know, we can shift our focus to building on their existing foundation. To echo Kate Block’s sentiment in her article, Mentorship: Sign Language Interpreters Embrace Your Elders, take advantage of this new information that the students can bring to our work. Imagine the outcomes when the new student and the experienced interpreter learn and grow from sharing their knowledge with each other.

“What can I do?

I think first and foremost, we can be the manifestation of the theme, “I Am Change”, as StreetLeverage challenges us to do through this website. Interpreter education programs and students cannot be ignored, so as a responsibility to our profession, we can decide to step up and support our novices.

How can we make that change? There are several things that as individuals we can do right now.

Remember your passion.

Reflect back on your journey to becoming an interpreter. Remember what it was like to be that student…eager to learn and wanting experiences.

Offer observation.

Offer 2-3 opportunities a month to the local ITP for student observations. While much of the work may not be suitable or possible to have students present, we often do have situations that would be perfect.

Present.

Offer to go and speak to students at the local ITP. If you can’t offer them observations, offer them your wisdom in the classroom.

Sponsor a student.

Become a “Big Brother/Big Sister” to an ITP student. I think if we all look back to our early days, at least one name will come to mind as someone who “took us under their wing” and got us through. Be that person to a student. Be the interpreter you want to see the students grow to become.

Host an induction.

As a community and/or alumni association, host an induction ceremony for a graduating group of interpreting students. Acknowledge their hard work and dedication while welcoming them into this sometimes crazy, always wonderful world of interpreting.

Start a group.

Establish reflective practitioner groups that include students and new interpreters. StreetLeverage articles provide excellent discussion material for all levels of sign language interpreters. Case conferencing allows for insightful discussions of the decision making process based on actual scenarios.

I’m a strong believer in the idea of “it takes a village.” This is our profession and as such, we need to actively commit to the next generation of interpreters. Let’s face it, as individuals we will not be in the field forever. In order to preserve our legacy, we can leave positive impressions on the lives of the next generation. Let’s raise them well.

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51 Comments on "It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter"

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Member
shannyn fowler

i really enjoyed this article. well written with many valid points to consider. thank you

Member
Sandi Smith, MA, CI CT
Brian, I think you are spot on. Mentoring and being observed makes me a better interpreter, too. But I have a suggestion for ITPs: give students business cards. Make them order a prescribed card from VistaPrint if necessary. They can be relatively cheap. It’s no different than requiring a text book or badge. Why?? First of all, they become accustomed to having them, which is a great practice. Second, they MUST include a contact person, number and email for the program. This is huge. I mentor students all the time. Though most have been gracious and professional, there have been… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Hi Sandi,

Thanks so much for your comments and suggestion! I do have my students get business cards for their internship class, but maybe I should start doing that during their first class where they are interacting with interpreters. I love Vistaprint and it’s a very economical way to get some cards. Thanks for the idea!

And THANKS for the work you do with mentoring new students!

B

Member

Sandi,
I absolutely love your idea about the business cards for the students. I am currently and ASL interpreting student. Is there a specific level that you believe a student should begin using these cards? Also, on the card, I would put my name as well as a contact person, their number and email. Is there anything else that should go on these cards? Thank you for your time.

Kaitlyn

Member
Austin Kocher

I love this article. I also think we should find ways to support our students. In Ohio, we started a student poster session at our state conference last year. It was a big success and we got to see up-and-coming interpreters make a contribution and network early in their careers. I hope more state and national conferences find ways to get students involved in more ways than just running the registration table. Thanks Brian.

bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Thanks, Austin! What a fantastic idea on the poster sessions! Thank you for sharing that! I should have added a piece about sharing ideas and resources in the “What can I do?” section. If communities like yours that are doing things like this find a forum or mechanism for sharing with the rest of the profession what they are doing, we could “pick and choose” what could work best for us. Having a “resource pool” of ideas would be great!

Thanks again, Austin for your commitment to the future of the profession!

