VERY BLUNT: Interpreters in an Academic Setting

by An anonymous interpreter in Texas

I’m an interpreter at a University.

CARDINAL RULE 1: I’M NOT HERE. DON’T TALK TO ME, talk to my client. “Tell her/ask him” is really annoying for the interpreter and the Deaf client. And talk DIRECTLY to them. Don’t look at me, look at THEM.

Don’t ask the interpreter personal questions about the client. The interpreter can’t answer, WHICH INCLUDES “What is their name.” I really CAN’T answer that. I can’t answer a SINGLE question about that person.

Don’t ask an interpreter to not sign something. They’re going to anyway, and it’s only going to make you look stupid. On top of that, you’re talking about someone behind their back WHILE THEY’RE IN THE ROOM! If you want to say something in private, leave the room. If I hear it, my client hears it.

If you’re the professor, DO NOT ask the interpreter to do anything else. “Close that door” “hand me that stapler” “watch them to make sure they don’t cheat” is not part of my job. I do one thing only. Interpret. How would you like doing a mentally and physically complicated task and then be asked to juggle live snakes. That’s a pretty good equivalent, and puts the interpreter in an awkward position.

If you want the door closed and ask me, I’m just going to stare at it. Same with the stapler. And the “watch them” scenario has resulted only in numerous occasions where I see an entire class cheating. Know what I do during tests? I read the latest Patricia Cornwell novel. And no, I’m not going to tell you if they cheated or not. That’s not my job.

Don’t make cute little “sympathy smiles” at the Deaf person. They’re not cute little characters. They’re people who do NOT have a disability. Even if they DID it’s not appropriate.

Do NOT ask the Deaf person how much hearing they have. It’s none of your business and along the same lines of asking a guy if he’s circumcised, and a woman how much she weighs. It’s highly personal. (I’m also Hard of Hearing and that is a sore spot for me. My level of hearing has been a source of peoples curiosity since childhood.) Compare this to if you’ve had weight problems throughout your life and every time you go to class some loud mouth in front of everyone screams at you HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH!!!!!

If a class is an hour and a half: I’m fine. No break necessary. ANY class more than an hour and a half necessitates a break. You HAVE to provide that break. It’s an accommodation. Would you like to hold your arms up for two hours straight, and on top of that translate one language to another? Holding class without me in the room: you just violated the ADA.

In work groups in classes: TALK ONE AT A TIME!

Do NOT tell me where I can and can’t stand/sit. It’s your class, but that’s not your call, it’s mine and my clients. A note on that: if you tell me that I’m “distracting” your class… you’re telling me that that Deaf students presence is an annoyance for you. There’s a word for that: bigotry. Once I hear the D word, I know you, Mr. or Mrs. Professor are one of “Those Kinds of Professors” and I will report you to the University’s behavior officer for violating the University’s Diversity policy. (During my career I’ve had three professors fired. And hate to point this out, but I’m more rare and valuable than you are.)

Going along with the last point, don’t say “God Bless you” etc. 9 times out of 10 I make a LOT more money than you. I don’t work for minimum wage. I average 7 grand a semester per class.

Finally, the most important thing to remember. If I’m working for a person who doesn’t voice for themselves, when you hear my voice, it’s simply my body making the sounds, but it’s NOT me talking. Don’t look at me like I’m interrupting your class.

Comments for VERY BLUNT: Interpreters in an Academic Setting

Feb 10, 2015

Thank you!

by: Cassi

Sometimes bluntness is necessary in order to convey a point, however I found very little of this to be blunt or rude. I found it very concise and to the point. There was a lot of really good information for hearing people to know. As the commented before me pointed out, you did something very important here; not only did you give the DOs/DON’Ts, you gave the WHY behind them. Some of it was common sense (only one person talking at a time), some of it needed said to those who take advantage of other (watch them, shut this, grab that).

