Treachery: Why Sign Language Interpreters Don’t Correct Each Other’s Work

January 22, 2014

Many sign language interpreters follow an “unwritten rule” that prevents us from intervening when a colleague’s interpretation is insufficient. Our silence contributes to Deaf oppression – it’s time to speak up.

As I submit this, some time has passed since the incident of the “fake interpreter” at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. While this was an event of historic proportions, it was not an event where the life, liberty, or future prospects of the participants were placed at particular risk. Do not misunderstand me – what happened was fundamentally wrong. Deaf people were excluded from sharing in the memory of a person who has had a profound impact upon the world that we all share, as highlighted by Brandon Arthur in his post, Nelson Mandela: Have Sign Language Interpreters Disappointed the World? It was a major injustice and it is upsetting to witness access being denied in such a way.

There are no two ways about it: the events at the memorial were appalling, yet, in some ways, the level of attention that this single incident has received is nothing short of amazing. On a daily basis, Deaf communities put great energy into the fight for equality, yet this particular incident seems to have captured the imaginations of many people. Here in Ireland, Deaf people and sign language interpreters took to social media to express their condemnation. Judging by the reactions of the more traditional media (in the English speaking world at least), there appeared to be some understanding of why this was wrong. It was a positive thing to see such an outcry about the inequalities that are faced by Deaf people, and hopefully this will become a turning point.

Having said that, something is not quite right.

The Unwritten Rule

Someone pretended to be an interpreter, and Deaf communities reacted – as did sign language interpreters and society at large – and so they should have. An emphasis has been placed on using a qualified interpreter, and the situation has highlighted the importance of access. The arguments for using qualified interpreters are certainly supported in light of the events in South Africa.

Yet we should not allow the discussion to stop there. There is another issue that is arguably as disturbing: there are numerous anecdotal examples of qualified interpreters providing suboptimal interpretation, but the profession handles those events differently. The responses are often more subdued or fragmented than we have seen in the case of the memorial service.

Many of us are held back by the “unwritten rule” telling us not to get involved, not to draw attention to an interpretation that is not working. We have not been explicitly taught this during training – it is something that we learn. We learn it by watching Deaf people complain about sign language interpreters who do not understand them, or whom they cannot understand; we learn it by seeing how easily those complaints are deflected because the interpreter is qualified; we learn it when complaints are turned into issues about the personal preferences of Deaf people, rather than issues about the performances of the qualified interpreters.

Use of Credentials to Control

What we are actually learning is the power of credentials, and this is not something that is unique to the sign language interpreting profession. Charles Tilly, amongst others, has discussed how professionals use credentials to control entry into professions and, more importantly, to control and silence debate. The status of being qualified can supersede all other considerations, even taking away the right to ask questions of the professional. Indeed, at times, being qualified can even take the place of being competent.

In addition to raising awareness of the importance of qualified interpreters, the memorial service should also give interpreters something more to reflect on. If we step away from the fact that this person was unqualified, we can ask a more meaningful question: “what is the difference between someone who stands there making a series of gestures and a qualified interpreter whose interpretation Deaf people struggle to understand?”

For someone to purport to provide access when he or she is not an interpreter is foolhardy, disrespectful, and a gross insult to Deaf people – not to mention dangerous. When qualified sign language interpreters are involved and Deaf people struggle to understand the interpretation or make themselves understood, then we are in similar circumstances to those of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela; yet it is far easier for us to discuss the issue of the “fake interpreter,” as we are discussing an outsider.

There is one significant difference. The Deaf community has not invested in the “fake interpreter” and has not allowed him into their space. The betrayal is all the worse when qualified interpreters are involved.

Equality Framework

In Ireland we are fortunate to have a Centre for Equality Studies, where an Equality Framework has been developed [Baker, Lynch, Cantillon and Walsh (2009) Equality: From Theory to Action]. The framework has five dimensions of equality:

•           Power

•           Respect and Recognition

•           Resources

•           Love, Care and Solidarity

•           Work and Learning

The application of this framework to our work as sign language interpreters is far greater than can be discussed here, but just choosing some aspects of the framework can certainly give insight into our thinking. We can use it to analyze situations, and I intend to do this by sharing some reflections from personal experience.

Treachery Against Colleagues

I once attended an interpreted event with around ten off-duty interpreters present. Throughout the event, there were numerous instances in which the interpretation was not working well, with inputs from Deaf participants incorrectly or poorly translated into English.

At these times, there was discomfort, but no intervention: not from the other members of the interpreting team, not from the organizers, not from the audience. My discomfort came as a result of my position as a hearing person and as an interpreter. I was fully aware of what was happening, yet I chose not to act. I sat in uncomfortable silence hoping that the problem would be resolved.

At one point, I stood to make a comment. I chose to sign rather than speak. Afterwards, I realized that I had done something that I did not like: I had listened to the interpreter voicing my input, and I had modified my comment on the fly to correct the interpretation.

Even though I believe in equality, this was unegalitarian. I benefited from being a hearing person who could make sure that my message got across, even though the interpretation was not always working. Yet I was silent when it came to the other breakdowns.

Later at the event, another breakdown happened. A Deaf member of the audience stood to ask a question and the interpretation did not work well. The Deaf person asked the interpreter if she had signed clearly and the interpreter shrugged.

In a room with almost 15% of the sign language interpreters in our country present, this was unfolding before our eyes – and we were letting it happen.

