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Professionalism and Interpreting

Let us examine the meaning of professionalism as it relates to the interpreter. Just as there are workers who use a hammer and nail bits of wood into something useful and are not professional carpenters, there are workers who provide sign language interpreting services who are not professionals in the sense we mean here. So, how does a professional Sign Language Interpreter differ from a non-professional service provider?

I cannot stress enough about the essentiality of ethical behavior to professionalism. Ethics are the very foundation upon which a professional career is built and maintained. Professional interpreters must uphold and follow a professional Code of Ethics (COE), in the case of Sign Interpreters in Manila, your PAIDE code of Ethics should be your guide (PAIDECARESMUCH). It has been my experience that many working interpreting service providers do not adhere to the COE. Interpreters who have not taken the time to learn and internalize the COE, or do not conduct themselves according to its tenets, are not professionals.

Some Interpreters believe professional conduct to be merely a matter of using common sense and doing “the right thing“. They are mistaken. What seems common sense to one Interpreter may not be common sense to another. To one person doing the right thing may not mean the same as it does to another. Such guides as this are very personal and subjective in nature, not professional. Make no mistake, personal guides are important of course, and may be used along with professional guidelines. However, personal ethics and decision making alone cannot satisfy consumer rights and expectations.

If you believe that professional ethical conflicts are rare occurrences or that an interpreter probably doesn't encounter that many sticky or uncomfortable situations in the course of his/her work, this is simply because you have not yet walked in the shoes of an interpreter for any length of time. For me, a full-time Professional Interpreter, ethical conflicts can arise daily, sometimes coming all at once! Being an interpreter can feel like being inside an ethics popcorn machine…and some days it feels more like an ethics volcano!

With no professional guidelines such as the PAIDE Code of Ethics at the ready, interpreters can become confused and make choices they and their consumers may later regret.

The COE unites interpreters under a set of uniform tenets, and its driving force: “DO NO HARM" Consumers of interpreting services have rights related to the service quality and interpreter behavior - moral rights and legal rights.

Study your COE, Memorize your COE, Reflect the COE guidelines in your work. Adherence to its tenets is the professional interpreter's duty and responsibility - to him/herself, to our consumers, and to the profession of interpreting.

Interpreters who do not uphold the PAIDE COE are working unethically. Unethical interpreters run the risk of losing their credentials, and certainly lose the respect of colleagues, consumers, and the signing community. These unprofessional interpreters may in turn act in such a way or do something that places the professional interpreter in a quandary. How do we address the student who says that their last interpreter always helped with their homework, or the patient who states that the last interpreter gave them a ride home.

Can we all agree that the application and adherence to the COE would have alleviated these issues before they became one?

I would like to address appearance and how it relates to professionalism. Dress should be Inconspicuous, inconspicuous, inconspicuous. And, did I mention inconspicuous? The interpreter's appearance should be appropriate to the setting and situation. If you will interpret for a deaf player and team during a middle school soccer game, a Barong Formal would be a bad choice, as would be beach attire. If you cannot resist wearing fire engine red, neon blue, or black fingernail polish, maybe interpreting is not for you.

So you think you're the next hunky Chippendale model or Sex-bomb girl and that you have the right to show it off? Oh, sure, you have the right; but, not while providing sign language interpreting services.

To make your signed interpretation as clear and easy as possible to watch, wear a plain shirt. The color should contrast with your skin tone. No stripes, vivid eye-piercing colors, or words, messages or logos.

Before closing, just a quick note about preparedness and interpreting professionalism. Working conditions can vary widely, depending on where and when the interpreting takes place, and on the scope of the interpreter's role. However, for an interpreter, the job begins well before workplace arrival.

Interpreters are expected to be as prepared as possible. Before interpreting can begin, the interpreter must have a good understanding of the subject, and know how to discuss it both languages. The time and effort required to prepare to interpret at a professional conference of biomedical physicists is obviously more demanding than to interpret during a meeting of the neighborhood homeowners association, yet it is no less essential to the job to be prepared.

Being professional is not just glittery words, we as Interpreters MUST portray ourselves professionally, dress the part and act the part (be prepared) and KNOW those COE and work and live by them.

Till next time…