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Critical Path: A Reboot of Sign Language Interpreter Education

Critical Path: A Reboot of Sign Language Interpreter Education

It’s time for a reboot of sign language interpreter education.  Two year interpreting programs should become pre-professional programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree in interpreting.

As professional sign language interpreters and sign language interpreter educators, we all understand the difficult work we are tasked with and we recognize when it’s working and when it’s not. Recently, four such professionals met over a three-day period to think about the current state of interpreter education and how sign language interpreter preparation needs to change. Each of us in that group of four brought differing experiences to the table and more professional hats than we care to count. We believe that many in the field have known this conversation is desperately needed, but more than that, it is time to act.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Our group includes interpreter educators, a Deaf professional, an interpreter educator with Deaf parents, a parent of Deaf children, and a leader in a post-secondary interpreter education program. We worry about the skills of the interpreter who arrives to interpret for our Deaf mother and father, about whether our Deaf children will understand the interpreter who comes to basketball practice, and if we will be able to find an interpreter who is adequately prepared for the highly academic and intellectual meeting we attend. We each choose to believe we can make a difference. It was Margaret Mead who stated, to “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It is time to radically examine how we prepare sign language interpreters nationwide. For far too long we have recognized that the preparation of an interpreter is nearly impossible to do in a two-year time period – whether those two years are part of a two-year associate degree program or the last two years of a baccalaureate degree program. We believe it is now time for community action. Collectively, we need to rethink how we prepare sign language interpreters and recognize that it takes a village to fully prepare interpreters. We are answering the call to action asked for by Cindy Volk in her Street Leverage article Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action.

The proposed reformation is a three-legged stool; that is, the seat is a new way of preparing sign language interpreters who are linguistically and culturally empowered to making a lasting difference, and the three legs are what we need to do to support this change, namely empowering educators, enhancing the curriculum and establishing a strong foundation in language and culture.

Empowering Educators

More often than not, we teach how we were taught. This is a widely accepted notion and one that rings true in many fields of study. Consequently, there is a need to provide training on how to effectively teach, assess our students on their progress towards mastering course outcomes and develop the curriculum. If we are to reform how we educate sign language interpreters, we have to first give educators the tools they need to not only rethink interpreter education but to change it. We need to prepare educators of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Enhancing the Curriculum

It has often been stated that the challenge of preparing a student to be a sign language interpreter in a two-year program is simply insurmountable. The four of us have heard repeatedly from faculty in associate level programs that they just can’t get it all in the allotted number of courses. We’ve heard from faculty at baccalaureate level programs that all too often they receive students from associate programs who do not possess the necessary language skills to proceed. We all need to be held accountable and take action to correct this.

Four-year programs need to be able to depend on two-year programs to fully prepare students for entry into the major of sign language interpreting. Two-year programs need to depend upon four-year programs to close the circle and complete the preparation so that students leaving are well-prepared for the field. Both two-year and four-year programs need to be involved with preparing interpreters in a complementary way rather than a competing or exclusive manner.

We suggest a reconsideration of the purpose of two-year programs. They should be pre-professional programs, with a focus on the foundations of interpreting. Courses should include ASL, translation, social justice, Deaf culture, pre-interpreting skills, and a stronger emphasis on the English language. In addition, interpreting programs should capitalize on the general education curriculum by creating a two year initial sequence that enhances the outcomes of students who are fully prepared to enter into interpreting programs with all the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to succeed.

 Ensuring Strong Foundations in Language and Culture 

As Lou Fant stated in 1974, “Prime prerequisite for an interpreter of any language is mastery of the languages he wishes to interpret. It seems so obvious that one feels embarrassed, almost, to mention it, yet I fear it is too often not given sufficient attention.”1 We would all agree that one of the most critical aspects of preparing future sign language interpreters is the development of a strong foundation in the languages they will use as interpreters. It is impossible to learn skills in interpreting, while also learning a second language. As a field, it is time we acknowledge this and require a strong foundation in ASL and English before entry into a sign language interpreting program. Rather than use two-year college programs to try and prepare students for the interpreting profession, why not use such programs to give students the linguistic and cultural foundations needed to then enter an interpreter education program?

Recommendations

  • Establish a taskforce to examine a Deaf/hearing co-teaching model to develop foundational fluency in ASL for students entering interpreter training programs.

  • Establish a track at the CIT biennial conference to address the need for reformation.

  • Begin discussions about the possibility of adding specialty areas of preparation (education, legal, medical, etc.) to interpreter education programs.

  • Examine the proliferation of interpreter education programs to determine if the need truly exists for so many programs.

  • Begin a discussion between program directors from both two-year and four-year programs on how to develop a national interpreter education curriculum and outcomes.

  • Research how competency-based education may be a model for our field.

  • Research how theories, models and frameworks of spoken language apply to the preparation of signed language interpreters.

An Example

An example of how two groups (e.g., two-year and four-year programs) can work together is the recent efforts of University of Arizona (UA) and Pima Community College (PCC).  Currently, these two institutions are collaborating on the development of a framework that will  address many of the issues raised in this article. The goal is to create a 2+2 program whereby students will begin at PCC with a focus on ASL skills and pre-interpreting skills. Students would then transfer to UA where they will study the interpreting process and further refine their skills as sign language interpreters. The language and culture foundations developed at PCC will be critical to the success of the students at UA. Both PCC and UA encourage other such programs in the United States to engage in similar collaborative efforts and, thus, reform how interpreters are prepared.

Conclusion

This type of reformation needs leadership and direction. We recommend that the three key organizations in sign language interpreter education – the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), the American Sign Language Teachers’ Association (ASLTA), and the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE) come together and move forward in realizing this vision. It is our recommendation that the Presidents of these three organizations meet to examine how they can individually contribute to, collaborate on, and lead this reformation.

Reforming sign language interpreter education to graduate skilled, well-prepared interpreters should not be the concern of only a few people, but rather an urgent priority for all stakeholders, including sign language interpreting agencies, VRS companies, parents of Deaf children, children of Deaf parents, ITPs, and Deaf people. The time is indeed now – we must reform sign language interpreter education.

We want to acknowledge the ideas and contributions of several people who helped frame the ideas we’ve presented here. Thank you to Leslie Greer, Jimmy Beldon, and Amy June Rowley.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. How can your program make significant reformations in interpreter education?
  2. Do you think the time is now for such reformation in sign language interpreter education? Why or why not?
  3. Are the ideas presented in this article feasible/possible in your community, state, and in the nation?  If not, why not?

Dr. Carolyn Ball has been an interpreter educator for over 25 years, teaching at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Community College, William Woods University and the University of North Florida. Currently, she is the Executive Director of the VRS Interpreting Institute (VRSII) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Taralynn Petrites, M.Ed., is the lead faculty of Sign Language and Interpreter Training as well as Department Chair of Behavioral Sciences at Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson, Arizona. Taralynn has been teaching American Sign Language and Interpreting courses since 2002. She is currently working on her dissertation toward a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership.

Len Roberson, Ph.D., SC:L, CI, CT, has been involved in the fields of deaf education and interpreting for over 28 years. He is an active researcher, interpreter, and interpreter educator. Dr. Roberson is currently Associate Vice-President of Academic Technology and Innovation at the University of North Florida (UNF) and a tenured professor. His current research interests include the study of interpreting in legal settings, distance learning effectiveness, and service-learning in interpreter education.

References

1Fant, L. (1974) JADARA (Journal of Rehabilitation of the Deaf) Volume 7, Issue 3, 1974 (pp. 47 – 69).

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Deaf Interpreters and Repatriation

Deaf Interpreters and Repatriation

This is a cri de coeur that in our headlong rush to commoditization, we not forget our community roots.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36

Not long ago, Sign Language interpreting was snug in the hands of deaf communities. Deaf people exerted great influence over the field, as practitioners and as leaders. There was little question then of where interpreting belonged or to whom the benefits of interpreting should accrue. The events of the past 50 years have changed much of this. The re-emergence of Deaf interpreters is hailed as a lifeline to our original purpose as interpreters.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Remembering the Past

Until October 10, 1973, I lurked in the shadows of Deaf World. On that day some of us were hanging around a television. We were actors in a touring theater company, and Harry Reasoner and ABC News were telling us that Vice President Spiro Agnew Had Just Resigned! At least they were telling those who could hear. Some of us who couldn’t hear, were rather too quick, I thought, to demand that I make known physically what Harry Reasoner and ABC News were going on about.

At this point I was nine weeks into Deaf World. I soon discovered some things from my old world that were no longer available; things like literacy and sense of humor in particular. In Deaf World my main schtick of being verbal was less useful, most of the time, than the ability to be funny, smart and/or skilled in physical ways.

But I was an actor, and I had seen interpreters work. I knew I could play the role of interpreter, if not do the job of interpreting. I remember fondly the encouragement from some of my audience, who assured me that my performance was certain to improve with practice and experience.

This was the way it had ever been. Interpreters were forged in the crucible of Deaf communities. Deaf people actively participated in the selection of who would interpret for them and when, and often, how. Deaf people in positions of authority in interpreting were the norm. The adolescent RID from Maryland, USA still lived in its parents’ basement on Thayer Avenue.

But adolescents grow up and grow away. RID moved into its own place and before you know it, here it is 2015, and CDIs are a welcome and growing presence. Of course, deaf people have been involved in interpreting for deaf people ab ovo. Shared access to information is woven into the culture. The RSCs of yesteryear are today rack focused as CDIs.

From Community to Curriculum

For 40 years, interpreting education has wandered the scholastic wilderness: finding prosperity in some few hospitable locations, but barely subsisting in many others. IEPs are often ‘orphan’ programs in their institutions. Sometimes housed in Language departments, but sometimes in Communicative Disorders. Sometimes yoked to vocational programs like air conditioning repair and auto mechanics. The relatively small number of students enrolled makes it difficult for many programs to secure adequate funding from their schools.

There has long been a desire to move interpreting education back, closer to its community roots. Deaf interpreters are an assurance that deaf people will remain strongly represented in and by our field going forward. Both community and interpreting have moved significantly in the last 50 years. Here is a rare opportunity to bridge that gap. By making deaf interpreters stakeholders in our educational programs and in our practice, we are respecting the past and protecting the future.

But why is it so much easier to champion this cause than to accomplish it?

From Curriculum to Commodity

The curricular impact of including deaf students into interpreting education programs is enormous. The inclusion of deaf students into IEPs demands the re-examination and revision of the entire curriculum in terms of standards, equity, and outcomes. This inclusion can have many wonderful benefits, but benefits that might come at significant cost.  The plight of plugging deaf students into existing curricular structures designed for hearing students is considerable. The simple solution of offering instruction exclusively in ASL grossly oversimplifies the problem. Students who cannot yet express themselves adequately in their L1 are not advantaged by being forced prematurely into an L2-only mode. It also disregards the needs of those deaf students whose English fluency wants improvement. MJ Bienvenu does well in reminding us of the importance of interpreters being bilingual.

Similar challenges exist in melding deaf interpreters into existing workforces. Fundamental aspects of team interpreting with deaf interpreters are little understood, little explored. Roles, boundaries, responsibilities, and workloads vary widely, as do standards for education, training, and certification. Much work needs be done on creating norms for teams of deaf and hearing interpreters and for the inclusion of deaf interpreters into the practice of interpreting. NCIEC has done some early, brilliant work in this regard.

It is still early days in this most recent episode of the evolution of sign language interpreting and interpreting education. Those in positions of influence ought to explore deaf interpreting and to do whatever possible to support its natural growth and development. This is the best chance we’ve had in a very long time to bring our practice into balance with our original purpose.

But how do we best support this? Blanket provision of DIs in the absence of demonstrated need simply will not fly in most places. Of all the changes wrought in interpreting over the past half-century, one of the most profound is commoditization. Today Interpreters are both cross-cultural mediators and variables in profit maximization formulae. Interpreting has become a highly competitive billion-dollar industry. Interpretation is a commodity that is readily available at a wide variety of price points.  In this economic climate, it is critical to distinguish need from preference, and cost from value.  Given our recent history, it is not hard to foresee the implementation of Deaf Interpreters being underbid by providers more dedicated to profit than to best practice.

Where Does Interpreting Belong?