We were sitting back. I was sitting back. It went against everything I believe in, yet I was listening to the voice in my head saying, “Don’t say anything. Just be quiet. You’re not working here. It’s none of your business”. I decided to ignore that little voice and say something. It had happened too many times already without intervention. I clarified with the hearing presenter by standing and sharing my understanding of the question. I was left with a bigger question to deal with: “Why was it such a big deal to intervene?”

I appreciate that it is easier to be an observer than to be actively interpreting. We can analyze the decision-making processes of the working interpreters and try to understand what happened for them, but to do that is to miss the point. The focus should be on the rest of us and what was happening for us that led us to be complicit in those inequalities as we sat back and allowed them to occur.

I have asked myself why it took me so long to say something and I have rationalized it in any number of ways: “The interpreters will correct the issue themselves;” “The organizers will  intervene soon;” “Someone else will say something before me.” All of those explanations fail to get to the crux of the issue: why was I hoping that something would happen without having to act myself? The real reason is that I know the rules as well as anyone else. I am aware that speaking up is seen as an act of treachery against colleagues, and even as undermining the profession.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The power dimension of the Equality Framework is especially interesting here, at least for me. When witnessing the injustice of an incorrect interpretation, I allowed the power placed in an idea to hold me back from speaking up. This idea that has come from somewhere – it is an idea that serves some interests, just not the interests of equality or Deaf communities. Indeed, it doesn’t even serve the sign language interpreting profession, as it makes us question whether we should intervene when something blatantly wrong is happening. It confuses us into thinking that, by addressing a problem, we are causing a problem; yet these problems already exist. A wiser person than I refers to this type of situation as a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes: sign language interpreters can be in their “altogether” and be totally exposed. We can see it, but we cannot say anything for fear of how we will be perceived – after all, it is only a fool or a crank who does not recognize the credentials that we wear.

Distortion

The love, care and solidarity dimension is also interesting as it is frequently misused to protect the status quo. In the example above, I had Deaf friends and colleagues who were having their ideas misrepresented and I was weighing what to do. While it is true that everyone deserves the benefit of love, care and solidarity, the unwritten rule is a distortion of what this should be. We are instilled with the idea of protecting and fostering a “safe space” for interpreters, but the safety of interpreters should lie in our competencies, not in the fear fellow interpreters have of speaking up. Perhaps there are interpreters who consider my intervention as oppressive of the interpreters working at the event. Well, my answer to that is simple: look at where the power lies and you will see where the oppression is coming from. Correcting an interpretation is not an oppressive act. The marginalization and misrepresentation of Deaf people is oppressive, and our complicity in situations like that makes oppressors of us all.

The Takeaway

If there is one thing that we should take from the incident at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, it is that real access is more than the appearance of access – qualified or not, the interpretation must be working. If we are equality-minded, “they are trying their best” is not good enough. The voices in our heads should be telling us to fix the situation, not stopping us from standing up. It is time to “rewrite” the unwritten rule.

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89 Comments on "Treachery: Why Sign Language Interpreters Don’t Correct Each Other’s Work"

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Member
Hi! Thanks for post! I have a few thoughts: I think one of the main things that will hold me back is that if I did that all the time, I would be taking over interpreting. If I think I can do a better job, that would put me in a position to be replacing working interpreters. I wasn’t hired today or it isn’t my block to work. Part of working in teams is to have a break mentally and physically to last the full appointment block. ( know we are to be monitoring etc…but there is still a break… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Shelly, Thanks for your comments. You’ve given a really good insight into the considerations that come into play when we are working as interpreters in any particular setting. You also have really highlighted the possible outcomes of decisions that we make in relation to what we see happening. I understand that it is impossible to do everything, and if we tried, then we’d surely be on the path to burn out! Rather than feeling an obligation to take over the interpreting, I would love to see a situation where we can just acknowledge when things are not working well… Read more »
cmathers
Member
Hi, Thank you very much for your post, and it is a situation that many of us of some age have seen happen before. The technique I have seen as effective most recently is when the audience commentor (a legal interpreter in a class I was teaching) chose to sign her question using ASL because she knew at least the deaf people would be on the same exact page whereas if they had received her comment through the interpreter, it would not have been so successful (for the deaf person). The sad part is that the judges and court personnel… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Carla, Thanks for your response. The first example that you have given really parallels the experience that I have outlined! When you mentioned the word mental, it made me laugh aloud (for those people who are familiar with how that term is used here in Ireland, it is a colloquial word that can be used for strange, weird, eccentric and so on). As you said, it really is sad that that was how the message was received by the hearing participants. At least for the court interpreter, it was a choice between looking like that to Deaf people, and… Read more »
skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent

Nice touch, Carla, acknowledging the presence of traditions here at the SL blog! I hadn’t though of that.

skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent

Which is to say, I hope I’ll be forgiven, too, for unintentional transgressions.

Member

Betty Colonomos do that to/for me as well so that hearing people could make sense of Rabbi Fred Friedman, which I certainly wasn’t able to do, fresh out of Gallaudet. The coordinators who put me there with all kinds of platitudes, however, did a great disservice to us all. “You’ll be fine” thereafter became a catch-phrase I never believe. We have to filter our jobs and be painfully honest about what we can handle.