I can see instances where it would be appropriate to ask the interpreter to do something other than interpret. Say for instance the deaf person, hearing person, and interpreter are walking somewhere and the hearing person’s hands are full carrying things that obviously can’t be carried by the people who need their hands to speak, the hearing person could then ASK (not TELL) for one of them to grab the door. However, I only see that as appropriate in certain situations. An interpreter is a tool, albeit human. I don’t mean tool in the derogatory slang definition, but in the standard definition of a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function. The interpreter is there to convert one language into another to ensure understanding. You wouldn’t ask your computer to staple a stack of papers. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

There are other things I wholeheartedly agree with. My favorite was the idea that deaf people are disabled or handicapped and need that little “sympathy smile”. A deaf person is someone who is unable to understand the spoken language due to environmental factors. That environmental factor happens to be a lack of hearing. Would you also consider someone who lived in China their entire life and therefore did not understand the spoken English language disabled or handicapped and therefore deserving of sympathy? No! Then why would you think a deaf person needs it? Would you say “God bless you for doing such a thing” to someone translating English to Chinese?

I’ve broken some of these rules you laid out, and I’ve been corrected. As someone in the comments said, those of us who were raised in a Hearing Culture don’t understand Deaf Culture and have to be taught. I have been lucky enough that when I have broken a rule I have been corrected, which I then apologize, move on, and never do it again. The one thing I have the hardest time with is ignoring the interpreter. I personally see them as part of the conversation. When you are speaking with two people, you tend to look back and forth between them when you speak, and you look directly at the person who is speaking to you. When I am in that situation, I look at the deaf person primarily as I speak, while also looking at the interpreter. While the deaf person signs I look at them, and I look at the interpreter when they speak. Were I to look only at the interpreter, it would be as bad as excluding the deaf person from conversation. Just like if you turned your back on the hearing person you were speaking with.

Speaking to the comments on this thread, I’m not sure what everyone is so upset about. The title of the post includes the word “blunt”, which most people think is a synonym of “rude”, which this was not. Blunt is “uncompromisingly forthright”. This was fantastically forthright and giving information that is MUCH needed for those who are new to the world of Deaf Culture and interactions with interpreters. Someone else made a comment regarding “your last few lashes” pushing people away. I’m having a hard time finding the “lashes”. What was it specifically that people are getting offended about?

Sep 10, 2012

It says “blunt.” What’s the problem?

by: terp and coda in N.M.

I’m a terp, and going to comment on not only the article, but also some of the comments.

SERIOUSLY A HUGE thanks. I read this as basically “these are the things people need to hear but nobody will say.” And when reading it I said outloud many times “AMEN!”

And I didn’t see this as negative at all and the person also felt pretty calm to me. It’s simply a list of faux-pas, and unlike other sources, EXPLAINS WHY these are faux-pas. Blunt, yes. A little rude, maybe, but “this is blunt” was the opening line title. So what’s more important? Knowing this stuff, or complaining it’s not more palatable?

And as a terp and coda I’m guessing he/she is a coda too. When you’ve terped basically ALL your life, like I have and presumably the writer, some of these things just plain need to be said. And sometimes the truth hurts or is rude.

I’d rather be told I look horrible in my white dress and that people can see through it (along with my anatomy) and i look silly in it rather than “oh sweetie you look nice.”

And to the person who wrote about their being a writing teacher: you write about persuasion but actually I as a reader of the article and your comment found your comment quite condescending. I don’t think it was the writer’s intention to persuade, but to inform, and basically as a terp who is also in deaf culture I applaud the writer for writing in such an honest way.

Instead of saying why it’s considered rude to say “God Bless you,” the writer explained WHY it was rude, and that information is valuable to anyone. It’s alon the same lines of “this is nice of you to do.” Well, not really, the writer, like me does this for money. Enjoyable and fulfilling, yes, but no interpreter would work for free, though I do volunteer at my church. And I don’t think it was a slam on Christians, either.