Who is to say where interpreting belongs today? Both the defining of interpreters and the definition of interpreting have become quite elastic, allowing for new, remarkable perspectives on the provenance of our craft. Culture and Community have always held strong sway on interpreting. Now, Business clamors about having a proprietary interest as well. Whither interpreting?

The resurgence in Deaf Interpreters could not come at a more auspicious time.

Questions to consider:

  1. Regarding interpreting, how do community standards, academic standards, and professional standards align?
  2. How best to include deaf students in our IEPs and deaf interpreters into our practice
  3. How do we reconcile the new “commodity” value of interpreting with the old “community” value of interpreting?

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Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Historical Reflections

This presentation was originally shared as part of the 2014 Interpreter Education Month celebration. Special thanks to Dennis, Anna, and Wing for their work and to the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) for their support of the session.

Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew presented, Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master as part of StreetLeverage’s Interpreter Education Month celebration. This presentation  focused on the critical lessons that the field of interpreter education continues to grapple with, the contribution of federal funding to the growth and development of interpreter education, and the lingering questions that need to be answered.

You can find the PPT deck for their presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Dennis and Anna’s presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access the presentation in ASL directly.]

[Click here to view presentation in ASL]

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Wing Butler:

Hello to all of you joining us from your computers, laptops, mobile devices, etc.  Welcome to this StreetLeverage webinar. We are thrilled that you are all able to join us! We truly have participants from around the globe today, which is amazing to see. We are delighted to have you all here.  My name is Wing Butler and I’m a part of the StreetLeverage “Street Team” providing and supporting social media, advising and a variety of other endeavors. Brandon Arthur has tasked me today to facilitate today’s webinar. I’m thrilled and grateful to Brandon for his confidence in allowing me to facilitate today’s exciting event.

I want to give special thanks to the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) for hosting today’s webinar. They are providing technical and staff support, as well as coordination for this event. We are grateful for their participation and assistance in making today’s webinar possible.

I would also like to express our gratitude to our two speakers, Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew, for joining us today. It’s an honor to have you both here. As an interpreter, I’ve had the opportunity to observe your work, read your writings, etc. Though you may not be fully aware, you have both educated me from my start as a new interpreter.  As I was up and coming in the field, reading your books and articles, as well as seeing some of your presentations on video, influenced and formed me in my interpreter life. I’ve been interpreting for about 17 years and your work has had a profound impact on my career thus far. So today, I’m especially excited to have the opportunity to be here for your presentation, “Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master.” We’ve got quite an event ahead of us. In today’s webinar, you’ll be looking back on our history and the impacts that history has had on the present, in hopes that this reflection can empower us as we consider our path into the future. Thank you both so much for being here.

Obviously, I could provide an extensive description of each of your backgrounds, but I’ll suffice to say that you are both incredibly accomplished individuals and simply pass the presentation into your capable hands. Thank you for your time for today’s presentation. I’m eagerly anticipating this webinar. Thank you! On to you.

 

Anna and Dennis:

Thank you.

 

Anna:

Thank you, Wing, for your introduction. In preparation for today, Dennis and I have met several times to talk and reflect on this topic. I think the biggest takeaway for us after all of that is realizing the number of changes which have occurred, as well as realizing how many amazing people we’ve had the opportunity to meet in the course of our careers.  Many of those wonderful individuals were Deaf people who taught us, led us, provided support and helped us to progress in our careers. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on the past, both professionally and personally – to remember parts of our own history and, at the same time, look at the broader history of interpreter education.

Both Dennis and I became involved in interpreting via invitations from the Deaf Community. Our lives have been rooted in the Deaf Community for many years. Dennis has been a teacher of Deaf children, a linguist, a sign language interpreter, a researcher, an interpreter educator, a program developer and has taken on so many other roles. As a leader, Dennis served two terms as the President of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) as well as serving on the RID board prior to his service as President. There are many other roles he has taken on in the course of his career. As for the roles I have had in my career, I’ve been daughter, sign language interpreter, interpreter educator, program developer, and a leader, as well. I’ve been involved with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) as well as serving on the RID board at various times.

We are thrilled to have this opportunity to discuss our view of interpreter education from a historical perspective. As our topic indicates, “Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master”, we’ve come to realize that history does repeat itself, relentlessly, to teach us important lessons. We both feel there are lessons we have not learned as a profession and we see the same recurring issues which means those issues require more study, consideration and analysis. We have to determine what, if we have identified these as recurring issues, we need to do to unpack the issues and give them a more thorough examination and more reflection. We also need to use the findings from these reflections to help determine our pathway into the future of interpreter education.

Next slide please.

Webinar Goal and Objectives

Anna:

I want to talk about the webinar goal and some of our objectives today.

First, when we look at interpreter education, we must look at the context in which interpreter education exists and has developed. We are going to discuss factors that impact the context of interpreter education. We will also discuss one of the biggest influences – the contribution of federal funding and how federal law has impacted the development of interpreter education.  Finally, we will be identifying reoccurring issues and lingering questions impacting interpreter education. That’s our plan for today.

Next slide.

Socio-Political Context in Which Interpreter Education Exists

Anna:

The slide depicts a series of overlapping circles. There are many factors which influence interpreter education, but for the purposes of our discussion today, we’re going to focus on three of those factors. Education is often very insular. By the same token, interpreter education tends to be very insular, as well – isolated from other disciplines and influences and those who work in this arena often stay in that realm without venturing outside it on a regular basis.

Often, overworked teachers, program administrators, etc., do not have the bandwidth to network and get involved in other aspects of their field. They are often focused on their own program needs, keeping up with their own specialty, etc., rather than taking the opportunities to observe others and reflect on their own practice or how to apply what’s happening in the classroom to the outside world.

When we compare interpreter education at its inception to the state of interpreter education currently, we see that they are vastly different. In earlier times, Deaf people were very engaged in screening for and selecting future interpreters. That happened with both Dennis and me, Deaf Community members recognized, invited and encouraged us to get involved in interpreting, even providing guidance about the kinds of interpreting work we did in the early days. I remember feeling I was ready to take on a variety of interpreting jobs, but often, Deaf Community members would steer me in another direction, letting me know which jobs I was ready to take and which jobs I was still not qualified to do. That role in the process that existed in the early days no longer exists in the current state of interpreter education.

Dennis, did you want to say something?

Dennis:

You are right. I think Deaf people often had a mental roadmap for the progression of a sign language interpreter – which jobs were appropriate and when. This didn’t apply to only specific Deaf people – it was almost like this interpreter roadmap was part of a shared consciousness among Deaf people. In that way, Deaf people still had a modicum of control and could lead interpreters slowly through the progression from beginner to experienced interpreter. You are right about that.

Anna:

Yes. At that time, the Deaf Community had more authority to select interpreters, more involvement in the screening of interpreters. More of the decision-making power regarding interpreters fell to the Deaf community in those early days. Now, the roles have shifted dramatically. Sign language interpreting is more agency-based. Many of those agencies do not involve Deaf people and most are run by hearing people, some of whom do not even have a working knowledge of ASL. Still other agencies are foreign language agencies now tasked with hiring sign language interpreters. We’ve seen a huge shift. In the past, the Deaf Community was very involved with interpreters. For interpreters, there was involvement with and from the Deaf Community. At that time, it was one community working together. Now, it doesn’t feel like one single community. It feels as if there are two separate groups – the interpreters in their own community and the Deaf Community in theirs.

As more new interpreters gain entry into the field, there are no longer those deep bonds with the Deaf Community, with Deaf people. Some of these newer interpreters don’t have those ties, and don’t even know many Deaf people. They may have seen Deaf people on video for practice, but many have never socialized in the Deaf Community or developed deep relationships with the Deaf people in their community. We are realizing that this huge shift from one cohesive community into two separate communities has had a direct impact on interpreter education. Did you want to add something, Dennis?

Dennis:

Yes, I did. In addition to what you’ve described, we’ve seen even more detrimental results of this shift. There are interpreter education programs in the U.S. today which prohibit interpreting students from socializing or interacting in the Deaf Community. They prohibit it. One program requires the students to sign a contract indicating their agreement to avoid any social contact with the Deaf Community citing the small size of the community as their rationale. They believe that socializing in the community could create a conflict of interest if the student later had to interpret for someone they had met in the community. In my mind, that type of logic makes no sense. How can you learn the language of a group of people without interacting with them? And prohibiting that kind of interaction? It defies logic.

Anna:

Right. In addition, if I don’t interact with users of the language, how will I learn to make adaptations in my own language usage or how to set boundaries? How do I learn to negotiate in that language? Yes in this circumstance we are friendly and open, but in another role, another situation is may be different – how does one learn to navigate and put on the proper persona to represent various individuals while interpreting? If we prohibit social contact, we are limiting students’ ability to learn and develop coping skills which are a critical part of the interpreting world.

Dennis:

Right. Yes.

Anna:

So, that’s one layer of influence on interpreter education. In comparing our current situation with the early days in interpreter education, that’s a big change. Another huge shift also occurred. In earlier times, student interpreters had a much easier time finding and meeting Deaf people. They could go to the Deaf Club, attend Deaf events – there were often weekly or regular events where the community came together. The interactions between Deaf people and interpreters occurred regularly and easily. Now, Deaf people come together less regularly and rather than large-group events, gatherings tend to be in smaller groups defined by shared interests like sports, like ski clubs, or poker games, golf, etc. Many Deaf Clubs have closed which is another big change. Even if there are students who are highly motivated and want to go out into the community, where are they going to go? How will they find Deaf people now? In the past, it wasn’t as difficult. That’s another influence we have to consider as interpreter educators.

Another layer of influence is the general social attitude or social trends. When interpreter education programs were first being established, we didn’t have general societal support for ASL as a language, for the users of ASL to sign openly in public spaces, etc. When I was growing up, I remember when going out to do errands and things with my parents. They usually cautioned me not to sign openly in public. They were concerned that people wouldn’t like it, or may perceive it as being rude or that they would be dismissive. We’ve seen a big change in social attitudes and ASL is much more welcome and accepted by the general public. There are even opportunities for hearing people to learn ASL, but it is still rare to see ASL taught to Deaf people in any formal way. Colleges and universities, for the most part, don’t offer Deaf adults the opportunity to learn about their own language, its grammar and structure, etc. It remains a struggle for Deaf individuals to learn ASL as they are left to learn via social avenues only, from peers, etc., rather than in a formal classroom setting supplemented by social exposure.

Dennis:

And it is ironic because more and more hearing people are learning about ASL grammar and structure while many Deaf Community members don’t have access to that information. Hearing individuals often study linguistics and take formal ASL courses while Deaf people have not been afforded those opportunities. It creates an odd situation.

Anna:

There is a dichotomy there. These issues create a unique kind of tension. I see now…well, in the past, it seemed, because interpreters came from within the community, they already knew how to or had learned how to show respect, to know that it is inappropriate and impolite to criticize a Deaf person’s signing, even if they use a sign that is not the one you would have expected. It is respectful to accept the language as it is used, incorporate it in the interaction and move on. As we see more and more people taking linguistics classes, people assume they know more and often communicate that idea to the Deaf people through criticism and correcting a Deaf person’s signs. This is a serious faux pas. Again, this creates a difficult dynamic between the interpreting community and the Deaf Community.  So, again, general society is more accustomed to seeing sign language interpreters, accustomed to encountering and interacting with them, used to seeing people use ASL in public places, even unexpected ones. In fact, sign language interpreters are becoming a more frequent topic of conversation. There was an emergency situation where a sign language interpreter was televised to provide access. Within a few days, there were a plethora of vlogs and articles from hearing people, with no knowledge about Deaf people, discussing what they saw, even to the extent that interpreters have become a part of late night comedy routines. This is a huge shift in attitude about interpreters, but at the same time, the same underlying attitudes of oppression persist. The oppression of Deaf people, their language, and their language rights continues, even in the face of these other shifts. There is still a lack of understanding of the Deaf perspective.

Another strong influence on interpreter education is legislative outcomes.  In the early years of the interpreting profession, almost no one paid for interpreting services. The larger percent of interpreting, if not 100% of all our work as interpreters, was volunteered time. Most people who worked as interpreters in those early years also worked other jobs to support ourselves, but our passion, our heart was with interpreting and in supporting the Deaf Community and their right to participate fully in society.