Member
Mike McMillion
I think each of us, no matter the credentials we have, find ourselves occasionally in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” I think a key point for us is to recognize when it is happening and respect EACH of the consumers of our services enough TO stop, correct, clarify, rephrase…as needed. Able to work alone, I respect that I should work with a team. Interpreting is my job, career, craft, and art. Yet, there are some times that I just have the wrong brush, or my colors are dull. I’m long-time fluent, yet, I’m not native/bilingual. I think, personally,… Read more »
Member
Mary Beth Mothersell
Darren, Very well written, very well articulated. This is such an important statement. “Correcting an interpretation is not an oppressive act. The marginalization and misrepresentation of Deaf people is oppressive, and our complicity in situations like that, makes oppressors of us all.” I have been in that very situation many times, and it is something that needs to be discussed and addressed, not ignored. I am curious, do Deaf people prefer to have interpreters ask for clarification? Do we make it “safe” for an interpreter to ask that something be repeated? I think this is something we should all be… Read more »
Member
Terri Hayes

sometimes the working interpreter is unaware that they need to ask for a repeat – they “got it”… they KNOW they got it…
problem is – they didn’t get it.
Trying to help that interpreter is almost impossible – because if you try to do *anything* – you are percieved as doing whatever it is – for your own purposes – and certainly not out of a hope to make the entire situation more successful (for everyone).

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Terri, Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you, and in those circumstances, the lack of openness and reflection is going to lead to difficulties eventually! I believe that the Equality Framework is a very useful tool in examining situations like this. Regardless of whether someone chooses to see an intervention as self-serving or not, we can ask if the intervention was addressing an inequality that was being caused by the actions of the interpreter… that is the key! Another idea that comes to mind as result of your comments is Johari’s Window. It offers an interesting way… Read more »
skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent
Darren – I love the Johari Window! Wish more people would become familiar with it. Terri’s comment reminds me of research done by Jemina Napier (2002) on interpreter omissions. Some of these are deliberate & strategic, some are accidental – recognized but not able to fit in for a variety of reasons. I’m fascinated by the reasons that justify allowing accidental omissions to happen, but even more so by the “amazement” and “astonishment” of interpreters in Jemina’s study realizing there were also omissions that they were completely unaware of! To me, this entire conversation is relevant not only in relation… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Stephanie,

It is a facilitating tool alright!

In relation to the omissions and the focus on flow over meaning, I often think that is another symptom of the Emperor’s New Clothes! As long as we keep walking down the street as if we are wearing the finest fabrics, no one will dare say anything! It also acts to keep challenges to an interpreter’s professional self-image at arms length.

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Mary Beth, Thanks for your response. I think you ask some really interesting questions and look forward to see how Deaf people respond! I think that the safety issue is crucial here. It is worth examining the role that credentials play in setting expectations for interpreters. We also have to think about what the expectations are… Is an interpreter expected to clarify? If yes, how often? Are there interpreters who could handle that situation without clarification? What would the credentials look like if all interpreters were able to act handle the situation clarification? I can imagine that this will… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Mike,

Thanks for contributing. I couldn’t agree more! I think that, as you said, respecting those using our services helps make the choices that we should make clearer.

Glad to see that you’re not disheartened! If there is one thing that I hope that could come from this is that there will be more openness in how we navigate these situations.

I totally agree with stepping back and allowing the interpreters to try to find a way to resolve any issues themselves, and this is more about the times where a solution is not forthcoming.

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Mike,

Thanks for contributing. I couldn’t agree more! I think that, as you said, respecting those using our services helps make the choices that we should make clearer.

Glad to see that you’re not disheartened! If there is one thing that I hope that could come from this is that there will be more openness in how we navigate these situations.

Member
Linda Richards
Very important article and critical issue here. Thanks. What concerns me is the interpreter who knowingly delivers a bad show and does nothing. What concerns me is their ‘endorsement’, be it by virtue of membership of a clique, membership of an interpreting organisation or by their employers such as the agency that booked them, and so on. That is collusion in its worse form. I’m amused by the business and (accurate) comment about how such scenarios are turned around into Deaf people’s ‘personal preferences’. Well, quite! After so many bad experiences, that’s what it will come down to. At least… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Linda, Thanks for your feedback. We too have similar situations here in Ireland. Performance and competence are not always the most important factors that are used in making decisions about interpreting provision. On many occasions I have seen the personal preferences idea used against Deaf people, but as you have said, it is actually a way for Deaf people to try to take some control. It is a form of resistance against the oppression that the community are experiencing. It shows the direct conflict between how professionals try to control the debate by reducing the experience of Deaf people… Read more »
Member
Coleen hogan
I keep the newspaper clipping of that African interpreter from Mandella’s funeral in my briefcase. Periodically, I hold it up next to my face and ask my colleagues if I look like him today. Until I read your article, I did not realize that the question is not funny. Am I faking today? That man shone a light on all sign language interpreters the world round, myself included. Would that your article shine a light on my inner workings and wake me up to the possibility of keeping the work honest, mine, my team, and yours. One day at a… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Coleen,

Thanks for your comments and the honesty in your reply. It’s made me realise that that picture could serve as a mirror to us at times! As you said… one day at a time! Hopefully there aren’t too many days when we see yourselves in that picture!

