Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A 2 Z: Terping your Thoughts... or "Life as an interpreter"

Note the solid, dark shirt. We have to
wear tops that contrast with our
hands so the signs can be seen clearly.

Okay, so I'm cheating a little on this letter, but we interpreters do nickname ourselves "terps" (and yes, we're aware that it sounds a lot like "twerp") so I thought I'd Take the opportunity to share a little about my job.

I'm a professional sign language interpreter. I work in college classrooms (but I am not a teacher or a teacher's aide and I don't know braille, just to get the common misunderstandings out of the way first thing). When there is a Deaf student in the class (not "hearing impaired," please), I interpret the lecture and any teacher or student comments into American Sign Language, and I voice into English any of the Deaf person's comments.

They say it takes about seven years to become fluent in a language. I've been playing around with signs since I was young. I studied ASL formally for about seven years, including training to be an interpreter for about four years, and since then have been interpreting professionally for 15 months.

The actual skill of interpreting is, perhaps, harder than it might seem at first thought, especially since sign language is silent and therefore often interpreted simultaneously. We have to hear the message, break it down into ideas/concepts, switch it into the grammar and syntax of the other language, make any cultural adjustments necessary, and produce the thought. All of this has to be done in seconds while still listening or watching to retain the next thing the person is saying. This is one well-known interpreting teacher's diagram of what all has to happen for an accurate interpretation:
Researchers have found that interpreting takes so much brain power that it's most accurate if a person only has to do it in twenty-minute segments. In most settings we work in teams with two interpreters so we can switch off every fifteen to twenty minutes. I find that my body is very happy about the breaks as well as my brain, given my physical limitations. We also have to juggle issues with location in the classroom so we can maintain a sight-line with the client but not block the hearing students from seeing the teacher or blackboard, hold information if our student is looking at notes or diagrams, deal with accents, etc.

Like my determined expression as I'm
showing a pig running away? hehe
ASL is a very visually expressive language.
Okay, I feel like I'm making this out to be the hardest job ever, haha. It's not that bad, though as a student, interpreting seemed impossibly difficult. Something like an idiom that took longer to figure out the meaning could completely derail me. But as I've gained experience I've found that yes, it's always hard work, but it's not so impossibly challenging anymore. And it's actually really, really fun! One hard part for me now is not getting to join the conversation myself, which those of you who know talkative me will find amusing. ;-)

I've always loved words and people and I find languages and cultures fascinating. Interpreting has proved to be the ideal job for me. I love it! It requires the presence and interaction of other humans and I get to use words all day--perfect. My physical limitations mean I can only work a few hours a day, so college interpreting works very well. I interpret about two classes each term and that time is spent alternating between resting (though still staying aware of what's happening so I can help my team if they need it) and gentle movements of signing.

I also volunteer interpret at my church and especially love interpreting music. It's like worshiping with my whole body. You can see a video of me signing "Blessed Be the Name" here.

Speaking of my "team" (another T word!), even though it's only one person, we still call our co-worker a "team" like it's a whole group of people. Funny. Another term is a "feed" which is when the interpreter misses some information and looks to their team to feed it to them.

That's my job in not so much of a nutshell.

As always, check out more "T" blogs in the "From A 2 Z 4 U & Me" meme here www.pattywysong.com


Niki Turner said...

While I've not had the pleasure of having an ASL interpreter, I do know what it's like to work with a foreign language interpreter. What an incredible GIFT!
Thank you for sharing some of the details about how your gift operates, it blessed me!

Rita Garcia said...

Amy, I loved learning more about "terping your thoughts"! Great nickname, "terps". Thanks for taking the time to write and share about what you do. I really enjoyed it!

Barbara Lynn Culler said...

Very informative! I've only considered it as beautiful to watch-especially in singing. Thank you for sharing.

Joanne Sher said...

I LOVE to watch ASL interpreters, especially during music. I so admire what you do, Amy. Thanks for the lesson!

Shelley Ledfors said...

Thanks for sharing more about your difficult, but fascinating job, Amy! I see what you do as such a blessing...for those who are deaf, for you, and even for those of us who hear, but are blessed by the beauty of watching interpretations in worship, etc.!

Sara Harricharan said...

SO cool to know more about this--thanks for taking the time to share, Amy! (and I love the expression!) :P

Patty Wysong said...

So cool, Amy!! Love watching you terp. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening. Thanks Amy.
Helen Paynter

Miriam said...

Really interesting to read about your job in more detail Amy!