Another factor was that American society was more attuned to human rights issues.

In the 1970s and 80s, Deaf people and people with disabilities were heavily involved in fighting for their human rights which created more legal cases and resulted in the passage of a variety of legislation. Today, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.).  This was one way to provide amazing levels of access and, at the same time, it has introduced new challenges, creating new issues which impact our work as interpreters, as well as the work of interpreter educators.

One example of these challenges is the creation of video relay services (VRS). What are the implications of the implementation of VRS? Providing interpreters without in-person contact? Meeting and conducting interpreted interactions through technology without traditional forms of interaction. How does that impact what our work looks like? How do Deaf people feel about it? This doesn’t only apply to VRS, but also to video remote interpreting (VRI), as well. The use of VRI services in hospitals, in courtrooms, etc. We are seeing VRI used in increasing numbers of settings and yet, it is still a new avenue. The technology itself has presented new challenges for the profession to address.

So, we’ve talked about the three largest factors which influence interpreter education. Dennis, you wanted to add some comments?

Dennis:

Yes, I did.  It’s been interesting to watch the progression of VRS. Interpreters have become a part of the machine of VRS. The traditional warming up, “getting to know you” part of the interpreting interaction is gone from this form of interpreting. A call comes on screen and it’s, “Go!” That gives me pause. We spent so many years convincing people that we needed to have information about the players, the goals of the interaction, the context, in order to interpret effectively. Now, all of that is reversed in an instant. VRS interpreters take call after call without any of that information. It’s something to think about. VRS has had a major influence on both the work we do and on Deaf people’s view of interpreters as a group. Now, interpreters are seen as machines that can just roll through anything without pause. VRS has had been a major influence on the field.

Anna:

And at the same time, we haven’t seized some opportunities in this. The really experienced VRS interpreters have their own strategies for gathering and finding the pertinent information to create a fluid communication event.  They’ve developed unique ways to find the goal of an interaction and ways to connect with the Deaf person in the moment. Some of those skills and abilities require a deep connection to Deaf people, to ASL and to Deaf culture. We haven’t discovered what all of that looks like yet, but we need to take the opportunity to document those skills and abilities and incorporate them into our educational strategies for future interpreters so that they can use them as they start to participate in video interpreting environments.

When VRS began, I saw many highly skilled interpreters, people who had many certifications and years of experience, go into VRS as a way to help balance the system. As time went by, those highly skilled people were pushed out in favor of hiring newer, less qualified, less experienced interpreters because the pay for those newer interpreters was significantly cheaper, making it easier to manage the costs of processing calls. That change alone has greatly impacted the quality of the experience for Deaf people using VRS. The level of job satisfaction for VRS interpreters has also been impacted. The level of connection and the feeling of accomplishment via video interaction just isn’t the same. It is also interesting to consider how VRS interpreters have impacted the hearing users of the service, as well. On occasion, I use VRS to conduct meetings or other business. When I’m acting as a hearing consumer of VRS services, I often find myself feeling frustrated. I can’t imagine how a hearing person with no knowledge about Deaf people must feel. How do they feel about the communication? About Deaf people? What assumptions do they make about Deaf people, their language, etc., based on these interactions? It’s a profound question. This is a huge challenge.

Next slide.

Interpreter Education: Early Mindset

Anna:

Lou Fant. I hope all of you watching today know about Lou Fant. Lou was a renowned writer, actor, interpreter and well-loved leader in our field. When RID celebrated their 25th anniversary, Lou wrote a book describing the history of interpreting and a history of RID.  Lou incorporated some of his own personal experiences as one of our profession’s founding fathers and one of the founding members of RID. He had an incredible ability to reflect on the past and extract ideas that were relevant and applicable to the present day.  The quote we’ve presented on the slide gives you some idea of the thinking of the time when RID was in its infancy. At the time, no one could predict what the interpreting world would eventually look like. No one could predict the future. When we look at it now, their vision for the future was a bit narrow in scope. Still, they expected to find people who had strong ties in the Deaf community, people who already knew how to sign, who only needed formal training to learn the process of interpreting, the cognitive processing required. They expected to continue to draw from that very specific pool of people. At the time, there was no expectation that they would eventually deal with people who had no prior experience in the community or with the language. They really had little insight into how much demand there would eventually be for sign language interpreters.

It really took us three or four generations of interpreters, as described in Lou’s quote, before we had a large enough pool of interpreters to start gathering data about what our work looked like, what a career in interpreting might look like. I consider myself third generation. Lou was a first generation interpreter, there was a generation between us, and then I’m third generation. I only worked full-time as an interpreter for a short period of time before I got involved in interpreter education. Back then, the demand for interpreters was so great – they needed people who could communicate their ideas and could show people how to develop interpreting skills. Many of us were plucked from the ranks of interpreters to become educators, even though we had little or no background or training as teachers. I was called to be an interpreter educator. It was a bumpy road for us, as educators, and, I believe, for the students, as well. At the same time, those of us who were teaching had a strong internal sense of what the work should look like, a sense that it was important to maintain a connection with Deaf people, etc. That fourth generation, they finally became the full-time interpreters and the pool of career interpreters started to expand. Even still, that group continues to grow.  We need more time to really assess what this looks like in our every day lives as sign language interpreters. It’s important to continue to have theory, but it’s also important to compare the theoretical with what’s really happening in the daily lives of working interpreters who are on the job day in and day out.

Next slide.

Early Recruitment

Anna:

This slide is what I was just talking about. That’s what those who created RID expected. They recognized training was critical and envisioned drawing in people who already knew ASL. Presently, we are recruiting many individuals who know no ASL. They may have an interest in the language or want to get involved, but they basically have no prior experience, which is a big shift.

In the past, in terms of norms, interpreters usually possessed more native-like competence – either they were native and had grown up in a Deaf family or they were called…I never thought of myself as a “native” signer. I always saw myself as bilingual because I was raised with two languages simultaneously. I never used one language exclusively – both ASL and English influenced me and were a part of who I am. So, near-native competence in ASL as the norm for interpreters no longer exists.  Today, there are possibly 15-20% of us who possess near-native competence in ASL. The rest of the interpreters are second language learners, most of whom have only a few ASL classes under their belt before they start learning to interpret. Even after certification, many of these interpreters still do not possess what we would label as native-like competence in ASL.

I’ll give you an example.  I still have conversations with many interpreters regarding conferences such as the RID conference, etc. In these conversations, they object to the use of ASL because they don’t feel comfortable signing for themselves. It’s such an odd response. If I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself in ASL, how can I interpret other people’s language usage? The concept is foreign to me.

Next, we will be focusing more on legislative influences on interpreter education. I’m going to turn this portion of the presentation over to Dennis to talk about some of the critical outcomes. Dennis?

Next slide.

Program Expansion

Dennis:

As you can see on the slide, there are several boxes below which outline the rapid expansion of interpreter education programs. There was an explosion of programs, yes, but we weren’t ready for it. In the beginning, we knew very little about the cognitive processes involved in interpreting, still, programs proliferated. One of the reasons for that was legislation. Various laws mandated the provision of sign language interpreters. Another reason for this proliferation was the number of ASL students who took classes until they were maxed out and wondered what was next in the process. People in the field were equally perplexed but eventually decided that interpreting was the next logical step for those people. Thus, more and more interpreting courses were offered. Often, the provision of those courses was very spontaneous – very little planning and care was involved.

Currently, we have approximately 100 interpreter education programs which are based in community college settings. In the early days, we viewed interpreting in terms of vocational training. We hadn’t honed in on the cognitive processing involved in interpreting work at the time. It was considered an easy skill to pick up and, traditionally, vocational training is housed in our community colleges. So, program expansion was a critical issue.

It’s interesting to look at present day trends. We are seeing a decrease in community college programs – they are closing due to dwindling enrollment. The number of interpreting students is decreasing while the number of ASL classes is increasing. Enrollment numbers are critical for college and university programs. They aren’t able to afford a student teacher ratio of 5:1. We are seeing that struggle in more and more programs across the country.

Also interesting – we now have graduate programs in interpreting when, in the past, there were none. I should say that there was a graduate program at Western Maryland College – they housed two different tracks. One track was for teaching ASL and one was for teaching interpreting. That program opened around 1986 or so, but it was very short-lived and only lasted three to four years. In the present day, we see master’s and doctorate programs in interpreting. Hopefully, that trend will continue, but it remains to be seen.

Next slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education

Dennis:

It’s important to recognize that the federal government has contributed more than thirty million dollars to interpreter education over the years.

Anna:

That’s amazing.

Dennis:

This started in 1965, when the federal government provided funding to the NAD. NAD then created and supported RID in its infancy. That same year, RID hired an executive director who was Deaf. At the time, RID was housed inside of NAD. The money they received in 1965 ended and at the time, they weren’t sure how to pay the rent they were paying to NAD. They weren’t able to afford the executive director any longer and had to lay them off. It was a struggle. RID didn’t have sufficient funds and ended up moving to Gallaudet in a tiny office space. Eventually, RID moved closer to NAD again until they purchased their own building but the first federal money was really given to NAD.

As you can see, in 1978, the federal government provided the first support for interpreter training. There were 10 regional centers established. The money was provided for shorter trainings – one to two day workshops. In 1979, there was a meeting in Atlanta. Interpreters came together to discuss the state of affairs in interpreting. That meeting ultimately resulted in a publication called, “Interpreter Training: The State of the Art”. That was published through Gallaudet.

The following year, 1980, there was meeting in Tucson, AZ. This particular meeting consisted of about 50 interpreters from around the United States who came together to discuss and document 100 critical questions that required answers. Once we had answered these questions, we believed we would be ready to create interpreter education programs and evaluate interpreters. We requested funding from the federal government – the 10 RSA regional centers requested specific funding for the creation of a center solely focused on research in the field. The request was denied. Out of the 100 questions we asked all those years ago, I believe we have successfully answered two. Ninety-eight of those original questions from 1980 remain unanswered.

Next slide.

Anna:

Dennis, I’m wondering…now we’ve jumped to the year 2000, but I’d like to go back to the 1980s. You were a part of a group known as “The Magnificent Seven” – seven interpreters who collaborated to analyze the cognitive aspects of the work. “The Magnificent Seven”, as they were called, were the first group to do a task analysis of interpreting. Was that work funded by the federal government? How was the group’s work funded – with federal money or was it funded in some other way?

Dennis:

That was in 1983. I guess you could say it was federally funded, but indirectly. At the time, Ken Rust, from Madonna College, and Jan Kanda, who was from Kansas at Johnson County Community College, agreed to fly me, Ken, Jan, Betty Colonomos, Theresa Smith, Don Renzulli and Sharon Neumann Solow to meet.

Anna:

Were there seven or eight of you?

Dennis:

Seven – there were seven of us.

Anna:

Right. Seven – I remember it so clearly- the seven of you.  “The Magnificent Seven” – I remember that time.

Dennis:

Ken and Jan’s grants funded our travel to the two sessions we had. One was at Madonna – the first session. A few months later, we had the second session at the Johnson County Community College. Once those two sessions were over, we presented our findings at the 1985 CIT conference.

Anna:

Yes, I remember that. And you also published that work, as well as developing curriculum, etc.

Dennis:

Yes, right. That’s right.

So, you can see on the current slides – in 2000, there was a change.  Originally, we had 10 regional centers and one national center. In 2000, the regional centers were reduced from ten to five.  However, the five centers received an increase in funding. In essence, the funding for each of the five regions doubled. So, again, there were the five regional centers plus one national center. In 2005, the national center was tasked with the oversight of the regional centers’ grants. It had to take responsibility for coordinating and evaluating the effectiveness of each of the programs. Again, that started in 2005 and is still true today. The national center surveys of interpreters, Deaf community members, interpreter education programs, referral agencies, etc. to analyze the evolution of the field, projections for the future, to determine future needs and so on.

So, you can clearly see that federal funding has played a major role in interpreter education. There has been significant financial support for many years. This included the changes in RID certification tests – the first of which came about in 1988 or 1989…1988. The first change occurred in 1988-1989 and they did receive federal money to redesign the test at that time. Federal funds were also provided for the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) for their accreditation project. The federal government also provided money to establish master’s level programs at Western Maryland College in teaching ASL and teaching interpreting. That money was from the FIPSE program – the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. So, over the years, interpreter education has received a vast amount of money from the federal government.