Member
Thank you for your article. Would love to see more workshops on this for interpreters. Ceusonthego.com has a GREAT online workshop I would highly recommend. “Teaming Pet Peeves”. Awesome! So today I had a Deaf person say to me after an interpreting assignment “I don’t want to offend you at all, but your sign for ________________ means ________________ here ” (moved across the country last year). It was not something I wanted to be signing. Where I am from (out East), this sign I used means divorce. Where I currently live it means something COMPLETELY different (regional sign). I was… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Paula, thanks for your comments and thanks for the tip! I’ll check it out. I can see where you are coming from in relation to the feedback and the fear that some people have of giving it. If we examine it in the light of the Equality Framework, we can see a huge imbalance in power between interpreters and Deaf people in many situations. I am not saying that Deaf people are powerless, but I am saying that the power that we interpreters have has been solidified and strengthened over the years, and again, credentials become our shield –… Read more »
Member
Alan Sessions
There are many times that I let the minor inconsistencies go by the wayside due to being over worked and never really having a “break” due to the lack of skills from the “credentialed” interpreter. However, when minor becomes major errors then one must step in to repair the mistakes. I often wonder what happened to the idea of the integrity of the message for the working interpreters. Why is there such a fear as to interrupt the signer and ask for clarification? How often do we, when talking to our peers in spoken language, ask for clarification with something… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Alan, You’ve asked some really interesting questions! It is well worthing thinking over why there is a fear to seek clarification. There are many reasons why the integrity of the message can be placed in second place. Of course, some of it could relate to the practicalities of interpreting – not interrupting the flow, not bring attention to our presence… I’m sure that there are many more reasons along those lines. There are also some other, more personal reasons that come to mind. I know that my sense of self has grown accustomed to the idea of being an… Read more »
Member
Gia Wilson-Mackey
I need some clarification on this venture you are asking us to go on. You are saying that if you are in a venue where interpreting is happening and the interpreters are doing a poor job (I believe the words you used were the interpretation is not going well) we are to approach them while they are working the venue and correct them? And/Or we are to stand up in the venue and make the corrections as we see fit? And all of this to people we dont even know? How does one do that without being seen as a… Read more »
Member

Hi,
In looking at the memorial service for Mr. Mandela as an example, how many sign language interpreters were actually there and made it known to the personnel in charge that the sign language interpreter was failing to interpret the various dignitaries speeches, had not had a break, needed a team interpreter, etc? Is there an interpreter who attended the event that could relate what was happening behind the scene to possibly remove and replace the fake interpreter?
Obviously vetting the interpreter prior to the event was one issue.

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Gia, Firstly, I would like to apologise. I mistakenly thought I replied to you yesterday, but I did not. Sorry about that. Thanks for your comments and for your questions! There certainly is a lot to think about. To answer one of the main questions, if the interpretation is not going well and if the interpreters are failing to take corrective action, then yes, I believe that we should be taking steps to correct the inequalities that they are causing. I would do this for another inequality, and I believe we should be doing it when our own profession… Read more »
sfeyne
Member
Stephanie Feyne
Hi Darren, Thanks so much for this fabulous article. I wanted to chime in with the thought that sometimes we are not sure where our loyalties lie. Ostensibly, we would say with the Deaf community that we serve, but sometimes I think we feel the pull to protect our own (the interpreter) from embarrassment. I’m not saying I’m an angel here – cuz I’m sure I’ve done it as well… but in this case, I was on the receiving end. One time my team and I were interpreting for a panel. I thought I had understood the Deaf speaker, and… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Stephanie, Thanks for your comments and thanks for sharing your story with us. It is true that every time we take action, we take a chance on how it will be received. We take a chance that the unwritten rule might apply and that dialogue will be cut short or that the reaction will distract us from the integrity of the message and from equality and justice. It certainly seems that if we are to address the power of the unwritten rule, securing ourselves and encouraging the believe in the shared responsibility for addressing injustice is a key part… Read more »
Member
Thank you so much Darren for raising this pivotal issue which has been ignored and neglected for far too long. Finally someone who has the courage to speak openly about an issue that our industry has condoned (by sitting back and not doing anything) for years in fear of being judged. However this is a delicate decision to ‘intervene’ or for better word ‘support’ our fellow colleagues. It is a very subjective line we are walking, this raises questions about at what point does one decide to lend thier support? And, perhaps consider what YOU would accept as support in… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Mark, Many thanks for your response. [Apologises that I overlooked this post!] There certainly is so much to discuss, and it is my hope that by focussing in on what we are feeling, and what our goals are, then we can try to work our way to through to a more balanced approach to our work. You’ve asked some interesting questions! I would hazard a guess that we will have a lot of debate before we can settle on a way of doing it, but one thing I think will play a major part in the answer is each… Read more »
Member
Amber Tucker
I think this raises a great question, but addresses it in an odd way. Who is responsible for the success of the interpretation in an example like this, or in any interpreting situation? First and foremost, the interpreters hired to work in that assignment. Secondly, the consumers. Both of whom we are required by our Code of Professional Conduct to treat with respect. In the situation described above, any audience member is a consumer of the interpreting services, even if that person is themselves a working interpreter who happens to be off-duty at the time. If you are off-duty, you… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Amber, Thanks for your comments. I think you’ve asked your question in an interesting way and in a way that leads to the answers that you have given, but it fails to consider the inequalities that the interpreters are actively causing. I can see where you are coming from in relation to allowing the interpreters the chance to fix the situation, as they are being paid to do a job. To be clear, I’m not proposing that we should be there constantly correcting every vocabulary choice – that’s not my point at all, but I am saying that there… Read more »
lwiesman
Member
Amber, agree with you! Where was this person’s team? While we all own some responsibility to act in some way, isn’t it ultimately a measure of the team’s effectiveness (or not) when one of the members of the team’s work is ineffective? Also interesting in my experience presenting, attending many conferences as a participant and presenter, and developing/organizing presentations, workshops on teaming are not well attended for some reasons. Perhaps it is because they are established alongside the sexy titles and topics that reduce the draw. It also relates to feedback models and ways to give and accept feedback. As… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Lynne, Thanks for your input. In relation to the teaming aspects, those are valid questions to ask, but I fear that they move us away from an uncomfortable area and back into the safe zone, without helping us come to a resolution. In general, I believe that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of interpreters feeling attacked, because a part of the problem in this profession is that we have constructed a culture that makes it permissible for some interpreters to think that getting feedback at all is an attack. Aaron has mentioned about softening our egos, and that… Read more »
Member
While Deaf peoples access and understanding must always come first – and I for one would appreciate intervention if I “completely lost it” I think we need to be cautious. The reason is that a “monitoring interpreter” can always think of a better interpretation that the one who is up there doing the work live. We spot all the mistakes and omissions – but would not necessarily do better if we were on the spot. This means we quickly learn in team working only to interrupt or feed when it is constructive and we work out ways to do so… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the reply. I totally agree with the approach that you have outlined, and they are all incredibly important points that contribute to our ability to successfully work as a team.

