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ASL Interpreting: A look at the "other side"

Subj: Re: Interpreter Program the discussion below I play a role known as "devil's advocate."  This means I'm pointing out the worst possible scenario on purpose.  My "purpose" for doing so is to provide "the other side of the story" for those who are considering going into interpreting as a profession. Interpreting is a wonderful profession, but those considering it deserve to be told the negatives as well as the positives.  -- Dr. Bill

In a message dated 3/23/98 10:36:56 PM, a student wrote:

I really want to become a certified Interpreter. Do you know of any of existing programs? Or would yours be adequate preparation?
- Susan


Let me ask you a question I sometimes ask my students..."Why in the world would you want to become an interpreter?"

In general...
The pay stinks. (Depending on what state and/or city your work in.)
The hours (for a freelancer) are sporadic.
Most freelancers get no benefits, medical or otherwise.
You'll end up with carpal tunnel.
You interpret for some pretty hideous situations and then are bound by a code of ethics that says you can't talk about it, so it eats you up inside.
If you get a steady position--you end up staring at the same person (child in a classroom) all day.
You could be sued for malpractice if you screw up in a serious situation like a doctors office or in court.
The list goes on...but that is enough for now.

Forgive me for asking these questions. You seem intelligent and articulate, but I figure you'd prefer me ask than not.

1. Have you had the opportunity to interview a number of working interpreters?
2. Have you managed to talk to at least one "ticked off" ex-interpreter about why she no longer interprets?
3. Have you checked into actual job opportunities in the field? (Scanned the want ads or online postings?)
4. Did any of these jobs pay benefits and a salary that is something you can feel good about?
5. Have you ascertained the attrition and graduation rates for whatever program you are entering?
6. Have you ascertained the certification rate for graduates of whatever program you are entering?
7. Have you ascertained the placement statistics for graduates of whatever program you are entering?
8. Have you interviewed a couple of dropouts from the program you are entering? (Not the star students, but the ones who quit for whatever reason).
I'm not trying to talk you out of it here--just make sure you are going into this with your eyes open.

You might want to call [a certain college] and ask them about their Associate of Arts in Interpreting.

To become a certified interpreter you will need to immerse yourself in the Deaf Community until you understand the language and culture so well that you can toggle between the hearing and deaf worlds on behalf of others who can't.

You've heard perhaps that cereal can be an important part of a nutritious breakfast?

A formal training program can be an important part of becoming an interpreter. But it is only a part.

The real secret is finding opportunities to USE the language--especially in real conversations with Deaf people.


To give you any substantive advice on how best to proceed toward becoming a certified interpreter I'd need to know...

What level of signer are you currently?
Do you know any deaf people?
What classes have you taken so far?
How much money do you want to spend?
How much time can you devote a week?
How patient are your significant others? (husband, kids, etc.?)
Do you have a VCR?

Have a nice day,


William G. Vicars, Ph.D.
Lifeprint Institute

In a message dated 10/13/2004 4:37:04 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dr. Vicars, I have a question for you. I read your response (1998) to a person who wanted to be an interpreter. I am curious; have circumstances changed since then? A couple of years ago I spoke with three different interpreters that were based in a Fresno, CA firm and they were extremely positive and told me they were very well paid and that included a benefit package. I had inquired for a friend who at that time, and still is, going to a class in Clovis, CA and is interested in this as a career. The Principal at my daughter's school was telling me that she has a friend that interprets and she is happy and well paid.
I am interested, but at my age don't want to spend years in school or put a financial hardship on my husband. I want to supplement our income, not spend it. Is this an unrealistic expectation? I read an article in the Sacramento Bee telling the public that it is a good field to be in and they are in high demand. Your opinion for the future?
Thanks, Rhonda

Hi Rhonda,
Things are indeed improving for interpreters as time goes on.
Interpreting for the deaf is becoming more established as a profession and as such benefits and working conditions are improving.
Some states are more progressive than others. California is one of the best to work in because there are so many Deaf people here.


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