Anna:

But, Dennis, the federal government still doesn’t really support the idea of establishing a center that is devoted solely to research, right?

Dennis:

No, they don’t.

Anna:

How do we change that thinking? Is there anything that we can do to encourage a change in perspective?

Dennis:

Well, all of our funding and support has come from the Department of Education. We have to start looking at other agencies and other sources for funding. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) – is more supportive of research.

Anna: 

Yes – NSF or maybe NIDRR.

Dennis:

Yes – it feels like there are some important agencies. The Department of Education just doesn’t seem to be supportive of research, so…it is what it is. And now, our current RSA five-year grant expires in September of 2015. We don’t know if the government will renew the grant, if the structure will change, etc. We just don’t have any idea. But in 2015, we hope the grant will be renewed for another 5 years, but there’s no way of knowing at this point.

New slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education Cont.

Dennis:

This slide summarizes some of the points Anna and I have just described – some of the takeaway points regarding federal funding for interpreter education.

One of the issues is that, without governmental funding for research, we have pockets of isolated research but there’s no cohesive effort. Obviously, Anna and I can collaborate on a small scale, but if we were all able to come together on a national level, we could create a national agenda, a national curriculum for educating interpreters, and develop a national plan. We haven’t been able to do that.

Anna:

What are the implications of that? You’ve already talked about that a bit, but I’m wondering if you could expand on this a little more. It seems like, with all this federal funding, we’ve been able to develop some terrific products and projects – we could mention the Multi-cultural curriculum, the DeafBlind curriculum – there are a number of products we’ve developed, but there’s no systematic approach to meeting our needs.  So, people develop products, but we don’t have information about which programs incorporate them, which don’t. We don’t have any information – it’s up to the individual program. There’s no systematic approach to creating the products and materials we need to educate interpreters.

Dennis:

That’s right. Many interpreter education programs have one full time instructor and maybe a part time person or two or adjunct faculty which means their time is at a premium. Things like curriculum development and candidate screening really take a back seat to satisfying immediate program needs.

Anna:

And a high percentage of interpreter educators are quickly approaching retirement. Many interpreter educators like me have been in education for 40 years and getting closer to our retirement. Luckily, for the next generation, we have a few graduate programs and a doctorate program for interpreter educators. I guess I’m curious to see if the next generation is really interested in pursuing interpreter education or if they are interested in other arenas. I wonder what will happen to many of the programs as this occurs.

Dennis:

Yes. That’s right. There was a recent survey that said that 26% of interpreter educators were slated to retire in the next 2-3 years.

Anna:

Wow. That’s amazing. I will be. Will you, Dennis? You’re pretty stubborn. I can see you staying for the long haul.

Dennis:

You are a third or fourth generation interpreter – I feel like I’m a sixth or seventh generation interpreter.

Next slide.

Market Disorder

Anna:

Now, Dennis was talking about some amazing things. Today we have 147 interpreter education programs. It’s pretty amazing.

We have a certification process. We have programs. We have CIT’s accreditation program, however, the larger percentage of interpreter education programs are not accredited. It’s really a small percentage even today. We have certification, but we still don’t really understand what it is supposed to look like. Most members of RID – and this is another big shift in the field – in the past, the RID membership was primarily certified interpreters. RID didn’t really start to grow the associate membership until the late 1980s, so there was a really small number of RID members who were not certified. That translated to conferences and other RID events focusing in on the needs of certified members to maintain and develop their skills. There has been a radical shift in the RID membership since that time. Currently, the largest number of RID members today are not certified. In many ways, it seems strange that the membership of our professional organization is mostly comprised of interpreters who are not certified.

So that has really had a large impact. It creates a lot of market disorder. There are very few standards. We don’t have certification standards or even agree on what a certified interpreter looks like or what it means to be certified. We see varying skill levels from certified interpreters and variation in what the work looks like. There are no standards for hiring interpreters, for interpreter wages. There is so much market disorder. We have a lot we can be proud of, but we are also impacted by many variables which impact the stability of the market.

We know how to create programs and projects and implement them. We know how to found an organization like CIT and work on projects like accreditation. That project required years of effort by numerous people – more than 20 years, in fact, to finally implement accreditation. After all the work and energy to create the accreditation program, for example, very few programs have taken advantage of it. These kinds of imbalances create a level of destabilization. We are so far behind. Our work is far from complete.

Dennis:

Still, 50 years later…RID has been around for 50 years. CIT has been around for a long time. But these two organizations are still volunteer-run organizations. Obviously, we have the national office for RID with paid staff and the executive director, but the leaders in our field, in these professional organizations, still volunteer their time. Our leaders are volunteering to serve as presidents and vice presidents of RID and CIT.  I think it is something we need to think about. Can we successfully continue with this kind of model? Can we continue to progress when we are led by volunteer organizations? It’s something to consider.

Next slide.

Behind the Eight Ball

Anna:

One thing has always struck me – we are always playing catch up. We are never in a position to be proactive, rather, we are always reacting. We always seem to be behind the eight ball instead of getting ahead. One example of this happened in the late 1970s with the passage of PL 94-142, the mainstreaming legislation at that time. Deaf children were moved from the schools for the deaf and started attending schools in their local, home district. We certainly had concerns and opinions about the implementation of the law, but we discussed these issues within our own community rather than voicing our concerns to the powers that be. We weren’t successful in creating change or coming up with an approach that was successful. We haven’t caught up with that. This is really a critical issue.  Our inability to be proactive has been detrimental. It feels like the Deaf community has suffered at our hands – that’s certainly not the only cause, but the Deaf community has been at our mercy, in large part, because we haven’t figured out how to come to the table and join the discussion outside of our own ranks. We haven’t been successful on a federal level, we haven’t been able to advocate, to participate in creating legislation. We haven’t done a great job of educating society about interpreting, what it looks like, why it is necessary. We just haven’t done a good job with that and we’re still behind the eight ball. We haven’t caught up and it feels like we sort of missed the boat in a lot of ways. There’s no way for us to really catch up. We’re certainly trying our best, but we’re sort of making progress on the fly. Ultimately, the results of this inability to be proactive are really devastating.

Dennis:

I think one of the things that has happened over the last 30 years or so is that the interpreters, as a profession, have lost control of the work. We’ve lost control of who defines our work. VRS defines our work, the FCC defines our work, hiring entities – people who hire K12 interpreters, all these external forces are controlling our work – spoken language referral agencies, etc. As sign language interpreters, we have to try to fight back to regain control of our work for ourselves and not allow external forces define the work that we do.

Anna:

Yes. That’s a really good example. We are so behind in that area. We have been so internally focused, so insulated that we haven’t really lifted our heads out of interpreter-world to use our efforts and energy in appropriate places. There are so many things we can’t agree on in our own community – we’ve been so consumed with the test, the certification test…we’ve lost sight of other critical areas that need our attention.

Next slide.

Deaf Community Involvement in Interpreter Education

Anna:

One huge impact is the decreased involvement of Deaf people’s involvement in interpreting. As Dennis mentioned earlier, in the beginning, RID and NAD worked together. NAD helped to found RID and maintained a level of involvement afterwards. Deaf people used to be involved in the screening and recruiting of interpreters, but now there is a completely different approach. It is extremely rare to have Deaf teachers involved in interpreter education. I still feel it is critical. I hope that if we grow the field of Deaf Interpreters, that’s one way to reintegrate Deaf people into the roles of gatekeeping. By having Deaf interpreters there, in the assignments, in the process, with other Deaf people, so that they can see what is required and what the process looks like, so they can feel empowered and have a better understanding of their roles. Hopefully, people can benefit from working with Deaf interpreters rather than just trying to get through an assignment.

Next slide.

Recurring Issues in Interpreter Education

Anna:

These are some of the recurring issues we see. If you read StreetLeverage posts, Cindy Volk posted an article, Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action, in October during Interpreter Education month. Her article addresses some of these recurring issues. These are issues that have not been resolved. They aren’t going away because we haven’t learned the lessons yet. We haven’t learned how to, as Dennis mentioned earlier, we haven’t learned how to be accountable and take control of what is happening within our field and in our work.

We have to be more creative and find ways to involve the Deaf community in our work and in the education of interpreters. We have to find ways to empower Deaf people to self-advocate, to fight for their language rights, to ask for qualified interpreters, to empower Deaf people so that they feel they can rejoin that gatekeeping process and join in the screening and selection of future interpreters.

We have to look at what we call “the gap”. We have to start using what we already know. We already know that graduating students isn’t enough. They don’t have sufficient skills when they graduate. The interpreter education programs say they can’t do outreach to students after they have graduated and have been in the field for three years. But the students aren’t ready. They need more time and more language exposure prior to interpreting. Perhaps that is the role of the community college, then. Perhaps they provide the language program that would feed into an interpreter education program on the college/university level. If students have two, three, perhaps even four years of completely focused language exposure – maybe you get a degree in ASL and then you do your graduate studies in interpreting. Who knows? But we have to figure out how to close that gap.

There have been a large number of lawsuits related to specific settings – courtrooms, etc., but they are really focused in the wrong direction. These places are stuck with the products we provide them. If we haven’t figured out how to consistently graduate competent interpreters, then we, and by “we” I mean the collective “we” – aren’t doing a good job. There are programs here and there which are doing a good job, but overall, there are so many graduates who enter the field who just aren’t prepared. So, they graduate, they have no supervision, no support. They are left alone to learn on the job and they aren’t prepared. They aren’t ready to work independently – they don’t have sufficient experience or knowledge. They don’t have the ability to manage what they are doing. They are still learning the language. The programs just aren’t sufficient. They don’t have the depth or breadth of skill development to prepare students for the work they are going to do on their own. I think those are some of the examples we’ve been talking about.

The next slide has a few of the many questions that need to be answered. Dennis, did you want to say something?

Dennis:

Yes. These are some of the questions related to the topic Anna was just discussing – what outcomes are necessary for graduates, etc.  So, these are some of the lingering questions we have in the field. If we don’t look at these questions and we continue to move forward without answers, nothing will change in interpreter education or interpreting, in general. We have to confront some of these very difficult questions.

Anna:

Yes, Dennis. Do you have any idea where that discussion starts? Where do we begin? At what point?

Dennis:

I think some of the conversations have already started in places like StreetLeverage, both the posts online and at the StreetLeverage Live events. The conversation has started. We have to start talking about these things at RID, at CIT. We have to make a place, we have to create a space for these discussions. When you look at the RID conference schedule, we see the list of presenters, but where are the discussions? Where are we having this conversation? Where are we making the time to debate and discuss these issues? Certainly, RID has committees and there are people having these conversations on a smaller scale, but we need more people involved in it. I still think we need to include more voices – we need more people involved in the conversation.

Anna:

Yes. I’m thinking about that. RID – we’ve been involved there. I also think community forums are a great starting place, but once that happens, how do we continue to spread the word? There are multiple levels we need to be working on – state, local and national levels.

Laughter as the slide in the presentation returns to the beginning.

Dennis:

Well, I guess that’s it.

Anna:

Our last slide got skipped. The closing point…oh. Go back. Back up. One more…oh! No? Nevermind.

That’s fine. We’re good.

I just want to leave you with one final thought. We have to remember Deaf people in all of this. Deaf people depend on the decisions we make about interpreter education and what it will look like into the future, as well as future interpreters and how we move forward. Remember why you are here and who we serve. Think of these things with deep respect, reverence and humility.

Dennis:

Yes. Respect, reverence and humility. We have to remember to be humble. The decisions we make – we don’t make them alone. We make them in our partnership with Deaf people. We are all in this together.

Anna:

Agreed.

Wing:

As we are closing this webinar today, I’d like to share a piece of my own heart. As I watched you both tonight, there was so much of yourselves in your presentation. It was really amazing. The wealth of knowledge you shared tonight was so rich, I only hope that we all can take some of that wealth of knowledge to share with others. Your years of experience and your valued perspectives are something we can gather and store and grow over time. Honestly, I feel humbled by your willingness to take time out to share your knowledge, experience and perspectives with us today. We are very fortunate – interpreting as a profession is fortunate – to have benefitted from your service all of these years. Hopefully, we can all come together to work towards a shared vision of the future. Thank you both so much.