I was attempting to focus on situations that we may witness where the steps have broken down.

Member
Terri Hayes
Mark – what happens when the person you are teaming with is wrong – but you know that they are unable to take a feed – (or accept criticism of their work)… for whatever reason… Are you saying that in order to remain professional – the team (or the off-interpreter, or a knowledgeable bystander) should just “leave it alone” ?… because to attempt to correct the mistake will simply be disruptive to a fairly smooth appearing process?… and Amber – what happens – when the interpreter makes a mistake – perhaps a subtle mistake – but a significant one –… Read more »
Member
Amber Tucker
HI Terri, If the interpreter does make an error that skews the message and results in the Deaf consumer receiving incorrect or different information, I believe that the interpreter is responsible for making a correction. And if that interpreter does not make the correction, the team interpreter needs to either feed the correction, or communicate the correction to the Deaf person. What would happen if there were no other interpreter present to observe the error? Why couldn’t the off-duty interpreter approach the Deaf consumer afterwards to casually discuss the content of the presentation? I don’t think the issue here should… Read more »
Member
Exactly! Bravo Amber! How many times have unassigned/off duty interpreters not in the hot seat thought that they were *so much better than* the assigned interpreter disturbed the flow of the assigned teaming interpreters in favor of what they feel is supporting/not oppressing the Deaf? If necessary allow the ones in the hot seat to work things out, communicate with the Deaf person or the interpreters after an interpretation has been rendered at an appropriate time. It would be far less distracting and more respectful of the organizers of the event, presenters, interpreters, the audience and the Deaf in attendance.… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Amber, Thanks for your comments. You’ve given some useful tips and asked some interesting questions. Stephanie has introduced an interesting idea – outcome based interpreting. If we use that analysis and examine outcomes we can see that two of the major outcomes of inaction are: 1. The injustice, the misrepresentation, and the oppression caused by the work of the interpreter is allowed to stand for whatever length of time it takes to redress it (but how this can be done is another matter). I totally agree that the working interpreter should have the ultimate responsibility for what happens –… Read more »
skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent
Mark, interesting….your comments follow along others’ comments, above, that point out the difficulties or downside of actively supporting a working team member. It’s the phrase about providing feeds “in a way that works for them” that caught my attention… Maybe one level of the challenge is learning how to time our interventions with what are called Turn Relevant Places (TRPs)? When I give a feed to my team, I am ‘taking a turn.’ If my turn occurs in the middle of a coherent unit of talk, there’s no way it can be well-received: it is “an interruption.” But if I… Read more »
Member
Debbie McDonnell
Isn’t this why you should have a co-worker at events like these? Mind you, I am fully aware that sometimes, even your co-worker doesn’t support you. I like to work with people who will catch me if I stumble, and I do stumble sometimes. Even fall flat on my face from time to time. It is a horrible feeling to struggle with an interpretation without support. It’s equally horrible to watch someone else struggle and feel that you can’t offer assistance for fear of being seen as an interfering know it all. If the profession at large would be more… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for the comment!

That’s exactly the goal that I hope we can get to by engaging in dialogue around this subject.

Member
This is my “Irish” story: I was called in at the last minute to interpret from IS to English for a presentation on the youth camp at a WFD Congress. I had no partner and no prep (a bad situation in any SL, and especially in IS). The presentation and discussion were about an hour. The youth camp had taken place in Dublin, and we were in Spain (if I remember correctly). I think most of the audience was Deaf. I had never seen the sign for Dublin, and if you know it, you know it looks like the American… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your input. You’ve covered a lot in there and I love the Irish story!

It really is a very difficult set of considerations to manage. It is not my intention that we end up in a situation where interpreters are disrespected as human beings or treated like unfeeling robots – as you mentioned interpreting is incredibly demanding and we are not perfect. In saying that, we should definitely deconstruct the meaning of respect in relation to our profession and that is never a bad thing!

abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Thanks for this insightful and important piece, Darren. I wanted to verify something with you about your use of the term ‘qualified’. Do you use that to mean ‘credentialed’? I know that several English-speaking countries do, but that the US is not one of them. American readers might understand it to as it’s used here to mean ‘having sufficient skills and knowledge to perform effectively’. As with any crucial yet thorny issue, there are several fronts on which progress might be made. There’s the immediate need for strategies to work within the current atmosphere of fear and insecurity. I don’t… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Aaron, Thanks for the comments and the question. Really, the term credentialed as others (and I) use it covers any kind of certification, qualification or membership. It relates to a way of control, or to vet, entry to a profession and something that the professional can fall back on should they need to make sure that a lay person’s argument can be defeated! I know there’s another side to it in terms of quality and so on, but I’m focussing the shielding and control. I love the idea of softening ourselves so that our egos are not shocked or… Read more »
jcaganteuber
Member
This is a great discussion! I wonder what the difference in dynamics is when talking about a “presentation” or small group. It seems to me that when an interpreter team is working a presentation (Deaf presenter or hearing) that is a situation where interpreters in the audience (I like the term “off-duty”) are reluctant to make any move to correct or clarify the interpretation and the working interpreter team is reluctant to stop the speaker and ask for clarification. In a small group session or a small meeting, the interpreters tend to feel more flexibility to asking for clarification or… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi JCT,

