Can I do This?

  • February 3, 2017

8528880_b55817c34c_qNew to the field of interpreting, it’s hard to get a straight answer. Those who you ask for advice are aware that you’ve probably just finished an IPP or ITP, and that means your confidence is fragile at best. They’re also aware of the reputation that interpreters have for “eating our young”, and they’re probably busy, successful interpreters who don’t have a lot of time to explain hard truths. I had a job cancel today, so I have a little time to share with you.

Deep down, the question you’re really asking is, “Am I good enough?” The quick answer is no. If you have just graduated from a 2 year IPP or ITP or a 4 year program with 2 years of general ed requirements, you’re now ready to team with established interpreters. You’re not ready to do that job on your own. Keep your day job and hound the schedulers at your chosen agency for teaming opportunities.

Before you get hurt feelings, think about what you’re asking. “Do you think I have the ASL, English and interpreting skills that the Deaf Community deserves and requires to keep them safe in high stakes situations and successful in life?” That’s what you’re asking. Instead, ask yourself:

  • Am I actually fluent in ASL? Fluency is not understanding your ASL teacher and the people you encountered in your internship/practicum. Fluency is being able to thrive in ASL, not just get by.
  • Am I actually fluent in English? Can you understand register differences and the associated vocabulary, syntax, spelling, jargon, etc? Judging by many of your resumes and emails when you contact me about joining our roster, you’re not. I wouldn’t trust many of you to interpret an English class based on the English I see and hear from new graduates.
  • Can I interpret at an A+ level for an hour without a break? No, I’m not expecting too much with an A+. You have to put all of the pieces together all of the time. It’s no longer OK or endearing to see you get tired or confused while interpreting.
  • Have I been assessed and credentialed by an organization that evaluates sign language interpreters (not my IPP/ITP)? The standards for graduation and the standards to actually start work at the entry level are very different. With RID’s test still pending, do look at regional or state level interpreting credentials (even in other states) to get an idea of where your skills are. In this process, don’t try to use your written test score as proof of ability.

I do realize that I’m telling you that your degree is currently worthless. The years you’ve already invested in this career aren’t enough. Don’t get stuck on it. This is the beginning of your second internship. You are now your own IPP Director, in charge of protecting the Deaf Community from poor interpreting and protecting your future career and reputation. You now have the responsibility of securing safe working situations where you can learn without harming consumers. For the next few years, your chosen agency should know you as someone who is selective, careful, and conscientious in the jobs you accept. There are definitely jobs that you need to call for a sub because you’re in over your head. Please do call for that sub!

While it’s hard to get a straight answer from experienced interpreters, it’s easy to get job offers. Here are some that are not appropriate for new interpreters (and where new interpreters are often hired):

  • K-12
  • K-12 + Special Ed
  • Foreign Language Agencies

Take it slowly and seriously, and keep your day job for now. If you don’t, you will hurt people.

Image by: Leon Brocard

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