What I Hate About “Interpreting”

I put interpreting into quotes because I am using that term very loosely in this story. Put yourself in my shoes.

A service man comes to the house two hours earlier than scheduled to fix the water softener. You are trying to prepare lunch. You feel confident that your husband is capable of learning what is wrong with it, so you continue about your business in the kitchen. You can hear the two men as they mull over the softener. Your husband informs the man that he is deaf. The man starts explaining things to your husband as if he can hear. Since you have nine years experience, you know the man is not talking so that your husband is able to read his lips. Again you think, “Another hearing idiot.”

Your husband is intelligent enough about water softeners and plumbing to guess at most of what the man is saying, but he is talking too fast and probably has his head turned so your husband cannot see his face. You hear your husband say, “Let’s go talk to my wife.” Ugh! Now you think, “I should have left the house when I had a chance.”

They come into the kitchen, and your husband sits on the stool, staring at you while he waits for your interpretations. The service man says he needs your water so he can test it. (You are still trying to make a meal.) As he is digging out his testing supplies, he rattles on (to you, not to your husband) about what he is doing and explains it in detail. You think, “I don’t understand what you are talking about and I couldn’t care less.”

Your husband wants to know what the man is saying, so you try to sign it. Most of the words are technical so you have to fingerspell nearly everything. You tell the man, “It is very hard for me to interpret what you are saying.” So he kindly slows down …. a little bit. As he talks you say the words as you fingerspell them so he can know how slow you are at fingerspelling and interpreting. Does this get him to slow down? Of course not.


In the meantime, your meal is still cooking. The service man backs into the stove, turning the burner dial on full blast. Your meal is boiling over. He is so engrossed in letting you know how intelligent he is that he doesn’t notice until you push him away from the stove. He says, “Oh! I was wondering why my butt was getting hot.”

He continues rattling on about the hardness of your water and you continue to interpret to your husband to the best of your “ability” (again using that word very loosely). You feel your insides churning with frustration. You again tell the service man and your husband that you are not able to interpret what this man is saying. Does anyone care? Maybe you are not firm enough. Maybe you have to leave the room and have people think you are being rude. You choose to stay and allow them to feel comfortable while you are ready to push both of them out the door.

You are so frustrated by this time, you cannot think at all. You are now a robot or a transmission line, listening to the service man and signing the words to your husband. The salesman gives you final instructions on how to regenerate the softener. These instructions are to be transmitted to your husband. He is ready to leave, but your husband asks the man to show him how to regenerate the softener. The salesman says, “He wants me to show him how to regen the softener, so I will do that before I leave.” as if he is doing some charitable deed.

After he leaves, you sign to your husband, “I hate interpreting.”

In the end you feel you have to write a blog post about your experience so you don’t explode, and to make people aware (anyone interested enough to read your post that is) that knowing a few signs does NOT make a person an interpreter. That’s why we have laws. Certainly a qualified interpreter cannot be around 24/7, but it is especially important to not push a deaf/hearing marriage (or any family member) relationship into a interpreter/client relationship.


Being His Ears

I talked to a lady at Deaf Interpreter Services to find out what the Utah laws are concerning this service. She said she understands how difficult it is for Steve to receive interpreter service in Utah. Utah has a critical shortage of qualified sign language interpreters.

There are three different levels of certification depending on the situation, whether it’s a job interview, a doctor visit, etc. If the interpreter volunteers and is not a paid employee, such as a family member, she can interpret even if she is lousy at it, if it is ok with the deaf person. Steve told me I was just as good (bad?) as a couple of paid interpreters he’s had.

This means I can interpret for Steve whenever he wants for free as long as I don’t work at the same place he’s working at. I think employers, or whoever is suppose to pay for it, do not want to pay the extra money required for an interpreter. Steve said he’s known that for years.

One of us has to get a job and soon. My online business seems to be going down the tubes. If I can be his ears on a job, I would rather do that and let him be the bread winner in this family. I thought Steve would have an opportunity to help make signs for Larry H. Miller, but I get a different story from the man who makes the signs. It is not definite.

Getting a different story from what Steve tells me is common. People talk to him like he can hear, thinking he is good at reading lips. Sometimes he can, most of the time he cannot. He deduces what they are saying by visual cues and often he does not get it exactly right. As anyone who speaks English knows, it only takes one misunderstood word in a sentence to change the entire thought. If people do not know any sign language, it is best to write a note. Steve use to carry a pen and pad with him but for some reason he no longer does that. We need some kind of hand held text communicator that recognizes speech (sounds like something from Star Trek).