Thanks for the comment. I think you ask a really interesting question, and it ties in well with the last few comments too! Where does the ego of the interpreter fit into the equation, and how much, as you’ve asked, does it depend on the type of environment! I’m looking forward to seeing some of the comments on this one!

skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent
Hiya JCT! On the surface, yea it seems obvious there is a difference in dynamics depending on the venue, but the deeper (and, dare I say, more relevant) part of your question involves the varying degrees of interpreter reluctance to disrupt the illusion of homolingualism. Yea, homolingualism – the assumption or attitude that we’re all speaking the same language, when we are obviously NOT! My critically-minded brain sees the overvaluing of flow as a huge part of the treachery problem. Darren, you’ve clearly hit a nerve and I am definitely grateful – sorry for not saying so until now! I’m… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Stephanie,

I think that the illusion of homolingualism ties in nicely with the Emperor’s New Clothes and how our profession sometimes tries too hard at the “cosmetic appearance of flow” – this “keeping up appearances” definitely comes with a price. It is a factor worth considering, and it also important to examine what we gain from this, for what purpose is it happening, and the lasting damage that this practice causes when not addressed.

Member
Terri Hayes
I have a rule – that I live by – and that I teach my students (and one that I get a surprising amount of “flack” about)… but if I attend an event and an interpreter (or a team of interpreters) is working – I will try to approach and let her/him/them know I am present – I’m a qualifed and I am willing to stand with, sit with, be there … just to support (especially for voicing… but for visual feeds or audible clarifications as well) – and just if they need it. I am a member of a… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Terry,

I think that you have described a lovely way of teaching interpreters and of modelling how not to fall under the control of the unwritten rule. What lucky students you have!

If the way of working you are describing became a more widespread norm, how much easier would it be for Deaf people to tackle inequalities that they encounter. It is certainly a more preferable norm to the unwritten rule.

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Sorry, Terri, I’ve mistyped your name a number of times(!) – oops

lwiesman
Member

Terri,

I like this approach!! I’m putting this in my educator mix of strategies to share – as well as an approach I’m going to try out and see how it works! Thanks for sharing!
Lynne

Member
As a student interpreter who was at the conference this writer refers too, I read his piece with interest. I must say as a student interpreter the conference was a daunting conference for me as it was a European Medisigns conference with well known academic sign language interpreter trainers, interpreters, interpreter students, Deaf academics etc. I was relieved I wasn’t interpreting at the event especially when it was attended by so many experienced interpreters & well known Deaf professionals. I too noticed there was times information was not being interpreted to the required standard. There was two international sign interpreters… Read more »
Member
Terri Hayes
This is the reason we have so few interpreters willing to work in legal. The risk of making mistakes is just to high. Younger interpreters see more experienced (whether personally ready to do the work they’re taking or not) interpreters struggle, and think, “I dont ever want to be the interpreter who isn’t getting it right”… but – there is No Way that any of us – will ever ALWAYS get it right. This is the crease in the problem that actually holds the problem together. Instead of looking at a working interpreter (or being one) and being worried about… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Terri,

Thanks for your posts and thanks for putting it so succinctly – “An act of correction should not be perceived to be an act of public humiliation”. That is exactly it. I think that a part of the issue is that, as a profession, we have allowed a situation to develop where that is the default reaction. It also gives the ultimate veto to the real learning that can come from situations where there is so much to learn!

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Nicole, Thanks for your reply. There are quite a number of points that you have raised, so I will attempt to address them as best I can. The first thing that is worth mentioning is that, even though you have given a great deal of detail about how you viewed the interpretation at the event that you mentioned, and how you perceived the different interpreting teams compared to each other in terms of efficacy, performance and teamwork, that is actually a topic that I intentionally avoided, and let me explain why. The point that I am addressing is not… Read more »
skent
Member
Stephanie Jo Kent
Darren and Terri, I have just started using the phrase, “outcome-oriented interpreting.” By outcome-oriented I mean what Terri described: when people leave, are they satisfied? Did they accomplish what they hoped? Even if it didn’t turn out the way they wanted, do they believe that they were understood? Do they believe they understand the positions of the other participants? On the one hand, we spend too much time on “the message” – as if information is the only important thing going on in an interpreted interaction. This hyper-focus blocks us from giving more attention to the relationships that are being… Read more »
Member
Whew, this article gives us a lot to think about. It brings to mind some vicarious trauma I experienced when I went to a medical appointment with a Deaf friend. I went to the appointment as just that, a friend. I went at my friend’s request to be a support in asking relevant questions, bei another set of eyes, and try to help get down to the bottom of a distressing and potentially serious medical problem. I knew going in I would have advantages in understanding my friend. I had no desire to critique the interpreter or somehow feel superior… Read more »
Member
Frustrated in New Jersey
Related issue…. How can we educate both Deaf and hearing about the need/appropriateness for at times asking for clarifications? Would terps feeling empowered to do so have prevented the errors and omissions mentioned in earlier posts? If they had felt empowered could it have removed the need for other terps in the audience to ask? Perhaps in those instances, the need for clarification wasn’t identified. Even so, it brings up a related point when it comes to errors/omissions. We are particularly hesitant/afraid to ask for clarification, especially (and understandably) in large public settings. Feels too conspicuous. Although, we become quite… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Frustrated,

Thanks for the post.

