Many people might consider the job of an American Sign Language Interpreter and think “Oh, I could do that!” However, have you considered all that goes into this career path? ASL – English Interpretation is definitely not a textbook profession. What is it that makes a successful and mindful Interpreter? What makes a stellar interpreter?
Of course the first thing and most obvious thing to do is become fluent in both English and American Sign Language (ASL). If you are unfamiliar with ASL, it is imperative that you receive adequate education and training if you wish to pursue Interpretation as a professional field. Most schools in San Diego and across the country offer American Sign Language classes as well as appropriate degree options. Examples of degrees include American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. The requirements for these degrees offer a variety of classes that will teach you not only the language, but the culture and ethics involved. Many of these classes also require outside assignments, including hours in the community. The most beneficial thing you can do as a student is spend time in the community. This is really where you will learn the most. Interacting with Deaf individuals and applying your skills is crucial to your language development. After going through ASL Levels 1-4, your next step is to go through the Interpreter Training Program (ITP). We have two options here in San Diego, Palomar College and San Diego Mesa College. Both colleges offer great training including hands up and voicing experience. Your last semester as an ITP student will be in field work, where you are able to shadow a certified interpreter and observe jobs in different situations, such as education, medical, business, religious, etc. After you graduate from the 2 year program, it is important that you stay connected in the community. Part of being a successful interpreter is building a positive reputation, getting to know members of the community and being committed to the community. As you spend time volunteering and going to community events, you will gain experience that will help you prepare for the National Certification test. Due to recent changes, it is also required that you have a Bachelor’s Degree to gain your certification. We recommend pursuing a Deaf Studies degree so you can simultaneously get your degree and stay connected in the community. This can be done before or after the ITP. As you work toward the ITP, certification, or perhaps you are a working interpreter already, what characteristics should you strive for? What does the Deaf community want?
Humility – One thing Deaf individuals complain about the most is an interpreter with a bad attitude. Remember you are doing a service. Have a good attitude, be respectful, and be humble in everything you do.
Patience – Be patient when things don’t go as planned. We guarantee it hardly will, but isn’t that most of life?
Flexibility – The job of an interpreter is never the same. Things change last minute, people don’t show up, roads are blocked, etc. Be ready for change and go with the flow. Think on your feet as things are thrown at you. If you need consistency in a career, maybe consider another career path.
Mindfulness – Remember you are working with people every day. Be mindful of who is involved. Get to know your client, be friendly and kind.
Bi-Cultural/ Bi-Lingual – You are the communication facilitator. It is crucial that you understand deaf culture as well as hearing culture. You are not only interpreting between languages, but cultures as well.
Team Mentality – There’s a reason your parents forced you to join that softball team as a kid. No matter what you work towards in your lifetime, you will need to work in groups and to get along with others. Being a team member is important as a human and interpreter because any job over 50 minutes long, you will be teamed with another interpreter. Chances are that you will work with that interpreter in the future, too. In the CPC (Code of Professional Conduct), Tenet 5.0 says Interpreters must exhibit Respect for Colleagues. Colleagues include students of the profession, classmates, volunteer interpreters, certified interpreters, veteran interpreters, teachers, and really anyone besides the client.
Advocacy – Speak up with the Deaf community! You may sometimes be the first impression for the community and educating the hearing world about what is appropriate and what isn’t, is part of your job! Advocate for the community and make sure your client is not being taken advantage of.
If this sounds like you and you have a passion for the Deaf community, we welcome you to the world of Interpreting. We have yet to meet an Interpreter who doesn’t love their job. We do too 😉