Depending on the type of job he gets, he probably would not need my services much. He is very good at receiving instruction and then doing his job well without additional instructions. If he can convince an employer of this and let the employer know he has a wife who will interpret for free whenever it is needed, he might have a better chance of getting a job.

Pray for us.

Interpreting in Church

I found this web page about ASL – English Interpretation. It’s worth a read for anyone who wants to understand the process. My favorite paragraph is the following:

unlike translations, interpretations occur while the interaction is taking place. This means that the interpreter is involved in a rather complicated process. An overly simplified explanation of this process might be that the interpreter is producing message A, while analyzing message B, while receiving message C. The point is that an interpreter is engaged in several cognitive tasks simultaneously. This means that the task is an extremely demanding one.

ok, now add to this overly simplified explanation:
– The interpreter is not an interpreter and not even a mediocre signer.
– The interpreter does not know ASL and the receiver uses Signed English.
– The interpreter is getting a physical workout by using Sign Language.
– The interpreter is not able to sign fast because of stiffness in her hands.
– The interpreter has difficulty remembering signs.
– The interpreter doesn’t even know all of the signs that are necessary to know because the Church throws in a huge list of signs that are unique to the Church.
– People talk too fast and their thoughts go in all directions.
– The interpreter is biased and will only interpret what she feels the receiver needs to know.
– The intepreter gets a big headache after Sunday School, but there is still Sacrament Meeting.

The people at church do not see any of this. They only see me making some gestures and Steve looking at me.

I came across an internet forum where people were discussing “interpreter burnout”. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling lately and I don’t even want to go to church. I discussed this with Steve, and now that he feels a little better about the deaf ward, he agreed to go there once a month. We’re making progress.

I also had a nice long talk with my visiting teacher and we might be able to start a beginning Sign Language class if anyone in the hearing ward is interested. Steve does not expect anyone to learn how to sign just for him. But I think it would be helpful for both of us, and it wouldn’t hurt anyone who hears to learn how to fingerspell and a few basic phrases.

Utah Interpreters

Steve has been offered a part time job at our local Deseret Industries, which he accepted. Today is his first day.

Don’t show up, late, incompetent, too distracted, bring their (friends, lovers, relatives)….these are all descriptions of Steve’s experiences with interpreters in Utah. Right now he is in a meeting with a couple of other employees and the interpreter did not show up. He is lost and doesn’t know what the employer is saying. He said, “In New Jersey, the only excuse for an interpreter not showing up is DEATH.”

He tells me (through his Sidekick) “It’s not a big deal.” But I know it is a big deal. I just don’t know what to do about it.

Update: There is a lady who works at the D.I. who knows how to sign. I do not know how much Sign Language she knows, but apparently it is enough so Steve does not feel lost. Why they did not use her in the first place, I do not know. It’s nice that he has at least one person he can communicate with. You see, God watches out for us even after we complain.

As a side note, Deseret Industries sounds like an interesting place to work. He said that four people were fired for stealing. People have to be in desperate to steal from a thrift store, I think.

They have him sorting clothes that people drop off. He’s found everything from bags of dirty underwear (it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it) to brand new clothes. He even found a tooth with a silver filling. Who knows what else he will find. I think he’s feeling a little humiliated at doing this work and said that anyone who laughs at him will get shot. I am reminded of my sweet brother who worked as a computer programmer for 40 years, and then after losing his last job was unable to find another computer job. He now works in a warehouse. He and my husband are doing work that is honorable and I admire them both for being humble (not humiliated).

Fast and Testimony Meeting

Today was a good day. This morning I started an entry after my husband told me his experience at a Deseret Industries employment workshop. He was quite frustrated. I’m happy I saved the entry as a draft because after Church was over, my outlook and my entry changed. The lesson for our Gospel Principles class was on Charity. After that lesson I thought, what purpose would it serve to complain about someone I’ve never met, do not know, and an experience I never had. The interpreter at the workshop may be as unfamiliar with the role of a professional interpreter as I am. My husband is fully capable of doing his own complaining if he should desire. After Church we had an appointment with our bishop (more on this later) and he did express his frustration at the right time to an appropriate person.