Anna:

As we said in our opening – we both feel indebted. We are indebted to the Deaf Community. They have given so much to us in our lives. We’ll never be able to repay it. This is how we repay that debt.

Dennis:

Absolutely. We are indebted.

Wing:

In some ways, my little crayon box had a few colors, but tonight added another color. Something I can take to use and write with on my own.

Anna:

What color is it? What color did we add?

Wing:

I don’t know – something new and different. 

Anna:

Something old? The color of old?

Wing:

No, no. Just something different and inspiring.

Dennis:

No, no, no.

Anna:

I know what your are thinking – I’m the old one.

Laughter all around.

Dennis:

Old and feeling old are two different things.

Wing:

Many of the participants, as they were joining, expressed their thanks via AIM, email, etc. They are grateful for your work. They all say that this presentation is so relevant. So now, for all the participants tonight – your job is to share this information. Go to www.streetleverage.com. This presentation will be posted on the blog and you can share the link with your interpreter friends. Share it with Deaf people and the Deaf Community. Hopefully, people will be moved by this conversation and be able to contribute and help us support the Deaf Community in whatever ways that we can.

Anna:

Thank you for allowing Dennis and I to take a look back on our history. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Dennis:

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity. I agree with Anna.

Anna:

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity.

Wing:

Thanks everyone! Take care!  Bye now!

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Sign Language Interpreter Education: Returning to “Deaf Heart”

Returning to "Deaf Heart"

Working with Deaf mentors/tutors will help sign language interpreting students learn how to connect with Deaf people.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Before the 1980’s, when there were not many programs for students studying the field of interpreting, social interaction was a high priority. Potential sign language interpreters interacted with deaf people at churches, in their neighborhoods, at deaf schools and in many other environments in our deaf community where they developed their deaf heart. In our current era, most hearing people are learning ASL through classroom settings, with only a few teachers to help them understand the language better. They do not go outside of the classroom setting to interact with deaf people in our community, unless they are required to attend deaf events for observation and maybe brief interactions. If we continue to educate student interpreters in this way, they won’t learn much, if anything, about Deaf Heart.

Drawing Attention to the Issue

As a faculty member at the University of Arizona since 2010, I knew something was missing from our program. I teach both ASL and Deaf studies courses. Most of the students in my classes major in interpreting at UA but I could tell that when the students graduated from four years in the interpreting program, many of them were not ready to face the real world as certificated interpreters. I hope to draw attention to and provide some suggestions to bridge the gap.

Byron Bridges has a vlog which is made for teachers, interpreters, and ASL students. He strongly believes in sharing ideas topics for discussion relating our deaf culture, ASL, linguistic, teaching/learning, experience, etc.  In one of his vlog posts, he mentioned the concept of “Deaf Heart”. I am sure most of you already know about Deaf Heart, but his discussion drew my attention. In the vlog, he provided what he feels is the conceptually accurate sign for “Deaf Heart”, signed HEART-UNDERSTAND instead of DEAF HEART.

Infuse the Curriculum

From our modern interpreter programs, many students need to acquire Deaf Heart/DEAF-UNDERSTAND. Based on that idea, I started thinking about our program and the gaps I had identified. I believe all sign language interpreter programs should require “Deaf Heart” courses as a requirement for graduation instead of only requiring language classes for four years.

Structuring “Deaf Heart” Courses

Students would be a required to take a “Deaf heart” course with two units per semester with a minimum of three semesters. Students would be required to take six total units in order to graduate. Two units would be specifically for students to do 6o hours of learning outside of the classroom with deaf adults or mentors. While I know it is not easy to find deaf tutors, this type of program could help develop those types of opportunities. Once deaf tutors are hired, they should participate in mandatory training sessions to provide a clear set of rules and expectations for their roles as deaf tutors.

Inevitably, the issue of money comes up when discussing additions to sign language interpreter curriculum. Funding this type of program could be easily addressed. Many students have to pay about $200 -300 for lab fee per course. In this instance, the deaf tutors would be funded through students’ lab fees. Students normally pay for textbooks for each of their classes and one textbook tends cost between $100-300. This would make the cost of a Deaf tutor equivalent to purchasing one textbook.

The professor(s) who leads the Deaf Heart course would coordinate the interactions of 3-4 deaf people (two big D and two small d) with each student for 60 hours for the semester. Every week, students would have a list of questions to answer. The deaf tutors would support the instructor in tracking visits and evaluating students as needed. If the deaf tutor would prefer not to use written formats, students can create vlogs up to 1 to 2 minutes discussing what they talked about with their deaf tutors.

When the students finish 60 hours within the semester, the teacher will evaluate and meet with the students individually to give them a pass or fail. Once the student passes the course, they will move up to second level of “Deaf Heart” coursework.

The Value of Deaf Mentors/Tutors

Working with Deaf mentors/tutors will help sign language interpreting students learn how to connect with deaf people in a variety of ways, not simply as a professional interpreter who is only interpreting. These Deaf mentors/tutors could help to refine students’ sign language skills, teach them how to deliver an accurate message in ASL versus transliteration, and help them understand how a CDI works. They would do this by bringing students to deaf clubs, deaf schools, and deaf events, etc. It is important that all faculty, ASL teachers, and deaf people who are well educated need to get together to monitor and hire deaf tutors and pay them every semester.

It is equally important that sign language interpreting students are exposed to Deaf mentors/tutors from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Interpreter Educators should be selecting deaf tutors from big “D” to small “d”, (“D” meaning more culturally Deaf than simply deaf “d” with hearing loss). Many deaf people come from many different families, some raised in deaf schools, some attended mainstreamed schools, some have a strong cultural background, some use voice, some are grassroots, some are from Gallaudet or NTID and many more. While deaf people have many different backgrounds, we all have similar experiences being oppressed, discriminated against, frustrated with the communicate barriers and struggling to get services, such as the provision of sign language interpreters. I think it would be good for students to interact with range of people from big D Deaf to small D deaf and to help develop and connect with deaf people by understanding our tendencies, customs and values. It is important for Deaf tutors to make sure that students learn they are not here to help the “poor deaf people”. Becoming a sign language interpreter should not be paternalistic, nor should people choose this profession simply for money.

Successful Interpreters Should Have Deaf Heart 

Sign language interpreters should take full advantage of the privilege to work with deaf people through training, and through gaining access to knowledge about what deaf heart really is and how it shows itself. They must fully comprehend deaf heart to be a successful interpreter.

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What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

Birds raised in captivity often struggle to acquire natural communication and instincts. So too do sign language interpreters brought up in ITPs, with limited Deaf community connections and interaction. Kimberly Hale considers how interpreter education can borrow strategies from nature in raising the next generation of sign language interpreters.

The current state of interpreter education reminds me of an attempt to return rehabilitated, injured or orphaned birds to the wild, rather than allowing the natural developmental process of wild birds to occur.

[View post in ASL]

Natural Versus Artificial Development            

In the wild, chicks are nurtured and learn the way of the bird through instincts, observation, and imitation of older birds. Mature birds protect chicks and model bird behavior. Astute mother birds perceiving just the right time to send the chick off into the world, push the fledglings from the nest. Wild birds effectively raise their young who behave as birds and function effectively in their natural habitats.

In contrast to the natural development process is the artificial process employed when injured, orphaned, or captivity-bred birds are rehabilitated and released into the wild. These birds, much like student interpreters, learn the way of the bird in an artificial environment removed from natural developmental stimuli.

Gatekeepers – The Natural Approach

Historically, trusted individuals were sought out and encouraged by members of the Deaf community to act as sign language interpreters. Just as chicks are pushed from the nest by astute mother birds, these chosen fledgling interpreters were pushed into a wider variety of settings as their performance and success warranted.  As members of the “wild bird” community, they naturally gained values, skills, and knowledge needed to function as birds, albeit with unique responsibilities.

The System – Bred and Raised in Captivity

In contrast, the current model of interpreter education creates sign language interpreters bred and raised in captivity and then released into the wild. Many interpreters-in-training have never encountered the Deaf Community in its natural state and have a limited understanding of Deaf Community interactions, yet they want to join the “flock”. Initial interactions are often mediated, controlled, and contrived by the Interpreter Trainer(s), similar to the artificial environments created by bird rehabilitation specialists.  A large portion of training time is spent with other interpreters-in-training or with videos of ASL users and interpreter samples, rather than spending time with the “flock”.

Limited Exposure Limits Competence

Often rehabilitated birds are released to the wild as adults or older juveniles. They spend their formative years learning to act like birds based solely on instincts and the bird trainer’s teaching. They miss the benefit of natural imitation opportunities, protection from older birds, and the natural pecking order process. Prior to release they frequently have limited contact with wild birds. This may lead to difficulty upon release into nature.

Interpreters “raised” in interpreter education programs, just as birds raised in captivity, may lack skills in negotiating the flock.  They do not communicate and behave as naturally as those who are raised and groomed naturally within the flock. Specifically, they are more hesitant and awkward in seeking clarification. By not learning language primarily via natural interactions, they miss the opportunity to naturally learn appropriate birdcalls and signals for clarification and correcting misunderstandings, which is a critical skill for sign language interpreters.

Early Exposure Unintentionally Disrupts the Flock

Quality Interpreting Education Programs attempt to assist interpreters-in-training form connections and appropriate behaviors within the community by requiring community interactions and event attendance before release. This does not mirror the natural process either. Interpreters-in-training, without connections or formal welcome (because they are unknown to the flock), insert themselves into the wild flock. Unfortunately, this “forced” introduction and acceptance model disturbs the natural order of the flock. New awkward birds invade the wild bird territory, and the wild birds are expected to embrace, accept, and nurture the interpreters-in-training.

Early Release

Given the growing interest in the wild flock, the limited numbers of rehabilitation facilities, and the structure of those facilities (i.e., colleges and universities), bird rehabilitation programs are specified lengths. More often than not, there are not specific competency based exams to ensure that birds-in-training are ready to be pushed from the nest and fend for themselves.

Because they are pushed from the nest before they are ready to function independently and are left to fend for themselves they end up under the tree instead of in the branches among the flock.  These released birds often become the unintended recipients of wild bird droppings. Stronger birds will strive and will, eventually, learn to fly thereby officially joining the flock.  Others, especially those without appropriate support, never get off the ground.

We Need to Invest

Investment in wild bird habitat and creative habilitation solutions for birds-in-training is essential to facilitate natural wild bird interactions and nurturing throughout the development process. We – wild birds, successful captive-release birds, and bird trainers – must facilitate the renewal of natural wild-bird model of sign language interpreter education. A more effective habilitation and release program must be created. Creative thinking from all segments is required. Leaders have begun to address the concern.  It is time for those who are not yet leaders, but who are in their prime and ready to nurture the next generation of interpreters into existence to join the conversation. The nesting grounds and habilitation programs are ready for the next generation of brooders, hatchers, pushers, and trainers to join the discussion. 

Conclusion

I am hopeful that CIT’s partnership with Street Leverage to host this year’s conference will engender dialog that should continue long after the conference ends. Join the discussion of how best to habilitate new wild bird interpreters by sharing your chirps, caws, coos, or tweets.

References

The captivity-raised concept presented here is similar to Molly Wilson’s conceptualization that she eloquently describes in By-passing Deaf World in Terp Training. Interpreter education generally bypasses the Deaf community – opting instead for an artificial captivity-based training model.

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Expanding the Definition of “Sign Language Interpreter Educator”

Expand the Definition of Sign Language Interpreter Educator

What makes a Sign Language Interpreter Educator? Jessica Bentley-Sassaman shares why this title belongs not only to instructors at the front of the classroom, but to those who guide and mentor interpreters throughout their education and career.

Traditionally, when people think of a sign language interpreter educator, they think of a person who formally teaches in an Interpreting Program at a college or university. It is true that instructors and professors who work at colleges and universities are interpreter educators, however there are so many more who guide new interpreters and interpreting students on their way to becoming a proficient interpreter. The definition of a sign language interpreter educator encompasses so many more people than only those who formally teach.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Sign language interpreters do not learn how to interpret by only attending classes at their local Interpreting Program. They also need to participate in a variety of activities that will engage them and provide opportunities for growth as a language user and as a sign language interpreter. These activities also prepare them for their careers.