In short, the article rocked and I think many of you who criticized it missed the point: he/she “warned” it was blunt, listed the do’s and don’ts, and further EXPLAINED WHY they were do’s and don’ts which is INVALUABLE, FANTASTIC information.

And my only criticism is I would ADD THIS:

If you can’t control your classroom, you must have patience with the interpreter if asked to repeat a word, or sentence, etc., and it is perfectly acceptable for a terp to ask a student to lower their voice, stop talking, stop giggling with their friend, etc. As a matter of fact that’s in the job description at the university where I work (of what authority the terp has and doesn’t have) and is pretty explicity. And I’ve had to ask students to leave a class before. Its your classroom but if someone makes it impossible for me to do my job, I must by nature of duty to do so. (Terps CAN be sued for malpractice for gross violations. missing chunks of lecture because of loud students and doing nothing to remedy that is a gross violation)

Apr 15, 2012

good to know

by: Megz

Thank you for sharing this information with us. Im starting school in september to become an Interpreter and Im so glad I found this. Youre honest and Im sure there are 100’s of people in the same field as you who feel the same way. To everyone telling this person to calm down and dont be negative……you need to simmer. I don’t find her negative in the least but i find you haters annoying as hell.

Nov 28, 2011

Blunt is Okay, but…

by: Michelle Lamb Discher

Aptly titled, your submission begins on a strong and forthright note. But I’m a teacher and writer, and I know that there is a difference between being trenchant and being overbearing. Readers could learn a lot from you, but your last few lashes might distance them enough to forget all the helpful advice you offered earlier in the piece. The cardinal rule of persuasive writing is: never alienate your audience. There are good reasons for your bluster, but is venting through your writing an efficient strategy? If you want to be effective, dial down on the scolding. Try to smile as you write. Avoid the money issue altogether.
Reading through the comments here, I’m reminded of how tedious, frustrating, and (let’s face it) awful being different is, how often one must continue to smile in the face of abject ignorance and insensitivity, how often one is called upon to answer the same questions, be agents of all the epiphanies of the ignorant, or be (insultingly) deemed a “good example” of that difference. Welcome to the world of the marginalized. Embrace it. You have no choice.

Retired Language teacher who “happens to be” black. 🙂

Aug 17, 2011


by: Anonymous

wow, you are a terrible person. And a definite annoyance in the classroom. I drop any class where theres a person flailing and clapping in the front of the room.

Mar 29, 2011

Careful — Everyone is Dispensible

by: Anonymous

I agree with the previous comment: Calm yourself; Take it easy…
Remember, before you became an interpreter you were a student and before becoming an interpreter student you were most likely as lost as the beginning students who make mistakes as they learn proper Deaf culture etiquette. Unless the educational institution provides literature to the beginning student — where will they learn??? Shouldn’t the classroom be conducive to students’ questions??? Be nice — you might be valuable now in your eyes — but you never know others (including the university) views you — just as you complaint about students or professors — who knows who is complainting about you — the upcoming students just may replace you in the near future — careful — no one is indispensable. Take care and continue learning.

Nov 06, 2010

wow calm down

by: Anonymous

my son is Deaf. it seems like you view everything in a negative way. hearing people are just curious, it means they’re human so cut them a little slack. they dont know all the ‘rules’ and how would they until someone teaches them but hopefully in a nicer, much more conducive to learning sort of way than you did.

Oct 27, 2010

Thanks =)

by: Lori

Very helpful, thank you.

I’d like to speak for myself and say that Believer in God or not, when I say God Bless You its not a put-down. I say it out of love, not based on the person’s salary. If people said it condescendingly please dont judge all believers on that experience. Everyone can use a blessing from God.

Sep 23, 2010

Good point

by: Jess

That’s really interesting. I am new to ASL and am learning all the time. I have heard some of this stuff before, but not really the explaination behind it. Thank you to whoever shared this!


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