I’ve always enjoyed Fast and Testimony Meeting. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, the LDS Church sets aside one Sunday a month where members fast for two meals. The speaker portion of Sacrament Meeting consists of members of the ward who feel a desire to share their testimonies. I especially enjoy the testimonies of children as they are easy to sign. Most of them start with basically the same thing, “I’d like to bear my testimony. I know the Church is true.” Then they bear pure and simple testimonies of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Lord’s prophet, and love for their family. You know it comes from their hearts.

Members of the Church are counseled to keep their testimonies pure and simple. I for one appreciate it when people do that. It’s kind of a shame really that testimonies, and the thoughts and feelings people share in general, have to be filtered through me. Steve teases me sometimes and says, “It’s better than nothing.” I constantly pray the Spirit will express those thoughts to Steve in the way that the person intended.

Before Church started, our bishop told us he wanted to meet with us for a few minutes after Sacrament Meeting. That kind of gives you a feeling of having to stay after school to see the principle. Steve said I was in trouble.

Our bishop told us one of the sisters in the ward has been called on a mission to New York and she will be working with people who are hearing impaired. They want to make her farewell extra special and would like Steve to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. The sister missionary will give the other talk. Steve usually talks and signs so he will use both during his talk. He will also be blessing the Sacrament. I might sign a hymn for everyone if it is one I know. Steve seems happy to do this, and it should be a very special meeting. I am looking forward to it.

Signing the Songs of Zion

The LDS Church created a DVD of most of the hymns in ASL. I had purchased a copy and then a couple of weeks later, the primary choruster gave me a copy. Since the hymns are in ASL, the signs are not the same as the words in the hymnbook. So in order for me to remember how to sign them, I’ve retyped the words exactly how they are signed. So far, I’ve only learned a few of my favorites, and still have a hard time remembering how to sign them. But I love it when we sing a hymn in church that I know how to sign.

Yesterday was one of my most fun days in Sacrament Meeting. Since Steve and I went to the Gospel Principles class, we got to the chapel after everyone else and there was no place to sit. So we ended up in the last row of the cultural hall where most of the children were sitting. We both agreed this was the best place to sit. Steve could look at everyone and there were no kids behind us kicking us in the back. The noise of children doesn’t bother Steve and it doesn’t bother me either. I am much more comfortable sitting in the back anyway. We sang three hymns that I was able to sign and sitting on the chair in the back gave me more room for broad gestures.

Our newly called Relief Society Presidency gave talks and two of them remembered to make us a copy of their notes. This was the first time anyone did this for us and I was touched. Having the notes helped us greatly. The last talk was the RS President’s. I chuckled because Steve had it read within a couple of minutes. He was done and ready to go home. But we had one more hymn to sign, Silent Night, my all-time favorite. The children seemed fascinated with it because most of them were watching us. This is one hymn they would easily be able to learn to sign themselves. It’s simple and very beautiful.

Signer or Interpreter

There is a difference between being a Signer and being a Sign Language Interpreter. “Interpreting should be left up to the professionals. A well-meaning but unqualified signer may unintentionally harm deaf and hearing people.”(1) Guess which one I am.

A Signer:

– Knows sign language but may not be fluent.
– Is able to communicate his/her own thoughts.
– May not be aware of the Code of Ethics for interpreters and is not bound by them.
– May have taken classes of sign language or learned from a book.
– Will not be certified or state screened.
– May know one or two Deaf people.
– Is not knowledgeable about the professional interpreter’s role.
– Views his/her role as a “helper”.
– Is NOT ready or qualified to interpret in any settings.
– Is NOT an interpreter.

An Interpreter:

– Is fluent in the languages that they interpret.
– Can interpret someone else’s thoughts effectively.
– Is knowledgeable of and promises to follow the Code of Ethnics.
– Is formally trained in language systems, interpreting theory, cross-cultural communication & ethical decision making.
– Is certified or holds a state screening level that is documented.
– Is involved in the Deaf Community and knows many Deaf people.
– Is highly knowledgeable about the professional role of the interpreter.
– Is qualified and able to interpret in most settings.
– Is a professional and active in the professional organization.

I learned how to sign so I could talk to my husband. Since he talks and signs, he still does most of the talking. That may be why people forget sometimes that he is deaf. If I can help him know what other people say to him, that’s good. But I’m not his professional interpreter, and never will be.

(1) Reference: Comparison: The Signer and the Sign Language Interpreter (PDF)