I think that the points that you raise have a real place in this conversation and ties in well Stephanie’s discussion around the focus that is placed on flow over meaning and clarity.

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Allison, many thanks for your comments. That seems like a very difficult position to find yourself in, even if there were no interpretation involved at all. I can imagine that you have thought back on such an important time quite a lot. The one thing to remember is that things would definitely have been worse without your intervention. I hope that your friend came through whatever it was that led to needing the appointment. In relation to reflections on how we work, and what we should do, I too hope that the discussion gives us some tools for navigating… Read more »
lwiesman
Member
Allison, you have shared a situation similar to ones that we have all been in and it’s difficult! As Darren has said, you have provided one strategy or approach of many. A couple of thoughts came up for me as I was reading this (and I always relate to how I would teach this). I can use this scenario to hopefully have students develop strategies for students to handle “in the moment”, as the event is unfolding as well as after the fact. Both junctures are important to address in cultivating strategies for approaching these types of situations. After the… Read more »
Member
Lorraine Leeson
Robyn Dean frequently talks about the fact that “people do not return to conversations where they feel diminished” and I think that as we engage in this important conversation about credentials, and about if, when – and how – to intervene, that this is an idea we should keep in mind. Lynne’s comments reminded me of a conversation I had just last week when a fairly new interpreter in the field told me how they had interpreted in a room full of interpreters for the first time. I asked how they had felt and they said that in order to… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Lorraine, many thanks for your post. You raise many interesting points. In relation to the quote from Robyn Dean, that “people do not return to conversations where they feel diminished”, this is an excellent point. It is also a very powerful concept, but one that is often applied in favour of the professional, even though it applies to all… indeed the unwritten rule requires this concept in order to take hold. It can also be a dangerous practice for a profession not to tackle head-on. It also is another avenue for the professional to call time on the discussion… Read more »
Member
I welcome Darren’s timely honest article fuelled by the Mandela fake interpreter incident. How many times have we sat watched interpreting unfold either as a participant or co-working with an interpreter who lets us down and our profession down by bluffing their way through the assignment? I have many times. We all know the chat afterwards where the mess up is acknowledged outside of the Deaf audience and the “feeling bad” is soothed with reassurances offered that it wasn’t that bad or you’ll know better next time and we all leaving thinking s/he’s nice to work with. We ought to… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Caroline, Thanks for your post. Thank you for bringing the discussion back to the human rights aspects of the work that interpreters do, and also for linking it directly into the legacy of Nelson Mandela and maybe a “Mandela responsibility” is what we could take from that. As I mentioned in the original piece, there was no fear of speaking out against the action of the fake interpreter at the memorial service. There are, perhaps many reasons for that, but one thing is clear, he did not have the protection of the unwritten rule, and so we could put… Read more »
Member
Bernadette Ferguson
A lot of ethical issues that are probably well overdue discussion were raised in this article. However the lack of Irish comment here speaks volumes! Perhaps many are afraid of the repercussions they may face. Many of the comments are coming from the U.K. and U.S. where populations are much bigger. Ireland is too small for an article like this where the interpreters are so easily identifiable. The issues outlined could have been described in much more general terms or even through a fictional scenario. I wasn’t even at this event and I knew who the interpreters were on first… Read more »
Member

Bernadette —

That. Our comments of dissent to the OP were held up so long in the mod queue, we didn’t realize we were posting on top of one another.

Thanks for your amiable yet obvious exasperation, and unwittingly reinforcing my position.