Best,
Brian

Member
Ellen Hayes
I think your article was well written with alot of suggestions and of course, the need to support our students. One part I feel you left out though, what about the students that you have offered and offered,but no one shows up and not just a one time. You did not mention that some of that responsibility belongs to the student. We all know that our skills didn’t happen overnight. It takes time and that extra effort to hone and develop what was learned in the classroom. I know that there are exceptions and this is not all the students.… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison
Hi Ellen, Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right about those students. We do have them and we will probably always have them. I probably could have written a whole other piece on those students. Smile. One thing I will say is that I do think students have somewhat of an unrealistic idea of the time it does take possibly due to the fact that many of our IEP’s are housed at community colleges. With a “two-year” degree, they think they should be more ready. When I meet with potential new students, I always stress the time it takes.… Read more »
Member
Brian, I agree with what you said about the time it takes for this. With everything now being accelerated, a student can come into an interpreting program and think that the same thing will happen. I used to be the student who just wanted to rush through this program just so that I could finish. Not only, was I trying to rush through it, but I also thought after the program I would be ready to go for my certification. Happy to say that I think differently now. I know that that what I am trying to do will take… Read more »
Member

While seasoned interpreters may rightfully complain about the lack of respect towards the profession’s Elders, we need to remember that our professional Elders said the same thing about us. The bottom line is that we need to cease treating our professional Elders as disposable. We also need to stop “eating our young”. If we don’t train behind, we’ll never get ahead. No community has ever survived by mistreating their Elders or their youth. Neither will we. We reap what we sow.

bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Thank you, Rick. Well said! We need both groups if we are truly to become a profession to be proud of.
Best,
Brian

Member
Mentors. Take the time to learn how to give a good critique. I am finishing up my degree now and I don’t need you to sugarcoat it. Neither do I need you to tear me down in order for you to look good. Give me a few positive points and a couple glaring issues I need to improve upon and that’s it. I appreciate experienced interpreters and value you highly. Not the attitude. I was at an event recently and an interpreter who has been in the business for 30 years admitted that we are in a business where “we… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts as a student. First of all…congrats on the work that you have accomplished so far in the program! I completely agree with you…I don’t get it either when people say “we eat our young”. I just don’t see how that benefits the student, the Deaf community or the interpreting profession. You have some great advice for other students as well!

Thanks again! Congrats and best wishes on your career as an interpreter!

Member
Pamela Kiner

Wonderful article! As a “seasoned” interpreter, I take pride in mentoring the next generation. I feel it is critical for the future of educational interpreting. I’ve had a variety of practicum students…from amazingly skilled students ready to work in a classroom to students who could not interpret their way out of a paper bag! A good IEP program is only as strong as its’ weakest link. We need to be a solid link to the future of interpreting!

bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

I couldn’t agree more with your weakest link comment! Thanks, Pamela!

Member
Brian, this was such a timely post. As an interpreting student I have experienced the lack of help from interpreters who have traveled the same road that I am traveling now. I remember being so excited when I saw interpreters because I saw them in a place where I would be some day. It was very sad to know that some of the ones that I came in contact came off as being better than me just because they were further along that I was. I really was shocked to know that they were not willing to help. No matter… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

HI Rene,
Thank you for your comments. As a student, I think you have a valuable perspective and your experiences are something we can all learn from. I wish you the best of luck as you continue your studies and become an interpreter!
Brian

bchall
Member
Breana Cross-Hall
Thanks for this thoughtful and timely post! Your suggestions are really wonderful, I feel especially inspired by “host an induction” and “start a group”. It really does take a village to grow anything, and sign language interpreters are no exception. I believe this starts in the ITP with students being taught in a respectful and collaborative way, with emphasis placed on the student’s self- awareness and personal growth instead of an external judgment of worth. When students emerge into the world, ready for mentorship & eventually their first job, they are better able to approach their mentors and colleagues from… Read more »
Member
Brian, What a wonderful article. You did a great job of highlighting many issues that are examples of how we, as professional interpreters, can become a barrier to the Deaf community. I am unable to think of any situation in which an interpreter started their interpreting journey without the help of the Deaf community. Therefore, it is discouraging to think that the Deaf community may have invested its valuable time and resources in an interpreter that thinks more about preserving their paycheck than making sure the Deaf community has interpreters in the future. While income is an “acceptable” reason for… Read more »
Member
Shelly Hansen

Hi! See my comment below.
Shelly Hansen SC:L/CI/CT

Member
Christian Johnson
Thank you for the well written article. I want to add the need for training and mentorship, not for new interpreters, but for those interested in the legal specialization. I have been pursuing the legal interpreting field for the past several years and have gone to numerous trainings throughout the country. What was lacking was mentorship opportunities. The overwhelming feedback I have heard from others interested in this specialty is that the local legal interpreters don’t want to mentor others in the legal work (or can’t for some reason), perhaps not wanting to share the work with others. The issue… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Thanks for your comments, Christian. I think you are right that in many facets of our profession we could use more mentoring. Good luck with your SC:L!
Best,
Brian

Member

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue Brian. As an agency, when booking a team of interpreters, it is so refreshing to receive feedback: 1.) from the newer interpreter who felt mentored and was made to feel comfortable while working alongside the more experienced interpreter….and 2.) from the “seasoned” interpreter willing to share with us their perceptions regarding the new interpreter’s strengths and areas which might need attention. It’s truly a win-win for us, the interpreters, and the Deaf community.

bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Thanks for your comments from the perspective of an agency. When agencies can participate in the mentoring process it makes it that much better for all involved. I appreciate you making that commitment!