These activities include but are not limited to:

  • interactions with the Deaf community outside of classes to become proficient in ASL
  • observations of working interpreters
  • mentoring with interpreter mentors
  • working as teams/colleagues with mentors after graduation

Brian 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 teach everything we would like students to know before they enter the field” (Street Leverage, 2013). Interpreter educators are not the only people who are doing the educating of new interpreters.

Expanding the Definition

Mentors

Perhaps you have thought, ‘I just mentor students, I am not an educator.’ Being “just” a mentor is educating interpreters. Mentors, whether Deaf or hearing, teach new sign language interpreters about language use, application of ethical decision making in the moment, on-site logistics, debriefing after an interpretation, providing immediate feedback, engaging in reflection, and assisting in application of new skills. Some mentors team up with working interpreters who are working towards certification, state licensure, or the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment. Even though that interpreter is not a student, he or she is still learning about a new skill and learning how to apply that new skill. I have worked with mentors several times in my career as an interpreter – as an intern on my practicum, when working towards earning my RID certification, years later as a certified interpreter when I was working on taking the Specialty Certificate: Legal. Even now, if a situation comes up and I need to bounce ideas off another, I call a more seasoned interpreter and pose my questions.  Mentors play a crucial role in the skill development of interpreters, no matter if the interpreter is novice or seasoned. Mentors are interpreter educators.

Some interpreting agencies have mentorship programs, whether formal or informal. These programs assist during the transitional period from graduation to certification or to working interpreter. By setting up these types of mentorships, these agencies provide opportunities for new sign language interpreters to work with seasoned interpreters. They have a vested interest in seeing the Deaf community receiving the quality services that they deserve. These agencies are interpreter educators.

Presenters

Workshop presenters are educators. The knowledge that presenters impart to interpreters helps mold them, sharpening their skill sets, teaching new information, new insights, and new ways of thinking. Sign language interpreters in all walks of life grow from the content taught during workshop trainings. Whether it is ground breaking information, or a new spin on an old theory, if you are a workshop presenter, you are an educator.

Deaf Community

Deaf community members who take new interpreters under their wing and help get them established in the Deaf community are interpreter educators. The amount of information/experience the Deaf community graciously gives to sign language interpreters is invaluable. Stacey Webb noted the importance the Deaf community has on the interpreting community in her article, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter. There is no way to fully express the debt and gratitude owed to the Deaf community for the valuable instruction. You are an educator.

Researchers

Researchers provide the theory, the reasons behind why we do what we do as professionals. Their contributions to the field of interpreting have expanded our horizons, have put a term to what it is we do, have validated that ASL is a language, helped interpreters understand the process of interpretation. Through articles, books, workshops, and courses taught, the cutting edge research expands sign language interpreters’ horizons. Researchers are educators.

It Takes More Than One

It takes more than just one teacher to produce a qualified sign language interpreter. For all those who are involved in teaching, guiding, mentoring, encouraging, and embracing interpreters; you are educators.

Improving the quality of interpreters is the core of who we are as a profession. Our united goal is to provide the Deaf community with the qualified, effective interpreting services, embracing the concept of a Deaf-heart (see Betty Colonomos’ article Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart) and giving back to the Deaf and interpreting communities for future generations. For everything you have done to assist a new interpreter, you are an interpreter educator and CIT is an organization for you.

Where Do Educators Find Support?

There has been a misconception that CIT is only for interpreter educators. This is not the case. The Conference of Interpreter Trainers was established in 1979. CIT’s mission statement starts out with our purpose, to “encourage the preparation of interpreters who can effectively negotiate interpreted interactions within the wider society in which Deaf people live” (CIT).

The CIT conference is a gathering of people like you, interpreter educators. The conference is a great time to network with other professionals. Learn about new teaching approaches, mentoring practices, standards in interpreter education, technology, and application of studies. This conference is a great place to learn more about being an interpreter educator and to get involved. CIT is for you!

My Personal Journey to CIT

I began teaching at an ITP in 2006. At that time I was unaware CIT existed. A fellow educator at another institution had talked to me about and encouraged me to join. He also encouraged me to get involved in a CIT committee. That advice lead me to joining and becoming involved in CIT. I attended my first CIT conference in 2010 and I enjoyed the intimacy of the conference. I was able to network with and get to know many other CIT members who were educators, presenters, and mentors. That networking has made me a better educator. Attending CIT conferences is like coming home to a community who has a vested interest in providing high quality interpreting services for the Deaf community.

In Conclusion

Everyone who has a hand in assisting interpreting students, new and working interpreters is an interpreter educator. Your role in that interpreter’s career is important.  By being involved with an interpreter student, new and working interpreters, and providing feedback, you are sustaining the field of interpreters, you are ensuring that the interpreters gain and have the necessary interpreting skills and understanding of what the Deaf community looks for in interpreters. As time goes on, those interpreters will look back and remember that someone else took an interest in assisting them. Those interpreters are the future and they will learn by example how to give back to the interpreting and Deaf community based on how you educate them. You are an interpreter educator.

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Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action

Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action

Could upgrading standards and curricula help Interpreter Education Programs produce graduates with higher levels of competence? Reflecting on the current state of interpreter education, Cindy Volk sounds a national call to action to reconsider how we educate and prepare sign language interpreters.

I’m worried. I’m worried that my mom will not have a qualified sign language interpreter when she sees the doctor for her serious medical problems. I’m worried that my mom will be misunderstood when she makes a VRS call to contact doctors and other medical personnel regarding these medical problems. I’m worried that when my mom is in the hospital, the interpreter is either not qualified or one is not provided. I’m worried.

[Click to view post in ASL]

As the director of a bachelor’s degree interpreter education program, I realize that no matter how hard I and the other faculty work to make this an excellent program, there are still some students graduating that I would not want as an interpreter for my mother. I worry about their ASL to English skills, and in particular whether or not they can read fingerspelling and numbers. When I receive a VRS call from my mom and the interpreter says “Hi, is Cathy there?”.  I worry.  Certainly these areas of concern are prioritized in our program. We are continually updating the program, attending conferences, conducting and reading research, and consulting with Deaf faculty and the Deaf community. However, even a four year program is sometimes not enough to produce a qualified interpreter.

A National Call to Action

I believe that we need a national call to action to address how we are educating sign language interpreters in the United States.

There is too much inconsistency across interpreter education programs. Those of us in the business of educating sign language interpreters need to address these inconsistencies:

  1. Most of our interpreting programs are at the two year level. This simply isn’t enough time to prepare a qualified sign language interpreter. There are many excellent two-year programs.  However, two years just simply isn’t enough time. Some two year programs are encouraging their students to complete some type of bachelor’s completion degree in order to be able to sit for the national examination. This perpetuates the idea that less education in the area of interpreting is acceptable. It isn’t. Our profession has moved beyond the two year training level.  It’s time to face that reality.
  2. Students are not always fluent in ASL and English before they enter an interpreting program. We need to demand this level of skill and screen for fluency in ASL.  We need to agree upon what level of fluency is required. For a two year sign language interpreting program, this means the student has at least two years of coursework prior to entering the program, but then after four years, does not achieve the bachelor degree required for the national examination. This isn’t fair to students.
  3. We need more Deaf individuals involved in interpreter training as faculty and mentors.
  4. We need to figure out a way of screening a student’s aptitude for becoming an interpreter.
  5. CCIE (Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education) needs to consider distinguishing between AA, BA, MA, and PhD programs in their accreditation process. Currently there is no distinction.
  6. We need to figure out a way to model and teach deaf-heart.  It is lacking from many of our students today.  We also need to dialogue about how to educate students regarding the level of professional behavior that is expected of interpreters once they are working.
  7. The “school-to-work gap” is wide and difficult for students to navigate in our current system. Many students graduate from programs but are not yet ready for certification or for employment.  We often bemoan this gap, but as educators we need to seriously consider what can be done in our programs to shorten or eliminate it.

Who’s Guarding the Gate?

In the infancy of the interpreting profession, the Deaf community played an important role in “gatekeeping” – selecting candidates for the interpreting profession for various reasons and turning others away based on community standards and values.  Over time, much of that responsibility has been turned over to interpreter education programs.  As Damita Boyd states in her February 2014 StreetLeverage article, Cooperation Strengthens Sign Language Interpreter Education Programs, interpreter education programs are currently seen as the gatekeepers to the interpreting profession. If this is true, we need to do a better job of guarding who is coming in and out of the gate.

Here are some ideas about how we can better guard that gate.

  1.  Develop a national curriculum for educating interpreters. We need to come to consensus regarding the length of interpreter education programs, entry requirements, outcomes and the curriculum in these programs.  In Chapter 7 of Legacies and Legends: History of Interpreter Education from 1800 to the 21st Century (Ball, 2013), Dr. Ball describes what is needed for the future of interpreter education. CIT (Conferenceof Interpreter Trainers) should assume a leading role in shaping this future.
  2. Establish groups of educators, practitioners and stakeholders who are interested in raising the bar in sign language interpreter education. Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2004) recommended that we establish Communities of Inquiry who will work together to advance the professionalization of the field of interpreting which would lead to a national plan of action. It’s been ten years since their recommendation. It’s time to act on it.
  3. Consider the idea of particular programs specializing in certain areas, i.e. educational interpreting, VRS (Video Relay Service) interpreting, medical interpreting. Students who want to work in those areas would have to attend that program. This could be at either the undergraduate or graduate level.
  4. Determine ways for interpreting students to be involved in the Deaf community in meaningful ways. Our program at the University of Arizona requires all interpreting students to have a deaf mentor. Students must develop a reciprocal arrangement with the mentor and “pay back” in some way, i.e. money, babysitting, cooking, errands. They meet with their mentor weekly and reciprocate weekly. This is a good start, but we still need to do more.
  5. Develop outcomes that are necessary for any sign language interpreter graduate (Ball, 2013). Patrie and Taylor (2008) developed outcomes for graduates of bachelor level programs in the area of educational interpreting.  Similar outcomes need to be developed for other areas in interpreting.

In the End

As many interpreter educators near retirement, I hope we can pursue meaningful improvements in how we educate sign language interpreters. This could be our gift to the next generation of interpreter educators, students, and especially to the Deaf community.  A small group of us will be meeting in the next few months to further develop some of these ideas. Will you consider establishing similar groups in your own communities?  Will you consider being a guardian of the gate?  If so, maybe I’ll be a little less worried.

Interpreter Education Month

References:

Ball, C. (2013). Legacies and legends: History of Interpreter Education from 1800 to the 21st Century. Interpreting Consolidated. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Boyd, D. (2014).   Cooperation Strengthens Sign Language Interpreter Education Programs. See more at: http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/02/cooperation-strengthens-sign-language-interpreter-education-programs/#sthash.RGfV9qKM.dpuf

Patrie, C.J. and Taylor, M.M. (2008). Outcomes for graduates of baccalaureate interpreter preparation programs specializing in interpreting in K – 12th grade settings.  AlbanyNY: The State of New   York, State Education Department. Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID).

Witter, Merithew, A., and Johnson, L. (2004). Market disorder within the field of sign language interpreting: Professionalization implications.  Journal of Interpretation, 19-55.


 

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Cooperation Strengthens Sign Language Interpreter Education Programs

Cooperation in Sign Language Interpreting Education

Damita Boyd explores the value of learning from other disciplines, developing national standards and shared bodies of exemplar work, and acting on what we already know to improve interpreter education programs.

From time to time I have heard it said that Interpreter Education Programs are the new functional “gatekeepers” of the sign language interpreting profession. That is, with more interpreters learning ASL and interpreting in academic settings, rather than based on their proximity to the Deaf community, it is navigating successfully through the classroom experience that first determines who will have the opportunity to become a sign language interpreter.

