I never envisioned becoming a sign language interpreter. It takes a certain kind of patience and an abstract approach to language. Some folks are born with that natural ability to visualize language and "drawing concepts" with their hands seems like second nature. Others go to school to learn how to create these visual expressions as if they were sculpting clay on a wheel. If you are not born into it than I understand why so many choose to learn this "signed language." Even though I'm an interpreter, I still find the beauty and intrigue from expressing thoughts and feelings with my hands.
Having learned the language from an early age, it now seems reasonable that I became a sign language interpreter. Although learning how to sign does very little in preparing a person to become a professional interpreter. It was the natural progression of my signing and receptive abilities that spurred the encouragement to pursue this career. I was not the best signer out of my parents children and I was not born with the natural ability. My path was learned through trial and error, tips and tricks, and through self analysis. I was taught never to be too confident so you are impervious to new suggestions and never be too willing so you lose yourself in other's suggestions. The trick has been finding that right balance.
Sign language interpreters do not have to know everything but we should at least have an idea. For me, the worst part of interpreting is when I don't understand the concepts being discussed. Put me in any engineering interpreting scenario and you will see my flaws shine through. Of course learning of one's own deficiency at an assignment is always stressful but it serves as a healthy reminder to continue striving for more knowledge. I have little interest in engineering but I have made it a point to learn some basic concepts. That might make all the difference next time.
I ask myself 100 times a day, "What does it mean?" when I come across a word that doesn't really have a sign. "Expand, what else does it mean?" Many times I get caught up in the interpretation of a single word that I miss relaying the concept. Sign language does not have equal parts to every English word and much to the chagrin of linguists who might argue that sign language is inadequate, that is the interpreter's task. We must find the word. "What does it mean?" a question that always runs through my mind. Skilled interpreters make it flow like moving water and the dialogue continues downstream without any interruption. The best are never really noticed because their interpreting is done so well. We should all strive for such unrecognition in our field.
I did not start out as an interpreter but it has been incredibly fulfilling and equally challenging. I don't know of another profession that changes so much on a daily basis. A Cardiology appointment is followed by a photovoltaic array training which concludes with a culinary lesson and tomorrow the day begins anew. It is an honor bestowed upon all interpreters and a great responsibility. We anticipate but never predict and all the while moving at the speed of communication. Interpreters of all levels have my respect and support. I did not start out as an interpreter but I learned how to become one.
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