Member
Soyolmaa Lamjav
Thank you very much Brain, This is one of the helpful article to learn and prepare volunteer interpreters in my country. I am Mongolian and head of the Mongolian Association of Sign Language Interpreters (MASLI). Since we do not have professional universities our association is planning to start 2 year Mongolian Sign Language Interpreters’ training. This article is truly helpful as I am searching to find ITP curriculum. Can you please help me to find ITP Curriculum. I am comparing Asian and European ITP’s curriculum. I hope you can help me as fellow co-worker in the field. MASLI’s e-mail is… Read more »
Member
Debbie Warshauet
Hi Brian! I do try to bring students with me for observations and possibly hands up time in as many settings as I can. I work with students from as many as three programs. I am also on faculty at Camden County College in NJ A couple of observations: We need more interpreters to step up. One interpreter can only do so much! I wish there were more interpreters that would consider even one observation a month. So many times the answer is a flat out no! There is a small percentage of interpreters who are always willing. As Ellen… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison
Hi Debbie, Great to see you on here! Thanks so much for your comments. You bring up a point about “one interpreter can only do so much!”. That’s so true! Often times we tend to ‘overload’ the interpreters that are willing to be mentors and risk them burning out! We definitely need more interpreters willing to be mentors. I also agree about the ‘one’ observation a month. If an entire community of interpreters just give one observation a month, those would add up to be more that enough! You also make a great point about the students’ flexibility. I totally… Read more »
Member
Brian, While I mean no disrespect to you as the author of this article, nor to other working interpreters, your article makes me see red because I continue to experience these issues on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I am a mature adult, serious and dedicated to this field, and recently finished a 2-year ITP, which according to the grapevine, is not respected in the industry at all. Agencies will not even respond to my e-mails, or will screen me to only to say that my skills are “so close”. I was recently invited to be a mentee by… Read more »
bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison
Deana, No disrespect taken! I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. However, that type of experience is exactly the reason that I felt this article needed to be written. You are correct about the RID CPC. Tenet 5 states “Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession”. Unfortunately, this seems to be a tenet that is often overlooked. I hope that this article and discussions like it can help us look at this issue and work towards improving it. I know there are some entities out there that do mentoring at a distance, so maybe that’s something… Read more »
Member
Linden Gibson

I would love to work with serious students. I am a certified Educational Interpreter. How do I find mentees?

bmorrison
Member
Brian Morrison

Thanks, Linden. I would suggest contacting your local IEP/ITP or your state RID chapter. Often times they will be able to get you in contact with someone looking for mentors.
Good luck!
Brian

Member

Brian, if you contact RID chapter in your state, is that usually for Interpreters looking for people to mentor that have finished a program and is in the intern period, OR could a mentor be willing to help someone that has not finished the program but would like help while they are going through the program?

Member
Kevin Lowery

Some students (I was one of them) really understand it better when we can see the concept in action. I would be open to helping them out on their level. Judgment is a huge turn-off.

Member

Linden where are you located?

Member
Jennifer Jacobs
Hi Brian, As I read your article, I kept thinking, “Where is this coming from?” The scenario you describe is so different than my experience. I’ve been an RID certified interpreter for well over 30 years. As a “newbie” I had a few interpreters who were, shall we say, less than encouraging, but the majority were very welcoming and supportive. I know as the years went on the community became a little more cutthroat, but there were many of us who were encouraging to newer interpreters. I have mentored students and newbies over the years, but I have moved, and… Read more »
Member
Jennifer, I also have been an interpreter for 30+ years and I still remember those early days. I remember thinking, “If I start signing will anyone understand me?” I distinctly remember wanting to be involved in some ‘theater’ events and unfortunately, ran into the same “less than encouraging” attitude you mentioned. Since that day I strive to always be encouraging to “newbies”. The comments I recall were so very negative and devastating. Nobody should be made to feel that way. I didn’t give up and did meet those interpreters who were definitely encouraging. It is good to know we carry… Read more »
Member
Brian, I’ve thought about this off and on for some years now. When I think of interpreter ethics, I think we can do worse than look at medical ethics, one of the professions with the most work done on ethical decision-making, both for historical reasons, and because the stakes are so high. (I hesitate to yet again compare interpreting and medicine — it’s so cliché, and we almost always end up wanting in the comparison, but bear with me…) We can certainly do worse than “First, do no harm.” But the part that I like is in the original oath… Read more »
Member

Dan,
Nicely put!