In several StreetLeverage articles, authors give an account of, or allude to, the shift from community-centered and community-made interpreters to interpreters trained in schools. Rico Peterson, in New Lamps for Old: Apprenticeship in Sign Language Interpreting, gives an account of life before this shift; he describes gated (invitation-only) opportunities for real-world learning allowed only by one’s relationship-in-good-standing with the Deaf community. In Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?,” Dennis Cokely gives an especially pointed account of the negative side-effects of communication access legislation, including the Deaf community’s loss of the locus of control for sign language instruction and the provision of interpreting services. The power shift from the heart of the Deaf community to community colleges, colleges, and universities has been a reality of sign language interpreter education for about forty years. We can’t go back, but perhaps we can find a new way forward. I’d like to briefly consider how the “gatekeeper” role might act as a nudge for greater cooperation, greater sharing, and standardization of curriculum, assessments, and outcomes.

The Measurement of an Interpreter

If interpreter education programs truly function as gatekeepers, whether by design or by default, shouldn’t we know what the gates (skills and competencies) are? What are the true skills and measures that decide whether students will end up on this side of the gate or that? Who decides what skills and competencies should be prioritized; and are we effectively designing our programs, our courses, and our teaching and learning from one moment to the next to prepare students for the world that awaits them?

What I am saying here is not particularly new. Several months ago I was preparing to attend a symposium for sign language interpreter educators. Homework for the symposium included reading Toward Competent Practice: Conversations with Stakeholders (Witter-Merithew & Johnson). The stakeholder conversations highlighted in this 2005 publication resulted in recommendations for the design of an “ideal” interpreter education program, and a comprehensive list of entry-to-practice competencies. Ever heard the adage that starts, “If I lived half as well as now I know how already…?” If we lived half as well as we know how already, there would be at least as many Deaf faculty in interpreter education as there are non-deaf, and we would be nearer to the implementation of standardized competency requirements that assess critical thinking, human relations competencies, and professionalism, in addition to interpreting.

I do know that sign language interpreter education programs are filled with dedicated faculty and staff who are genuinely committed to making interpreting program graduates as competent as possible, given limited time, limited resources, and often limited exposure to Deaf culture and language. I have no doubt that individually there are educators and programs working in compelling and creative ways (or maybe even just good old-fashioned effective ways) in order to meet the needs of the community where they live. If we were to find an effective way to knit our efforts together, I believe that each of our programs would be enriched and a small step toward a national understanding of entry-to-practice competency might be taken.

I am less interested in classroom practice and methodology at this point—important though they are—than I am in understanding the priorities programs seek to fulfill. Most are working on language. Advanced ASL fluency prior to admittance to an interpreter education program is rare, and depending on college entrance requirements, knowledge of the English language may need to be bolstered. What other skills are addressed by subsuming their instruction within the language/interpreting lesson? Which skills are reinforced by the practices of the program? What skills are considered rudimentary? How do programs build on and strengthen those skills?

The Value of Cross-Pollination

I have been working with faculty members from two disciplines outside of my own and in each case I have learned that there are approaches that I had not considered that if tried, might fit in interpreter education. The nursing program has extensive experience in designing, observing, and evaluating clinical practice. The concept that they hold for a successful interaction is specific. Working with the nursing department has helped me understand more clearly how I might be equally specific in structuring performance expectations for interpreting students during interactive interpreting. The Education program has mastered their process for field placement. Viewing their process and reusing some of the resources that they have in place not only saves valuable time and energy, it reminds me that longer-standing fields have had time to try, fail, build, and re-build, while the formal training of sign language interpreters is still relatively young.

I do not doubt that the roadmap provided by Witter-Merithew & Johnson and the 400 participants in their Conversations with Stakeholders project holds true. Because the conversation is centered around an ideal education program, some of the recommendations—given where we are now—read like the stuff of science fiction (separate exit expectations for two-year and four-year programs each followed by a formal induction system, apprenticeship, p. 120). Of course, we did put a man on the moon….

Would it be possible to poll interpreter education programs to determine which “ideal” recommendations are already in place? Do we all have similar measures to determine if our curriculum and teaching strategies are working? Because the list of recognized competencies is extensive, how can we prioritize those competencies and sequence instruction? Can we clearly identify priority objectives, explicit and implicit, and talk about their achievement? Perhaps our national agenda needs to start in regional work-groups in order to be more manageable?

Where Do We Go From Here?

Certainly, there are initiatives that are pulling sign language interpreter educators together. The National Interpreter Education Center and six Regional Interpreter Education Centers are working to provide support and outreach to sign language interpreter education programs throughout the country. Each of the regional centers hosts activities designed to further the profession of sign language interpreting and interpreter education. One initiative, the Outcomes Circle, established by the National Interpreter Education Center based at Northeastern University, will share the results of the collaborative work of 15 interpreter education programs in a study of effective practices. The TIEM Center exists as a research, resource, and networking hub that has served as the launching point for significant collaboration and research in the field of sign language interpreter education. Professional organizations, conferences, symposia—all are geared toward networking and contributing to the field of sign language interpreting through education.

As a consumer of these entities, someone who measures the success of my efforts in student “aha” moments and news of EIPA scores and NIC results; in my ability to translate theory and shareshop ideas into a cohesive program of instruction; and in the vivaciousness or deadpan silence in my last class—I have one or two thoughts about where I might start, were I to have my own sign language interpreter educator collective.

Outcomes Tied To Standards

First, I need an anchor. As we design interpreter education programs to lead students to specific competencies and outcomes, I would like to see those outcomes overtly tied to a single, clear standard of performance. The most accessible, identifiable, common professional standard that we share is the RID/NAD Code of Professional Conduct. Each tenet represents a guiding principle fundamental to the role of sign language interpreter. Each tenet is also a broad heading under which specific knowledge, skills, and behaviors might be placed. Our challenge as educators and researchers would be to define how each of these standards might be addressed, and to align our teaching to ensure that students have the opportunity to become competent and knowledgeable in each area. Perhaps there are sign language interpreting programs that do this already. For me, this is a new idea. I recognize that this means that when the CPC changes, educational programs will be affected. However, if we as a profession share values, expectations, and standards, I think that sharing in the evolution of those values, expectations, and standards is a powerful activity.

A Corpus Of Exemplar Work

Second, I need a model of expectation for the different phases of learning. I continually find that evaluating student work is a challenge. After several years of teaching, I have become comfortable with my ability to put a grade on an assigned interpretation. I can talk about it. I can justify it. I can get agreement from the student and from a colleague down the hall. What I lack is the ability to measure my students’ work against a body of work generated by students (interpreters) of similar competency. I also struggle to mentor new interpreter educators as they are faced with assigning grades for student work, particularly when their paradigm is largely framed by the work of professional sign language interpreting peers with whom they have become familiar. To be sure, there is a learning curve in any new endeavor. Still—a model, a level of expectation for what students in each phase of the education process should be able to accomplish would be very helpful.

In order to develop a corpus of exemplar work at all levels of student development, we would need broad stakeholder involvement. Teachers would need to seek permission from students and institutions and be willing to engage in active research. Students, for the sake of education, would need to be willing to allow us to share and compare their work. Or perhaps, in the service of shaping the professionals who will work beside them, professional interpreters would be willing to share the work of their past. We would need consumers involved to tell us what really works and what doesn’t in message transfer and, where warranted, in professional interaction.

Act on What We Know

I’ll stop there, and point back to the adage, “If I lived half as well as now I know how already…?”. There is so much good work that has been done in the last forty years in American Sign Language and sign language interpreting research, in bringing evidence-based practices and pedagogical awareness to sign interpreter education; it is to our advantage to actively participate in it.

How can we take what we know and take the next necessary steps toward collaboration, implementation, and standardization?

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K-12: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

A K-12 Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

How can ITPs better prepare sign language interpreters to work in mainstreamed K-12 settings? Specific steps are proposed to help educational interpreters become advocates for their students – and for change.

K-12 interpreting* has been around for quite some time, at least since the precursor of today’s IDEA was passed in 1975.  In the early years after this law was passed, we saw the development of what were called “self-contained classrooms,” where Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students attended a mainstream school, but congregated in special classes with a teacher of the deaf (TOD).  As years and decades passed, the percentage of DHH students in self-contained classrooms slowly decreased and the percentage placed in regular classrooms for at least part of the school day increased.

It is no secret that professionals schooled in the overall needs of DHH children, including numerous sign language interpreting professionals, have felt that this trend has not been in the best interests of DHH children.  Many such individuals learned about those overall needs in teacher training programs, from Deaf individuals themselves, and from CODAs.  Much effort has been expended over the years to stem this tide, unsuccessfully.

Yes, concerned individuals, groups, and organizations have been working against the wholesale mainstreaming of DHH children for the last 4 decades.  Yes, they have been researching, writing, publishing, presenting — attempting to educate the powers that be of the pitfalls in general education settings for DHH children.  Gina Oliva and Linda Lytle’s book, Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing School Children (published by Gallaudet University Press in February 2014), includes two chapters uniquely highlighting the efforts of these scholar-advocates. Sadly, despite the clamoring of knowledgeable and passionate individuals and groups, the push towards “full inclusion” of DHH children has continued. With each passing year we find more and more of these children in their neighborhood schools, separated from each other.  And that is why this phenomenon has become an issue for the sign language interpreting community.

The Impact is Important

The increasing numbers of DHH children in general education settings has coincided with a related trend in how much experience educational interpreters have.  Many, if not most, interpreters fresh out of their training find initial work in K-12 settings.  Interpreters with limited training find work in these settings, also, though this fact may be slowly changing as a result of the development of the EIPA and its subsequent adoption in numerous states.  The EIPA and the people behind it, both as an instrument and as a requirement, is but one example of the work of advocates for DHH children.  At the same time, however, the fact that so many new interpreters work in K-12 settings is all the more reason for Interpreter Preparation Programs (IPPs) to develop more focus on preparing students for this kind of work.

Dr. Oliva’s February 2012 article, “Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged,” spoke to the issue of K-12 interpreters being actual eyewitnesses of the exclusion that results from “full inclusion.”  Ironic, yes.  Doug Bowen-Bailey, in “Ethical Choices: Educational Sign Language Interpreters as Change Agents,” says that “for interpreters working in schools, we clearly need to find new role space to lead to more success.”  He offers several suggestions for how K-12 interpreters can find this new role space in their K-12 workplaces.

One way to address issues raised by Oliva, Bowen-Bailey, and others is for IPPs to solicit input from working K-12 interpreters and from DHH adults who have used interpreters in K-12 settings in recent years.  Since things are changing so rapidly (economics, cochlear implants, to name a few influences), we suggest that this be done at least every 3-5 years.  Oliva and Lytle’s book also reports what their research participants (in focus groups and an online survey) conveyed about their K-12 years.  Not surprisingly, even without direct prompting, they had a lot to say about their interpreter(s).

Did these focus groups and survey participants, all between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2012, talk about their sign language interpreter’s interpreting skills?  To a point, yes.  In one glaring example, a then 9 year old’s interpreter was using the sign for a coin, a 25-cent piece, in conveying to the young deaf child that she could work on her assignment until “quarter to 12” (as in the time on a clock).  Chaos ensued, admittedly.  But significantly more frequent were remarks about the behavior, misbehavior, and overall cultural knowledge of the interpreters.  As such, in the remainder of this article we describe four learning targets and associated projects that we suggest for IPPs.  The topics are based on both the experience of Petri and her fellow working K-12 interpreters and on the reports from Oliva and Lytle’s research participants.  These suggested projects should result in providing interpreting students with knowledge, options, and confidence to explore the “new role space,” as Bowen-Bailey suggests.

Where to Start

We recognize that IPPs may already be assigning projects similar to these.   We also recognize that IPP coursework, particularly for K-12 interpreter specialization, necessarily follows any and all policy guidelines provided by the respective states to which they are responsible.  We wish to set forth an opinion that, where such policy dictates for coursework do not reflect the real life experiences of working K-12 sign language interpreters and their now-grown consumers, IPPs have a responsibility to do whatever is needed to educate state-level personnel about this conundrum.  Interpreters and interpreter trainers are uniquely positioned to educate everyone one concerned about the unique needs of DHH children.  Dave Coyne’s recent Street Leverage article, “Social Justice: A New Model of Practice for Sign Language Interpreters,” certainly is aligned with the need for sign language interpreters to employ leadership tactics in partnership with DHH adults/professionals.

Everyone knows that something needs to change vis a vis the experience of DHH students in general K-12 educational settings.  Maybe more than something: much needs to change.   Let’s all take part and be the change – let’s share, collaborate, and grow a new role, turning the tide together.

