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RIDEr from the West

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As Professional Interpreters

Greetings, from across the pacific, to my fellow Interpreters (and aspiring Interpreters)!

In this issue, I will address the importance of honing one's craft, that is, your skills in sign language interpreting. This can be divided into three parts; Continued Education, attending seminars/workshops and immersion within the Deaf community.

As we all progress within our profession it is always important to keep learning and growing. Sign Language Interpreters are among the smartest and well-rounded folks out there.

What other profession can a person be in a TV station in the morning, a staff meeting in an electronics manufacturing plant at midday, field training for a new product by afternoon and in a surgery center by late afternoon? Interpreting offers us the door and insight to many locations and professions that are unseen by the general public. It is an honor and privilege to be given the access and the trust to behind the scenes of so many venues.

It is precisely because of these varied venues that we, as Professional Interpreters, must continue to educate ourselves, whether in a formal or casual setting.

Ongoing education makes us better Interpreters.

  1. Continued Education: Perhaps you're wondering why the importance of further education, surely if you can sign, and make it on time to your appointment, and the client understands you…what's the point? There are few professions in this world where some form of further education isn't needed. Would you like to see a Doctor who graduated from medical school 50 yrs. ago, and hasn't updated his knowledge on new techniques? How about bringing your high performance car to a mechanic who learned to work on Jeeps in the 1970's? Could you get a good fix on your new laptop with windows 7 from a computer shop called "We love DOS forever?"

    The point is, the more we learn, the more we know. The more we know, the less confusion there may be and you will better be able to convey an accurate message to your Deaf consumer.

    For example, I just completed my Biology and Chemistry requirements to enter the nursing program at a local college. I don't really intend to work as a full time nurse someday, but I will have a nursing degree by the time I am done. How will this help me? About 75 percent of my jobs lately have been medical jobs. In my city, there are hundreds of Deaf senior citizens, and they‘re always in need of some sort of medical procedure. The other day, for example, I interpreted for a client (let's call him John) and his Doctor. As the doctor was asking about John's history I pulled upon my medical knowledge as I voiced for him. The Doctor asked John what procedures had been done recently, John answered (he finger-spelled N-E-E-D-L-E, pointing to his inner thigh and traced a line following up to his heart, then signed "open"). Instead of voicing something like "they put a needle in my thigh and pushed it up to my heart and opened something." I was able to voice, "I had an angioplasty procedure done".

    Later the doctor asked John about other issues, he replied (signed; still pain *pointed to his left and right jaw-joints*) I voiced, "I'm still have temporomandibular joint pain." or I could have voiced "I'm still having TMJ pain."

    It's important to be certain of what you're going to voice, if there is any doubt, check with the deaf person to be certain. If I wasn't 100 percent sure about the angioplasty phrase, I would have asked the doctor for a moment to clarify, checked with the patient, if still not sure, I would then describe what the patient DID sign and defer to the doctor to determine what was being described.

  2. Attending seminars and workshops: I've been signing for 30 yrs., a professional Interpreter for nearly 20 yrs., write articles and give workshops, I have dozens of friends, a former wife and a son who is all Deaf, most would venture to say that I probably know Sign Language and Deaf culture. But even though I have all this experience and expertise, you can still find me attending workshops and seminars that are offered and you'll always find me in the front row! I enjoy attending these mini education opportunities, you never know what tid-bit or golden nugget may be found at these classes. Costs are often nominal, and if you're lucky enough to work for a company that will pay for your attendance, all the better!
  3. Immersion within the Deaf Community: I can't stress this one enough; you need to make friends with those in the Deaf community. While it's important to make friends, try not too hard to make a friend with someone just because they're Deaf, most Deaf will see through the “I need to make a Deaf friend” routine! Instead, start associating with Deaf groups at functions, clubs or wherever they meet and try to find someone with a similar interests or hobby, or perhaps someone who has the same sense of humor or enjoys the same political views…a friendship will develop from genuine mutual bonding and interests. The importance of having personal connections in the Deaf community will enhance your sign skills, and your reputation among the Deaf.