Peter

dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Bernadette, Thanks for your comments. I appreciate what you are saying in terms of Ireland being a small place, but realistically if Ireland is too small a place for an article like this, it is too small a place for the behaviour that we see where interpreters sit back and do not act when injustice and oppression is taking place. It is not about the interpreters on the job, it is about the silence that the rest of us are forced to adhere to. You have said that it could have been a fictional example, but then that just… Read more »
Member
Frustrated and Lorraine have hinted at something which I’d like to examine. Given that there were 23 interpreters in attendance at the founding meeting of the Council of Irish Sign Language Interpreters a few years ago (researched here http://cisliireland.wordpress.com/), we might generously assume there are around 100-200 Irish practitioners at various levels of competency: paid, volunteer, intern, clergy, etc. Even if your position is rhetorically supported, given the size of that fishbowl, your anecdote, clothed as self-reflection, may have publicly crucified someone easily identifiable to that community. You’ve crafted an effective advertisement of a Deaf-Heart stance for an audience eager… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Peter, Thanks for your comments. I gave an example to highlight a specific issue, but it is not an isolated incident. There are many such examples, and indeed others have given some here. Yes, Ireland is a small place, but as we have seen over the last few days, even the USA can be too small a place when it comes to this particular topic. The unwritten rule is so powerful that everywhere is too small – it is a rule that says we should never have this discussion at all – but the unwritten rule is not the… Read more »
Member
Thanks, Darren — I don’t blame you for doubling-down on your argument, given that siding with Deaf people instead of the more difficult work of light-touch collaboration with other Interpreters has the social currency of the day. I share your ambivalence with the “unterpreter” role of bilingual spectator, but we can fundamentally disagree that “speaking out” in the moment is an effective tool. Like other posters, I favor supporting the working team, most likely through the feed person. Or, if I am a paid participant and the organizers hired amateurs on the cheap, that lambasting goes on my evaluation. Hearing… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
I would say that more often, we do what Darren has mentioned: leave the Deaf presenter hanging with a terrible misrepresentation of them having gone out into the world, which they may not even know about. That toothpaste is never going back into the tube. The few times that “unterpreters” do handle the situation ham-handedly tend to stick out in our memories as well as our craws, but for each one of those there are many more instances when we do nothing because we prioritize the potential threat to the interpreter’s self image over than the actual damage being done… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Aaron, thanks for your comments. I love the the “toothpaste is never going back into the tube line” – that is an excellent analogy for what happens once a misrepresentation happens and remains unaddressed. It also reminds me of the story of Mr Peabody’s Apples and how difficult it is to undo something that has been done (like gathering back all the feathers that have been cast in the wind though the work of the interpreter). Of course, I can imagine some people may feel that addressing the interpretation in a certain way, or indeed at all, is the… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Peter, Thanks for your reply and apologises for the delay in this response. I find it interesting that you frame the discussion in terms of choosing to side with Deaf people (the social currency of the day, as you put it) versus the harder work of supporting the working interpreter. That does not actually represent what the piece is about, but is an interesting, if different discussion. Keeping these two issues separate, as they should be, gives us more insight into what is happening. To address the social currency side of things – to be clear this is not… Read more »
Member
Tracey Daly
I don’t normally post on these things …. But I could sense the splinters as I sat on the fence …. And possibly reluctant because of the repercussions anyone faces putting themselves ‘out there’ to make a comment. I wont go back to the personal aspects of the article or the comments, because I believe the overall desired outcome of this piece is being lost. It saddens me that there has been little or no reference to the frustration the Deaf community experience due to our reluctance. Treachery: Why Sign Language interpreters don’t correct each others work? Treachery is an… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne

Hi Tracey,

Many thanks for your response.

The power of the term treachery is especially interesting as it can work either way. Certainly, the unwritten rule sees action in the moment as a form of treachery, but our inaction in the face of oppression is a form of treachery against those we serve and also against justice and equality.

You give an interesting example of the environment that you found yourself in. It certainly gives hope that the unwritten rule is not an inevitable consequence of the way our profession works and that it can be overcome!

Member
Willie White
Darren. Although the majority of us in attendance did not seem to react on the day, it does not mean we did nothing on the day or since that event. I know from my own perspective, I reacted internally a few times of the day. While there may be an in-written rule, I think there is actually no rule on how we should react or intervene. I certainly haven’t been taught the rule if one exists. At the event in question, I took the time to digest and contemplate what was happening and knew I would do something that I… Read more »
dbyrne
Member
Darren Byrne
Hi Willie, Thanks for the comments. I appreciate where you are coming from in relation to the range of actions that can happen. Indeed, during the course of the discussions here, a range of possible actions have been outlined. To reiterate from previous comments, I am not saying that there is only one way to act, but the outcomes of the different actions that we may take are certainly worth comparing, especially in relation to how distant they are from the event. Regardless of the action that happens: whispering in the ear of the interpreter; passing a note; going down… Read more »
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[…] Darren Byrne suggests that there is an unspoken code among sign language interpreters that views the correcting of a fellow interpreter's work an act of treachery.  […]

Member
WitchCItyTerp
I found this article and discussion interesting because I see the conversation as revolving around an idea that hasn’t been explicitly named and that is the expectation of immediate perfection. Obviously the memorial “interpreter” is a wholly different individual from your average interpreter, so I won’t be addressing that in my response. Many people have spoken to the idea of fearing criticism and seeing it as a betrayal, but why? Why are we so insulted by our own mistakes? I suspect that as a signing community (and a number of factors play into this), we expect that interpreters will not… Read more »
Member
Lauren Morcerf
Darren, Thank you for this insightful article. I agree with you, part of the human condition is to protect ourselves from discomfort and when the majority of us see a situation that may cause discomfort to us or to someone in a similar situation to us, the response is usually to stay quiet and ignore what is happening (and to hope that someone else will be the one to say something). As an Interpreting student, I am still learning to take criticism in a positive way; I am learning to change my mindset regarding feedback (and correction) from a place… Read more »
Member
Kayla Fairbrother

I am currently an interpreting student at Suffolk Community College. I think people take criticism differently. As an interpreting student, I try and take criticism in a positive way, because I know it’ll benefit me in the future. I definitely agree that it can be hard. I think it depends on the person and what is actually being said and/or corrected.

Member
Erika Ramirez
As an American Sign Language Interpreter Student I have learned the importance of empowering the Deaf person. I believe that part of the empowerment process is the acceptance of our mistakes as interpreters. I also believe that we have to learn the appropriate way of sharing our feedback, to the individual we are working with. Even though I don’t have experience as an American Sign Language interpreter yet. Having the opportunity to interpret in Spanish to English has allowed to understand the importance of becoming a better communicator, not only of the message being said but the idea and also… Read more »
Member
Extremely interesting discussion on an important topic. My two-pence worth: I think it is worth considering that we may be coming at this question of offering corrections and accepting feedback from a very hearing cultural perspective and that we could borrow a much more useful approach from our Deaf friends and colleagues. Generally speaking, in the UK and US (and perhaps beyond) it’s hearing folk, especially from white, middle-class cultures, that value indirectness, surface smoothness, tact, not intruding, not to mention a particular image of professionalism which includes having to be perfect and seamless. (I know, not only white cultures… Read more »

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