Recommendations

Here are some specific recommendations for Interpreter Training Programs to consider adopting:

Learning Target 1

Understand Incidental Learning – how it informs and empowers all humans, how Deaf students in a hearing school are at risk for limited access to incidental learning, and a variety of ways interpreters can respond to this risk.

Instructor to lecture on the dissertation “Positioned as Bystanders: Deaf Students’ Experiences and Perceptions of Informal Learning Phenomena” (Hopper, M. 2012) – her methods, findings, and recommendations.

1. Students to consider where and how incidental learning has occurred in their own lives – through reflection and discussion on how they acquired language, knowledge, and insight by overhearing peers – slang, obscenities, vicarious learning.

2. Students to spend time in public spaces (coffee shops, bars, gyms, etc.) listening and (unobtrusively) taking notes on what is learned incidentally (e.g. overheard).  Students to report on how what was overheard did or could inform their decisions or other elements of life, and on the potential impact of not overhearing particular bits of information.

3. Students to observe at the local school for the Deaf and report on how incidental learning naturally occurs in this environment.

4. Students to observe in a regular education setting with DHH student(s), list the incidental learning opportunities they witness (before class, in the hall, in the cafeteria), and make estimations about whether or not the information was accessible to and/or absorbed by the DHH student(s).

5. Students discuss the above observations and reports with classmates and develop ideas for strategies that sign language interpreters can employ to reduce the lack of access to incidental learning.  Students should consider strategies aimed at all levels – hearing peers, the DHH student(s), teachers, administrators.

Learning Target 2

Have a solid understanding of the nebulous issues regarding the role of a sign language interpreter in general education settings.

1. Students to investigate and report on various sources for information on interpreting ethics in general education settings.

2. Students to interview working K-12 interpreters to learn about various situations that have challenged thinking about ethical behavior for interpreters in K-12 settings.

3. Students to prepare a report on situations where the interpreter’s role may be blurry and debatable.  For each of these, students should report varying responses and the repercussions of each.  Some examples might be:

a. Interpreters monitoring behavior or performing disciplinary actions:  Give examples of why this is an issue, give numerous examples of situations where other adults might expect an interpreter to take some kind of action, and identify the options open to interpreters in each example.

b. Interpreters are bound by safety policies (“life, limb, or liability”) that apply to all adults in the school settings.  Give examples of student actions that would clearly require interpreter intervention, student actions that would clearly not be bound by safety policies, and student actions that would fall into a gray area.  Discuss various options for responding to the latter.

c. In matters of instruction, sign language interpreters have some flexibility.  Students should come up with numerous situations that typically need to be decided case by case.  Students should include extreme situations to illustrate flexibility within certain boundaries.

4. Teachers and other school personnel often expect and/or request an interpreter to assist with instruction.  Students should give examples of requests for assistance from teachers/staff that they deem reasonable, unreasonable, and ambiguous.

Learning Target 3

Understand how DHH youth and adults feel about their experiences in general education classrooms.

1. Develop questions and interview DHH adults about sign language interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. Which of their interpreters’ practices were/weren’t empowering?

b. What recommendations do they have for K-12 interpreters?

2. Develop questions and interview currently working K-12 interpreters and/or former working K-12 interpreters about interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. In what ways did they empower and advocate for their students?

b. What insights do they have for you?

3. Discuss findings with classmates.

a. What were common problems/issues cited by the Deaf adults/Interpreters?

b. What solutions were commonly deemed effective?

c. What recommendations do they have for currently working K-12 interpreters and for IPPs?

4. Use this information to develop fact sheets for general education settings – develop one fact sheet for adult staff, and one for hearing classmates.

Learning Target 4

Be able to function as an effective advocate for DHH students in general education settings – learn how to establish oneself as an approachable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable ‘local expert’ on issues related to DHH students.

1. Students to compose a one-page letter introducing him/herself and explaining the sign language interpreter’s role.  Include a brief description of the interpreting process, your training and experience, and what services you provide.

2. Students to prepare an in-depth inservice presentation for general education staff members.

3. Provide a practice inservice session by doing one of the following:

a. Do a ‘mock inservice’ with current educators in local school.

b. Present to a college class of future K-12 educators.

In the end

We have offered some specific student learning objectives and associated assignments or projects that will provide interpreters-in-training an opportunity to learn about and discuss issues regarding interpreting in K-12 settings.  This is particularly important because so many newly-trained interpreters find themselves working in such settings for at least a few years.  We further emphasize the responsibility that IPPs have for considering the impact of the “end product” of their programs, which is the education of deaf and hard of hearing children, for better or for worse.  In particular, they must be involved in educating state-level officials about the kind of training these children deserve their interpreters to have.

Do you have Learning Target that you might suggest?

 

Co-Author – Jenee Petri

Jenee worked as a K-12 Interpreter for 10 years.  She is currently a staff interpreter at the University of Minnesota. In addition to freelance work, she has been a Video Interpreter at Sorenson Communications for 5 years.  Jenee has been nationally certified since 2003.  She is also a national certified Cued Language Transliterator.  Growing up in Faribault, Minn., Jenee studied ASL in high school, which lead her to pursue a degree from Saint Paul College’s Interpreter Training Program in 2001.  She currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend, Steve, and their dog, a 9 y/o English Springer Spaniel, Henry.

 

*We use the term “K-12 interpreting” for the sake of precision.  Issues involved with interpreting for K-12 students differ from those involving college students and adults.  We think that the term K-12 interpreting allows us (and other writers) to be more precise.

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New Lamps for Old: Apprenticeship in Sign Language Interpreting

Sign Language Interpreting Professor

The field of interpreting evolves rapidly; bridging the gap from educational programs to real-world interpreting is critical. Rico Peterson shares critical components from RIT/NTID’s DAS Apprenticeship program.

A while ago I taught a workshop in Thailand. My driver, Tuy, took pains during our commute to describe points of interest and cultural nuance. At stoplights, vendors would rush into the queue of cars. One day, Tuy bought a small garland. As he fixed the flowers to his rearview mirror, he explained, “Respect for the car and for the road. It’s important to respect where we’re going and how we’re getting there.”

On the cusp of this new academic year, those words ring truer than ever.

Recalibrating Pedagogy

Those who taught sign language and interpreting in the days before technology remember a very different pedagogy than that which has developed since, a pedagogy borne largely by technology.  You might say that we have seen interpreting education grow from pre-video to meta-video.

Perhaps the biggest constant in this time of change has been video technology and how it continues to impact our field. Technology and the ready availability of cassette recording revolutionized interpreter education in the 1980s. We discovered quickly what a handy tool video could be in teaching and learning interpreting.

Technology in the 21st century has turned the tables. Since 2002, video has learned what a handy tool interpreters can be.  As the revolution rolls on, pedagogy recalibrates to consider a new model of sign language interpreting, one where some of the most fundamental precepts of our work are radically different from those we espoused as recently as 2005; where values like professional authority, publicly known standards, and adherence to a code of ethics are superseded by company policy, private, proprietary standards, and selective application of a code of ethics.

Real-World Approximation

In the days before widespread, curricularized interpreter education, people came into our field armed with resources. Language competency, at least as reckoned in ASL, was determined before one was “invited” to interpret. (Granted, this “invitation” betimes felt more compulsory than invitations often do.) Interaction in the source and target languages was available in abundance. Opportunities to work in real-world settings were offered in bite-size chunks. A simple phone message here or appointment made there, done successfully, was fundamental to expanding one’s repertoire into more complex discourse settings. The study of moral conduct was fairly transparent. One needed to behave appropriately to be accepted into the larger deaf/interpreting community. Local communities were adept at policing themselves, endorsing only those with proven fluency and values as “approved” interpreters.

What can apprenticeships today glean from this aboriginal learning environment?

The Challenge

Today students in our sign language interpreting programs are often novice signers, and rarely do they have anything approaching ready contact with both source and target languages. This is a circumstance peculiar to sign language interpreting education. A good deal of what we call Interpreting Education might also be described as “Advanced ASL” or “Advanced English”.  In doing some research several years ago, I identified a university that offered programs in both spoken and signed interpretation. Regarding language competence, the exit requirements for the sign language interpreting program were lower than the entrance requirements for the spoken language programs! It is commonly accepted that “Advanced ASL” is a major component of many sign language interpreting programs.

To be sure, the study of “Advanced ASL” contains as many questions and perplexities as the study of “for-profit interpreting”.  Again the issue arises — How best to equip novices with experience that will prepare them to enter our rapidly evolving field?

Practice Profession

Interpreting is frequently referred to as a “practice profession”. Definitions for “practice profession” are sprinkled liberally with concepts long known to adherents of “Situated Cognition” and “Experiential Learning”; including things like cognition in context, that knowing and doing are interwoven, and interaction with communities of practice. In both domains it is stipulated that exposure to real work in real settings is fundamental to mixing and refining the palette of skills interpreting requires.

The value of experiential learning or, as we call it, “apprenticeship” in interpreting is as well understood as it is little available.  Each year, the 130 IEPs in this country graduate roughly 1000 students. The lack of opportunities for graduates of interpreting programs to be supported as they take their critical early steps down the path toward becoming interpreters has been heard time out of mind in interpreting education.

A number of entities have recognized and rushed to remedy this lacuna, this crucial gap in interpreter education. Indeed, opportunities today are more available than ever for this sort of transitive assistance. Entire communities and regions have come together to offer mentorship programs. One video relay vendor in particular is commendable for its attention to interpreter education.

Critical Program Components

At the Department of Access Services (DAS) at RIT/NTID, we define apprenticeship as a guided entry into the craft and trade of sign language interpreting. The question of what an apprenticeship in interpreting ought include  is a central consideration of any program. As apprenticeships take place in real-world settings, who we are and what we do is fundamental.

Here, then, are some of the core components of the DAS program that I think can be valuable to  apprentices and programs supporting interpreters:

  • Varied venue:

It is critical that programs offer a diversity of settings for their apprentices to work.  At DAS we have found that while we are steeped in postsecondary education, academic interpreting, we can expose apprentices to everything from medical to legal (student disciplinary) to student government and life and professional development for the 100+ deaf faculty and staff.  The greater the exposure, the more rich the apprentice experience. The more rich the experience, the better the outcomes in the real world.

  • Quality working conditions:

The ratio of interpreting time to preparation time is an essential factor in postsecondary interpreting.  Again, using DAS as a backdrop, we build interpreting schedules on a ratio of approximately 2:1 in terms of “interpreting” time and rest, recovery, preparation, professional development time. While this may be a high bar in the field of sign language interpreting, we are committed to affording our staff interpreters the time and resources necessary to produce work of the highest quality.

  • Professional development activities:

Regular access to in-service trainings, workshops, and learning experiences offers an opportunity to reinforce aspects of our practice.  While the amount of professional development can certainly vary, at DAS we have offered over 60 professional development opportunities for our staff of 125 interpreters in the last two years alone.  Increased opportunities for reinforcement supports a more confident interpreter in practice.

  • Peer to peer mentoring:

Innovation is key to a program’s success.  As an example of program innovation, beginning in the spring of 2012, DAS staff interpreters have been offered state-of-the-art mentorship training that allows us to explore new and exciting aspects of mentorship, including assessment and self-assessment.

  • Veteran Staff:

The level of experience of a program’s staff may be the most valuable part of apprenticeship. The practical experience offered to support the navigation of ethical and practicing situations is highly valuable to those graduates transitioning into practice. An example of the value a program can bring, DAS employs over 120 full time interpreters who have an average tenure of 13.5 years.

 Apprenticeship is Not For Everyone

To be sure, not every student graduating from an IEP wants or needs an apprenticeship. Many students graduate and go directly to work. However, it has been my experience that just as many can benefit from a structured, supported transition from being a student to being an interpreter, one that takes familiar elements of interpreter education like rubrics and self-assessment and blends them into a vibrant experiential learning environment.

Conclusion

The pedagogy of interpreting education must keep pace with the evolution of interpreting practice. DAS’s new apprenticeship program represents an honest offer to improve the way we bring new people into the work we love. And as Tuy once said, it’s important to respect where we’re going and how we’re getting there.