Member
Lauria Mandich - ITP Student (OR)

Hello Brian,

Thank you very much for this article. As an ITP student hoping to graduate this spring, I am on the lookout for a mentor. My local RID chapter is in the process of establishing a mentor program, but cannot guarantee it will be up and running by the time I graduate. This article has giving me some great guidelines on how to be a respectful “mentee”. Do you have any suggestions on the best way to approach established interpreters when looking for a mentor?

Best Regards,
Lauria

Member
Kevin Lowery
Lauria, So glad you brought this up. I contacted my local RID chapter and they said the same thing. This is something that RID could do by asking each member whether they were able or unable to mentor someone. This would then be indicated on the membership roster online. This would, no doubt, have a trickle-down effect to the RID chapters and they would be most likely to have a listing on their web sites (or at least a link directing you to the RID site). I think easy options like this would go a long way to helping students… Read more »
Member
Jennifer Vega

Thanks so much for this article! I’m a student now in an ITP and just as much as we need deaf people to practice our skills with, we also need to observe other interpreters as well. We feel and see the negative attitudes that already certified interpreters show us. This is a great article to express the unnecessary negative connotations towards students and towards other interpreters as well.

Thanks again Brian!

Member
Hi Brian, I could not agree with you more. The ITP program that I graduated from and the one I currently teach in are polar opposites. It is an honor to work with professionals who share the same perspective on training interpreters. I know it may sound corny but I teach my students that they are building relationships with the interpreters that they observe. They want to form positive relationships now so that when they get to practicum and beyond professional interpreters will want to work with them again. I remind them often the importance of mentoring and even though… Read more »
Member
Robin Lerch

Wonderful article Brian! My experience with interpreting students is limited because, as someone mentioned, many students’ schedules just do not accommodate. Working in a hospital-heavy city, I so fear bringing a student to that one appointment where the Deaf consumer feels his or her privacy is compromised. I worked with students much more years ago when I had a consistent University schedule.

Member
Robin Lerch
Oh, and please feel free to contact me about working with a student, or have your students contact me. I cannot guarantee it will be real-world experience as I do a lot of hospital work and-I’m going to be honest here-I’m hesitant with HIPAA (and, yes, I know medical students observe all the time, but that isn’t my responsibility if a Deaf individual takes issue, and these medical students are not even peripheral members of the Deaf community, and as they say, this isn’t Mayberry, the world is much more litigious than even when I was a student twenty years… Read more »
Member
Shelly Hansen
Hello all~ I may be repeating another comment…I don’t live near any ITPs…so mentoring is very minimal. I’ve done some online and will continue to do direct mentoring/feedback exchanging youtube vids etc… Here is my frustration. When a new interpreter comes to town the interpreting agencies are so excited. My work load is dramatically reduced as the agency quickly shifts a bunch of jobs over to the newbie. When the new person moves away, the work load returns to normal. It is frustrating not to have consistent work when you are very very qualified and would be happy to mentor… Read more »
Member

Hello again~
Forgot to add: my mentors have all (?) been educational terps or employees of a college, Deaf people, DIs or online/distance. I cannot remember any live/in-person freelance interpreter mentoring me who wasn’t either paid for their time, part of a training for which I paid or a school employee. I love the LIMS group thru RID…wonderful online mentoring in legal issues. I also love the mentoring/feedback I get from people on DVTV and thru youtube. Great resource for professional development.

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[…] a lack of welcome for them in the field. This is a huge concern.  In Brian Morrison’s article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, he discusses the need for all of us to participate in the raising of future sign language […]

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[…] Morrison said it aptly in his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, “Interpreter education programs have a finite amount of time. We know that they aren’t able to […]

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Colleen Mills
Thank you so much for this article. As an interpreting student this is topic that comes up often in class. Luckily I have amazing professors who are so willing to help in any way, whether it be mentoring or putting us in contact with creditable interpreters or just giving some advice. We were assigned projects in the beginning of the semester were we interviewed seasoned interpreters in all different fields. This was a great way to start a conversation and to get our feet wet in the interpreting world. We have spent a lot of time discussing the importance of… Read more »
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[…] his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, Brian Morrison says, “Rather than viewing interpreter education programs negatively or putting […]

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