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It's been a million years (okay, two) since I posted here, but I am trying to get my act together on this. I continue to feel like one of the luckiest fools on the planet with the nature of my work. Here are some recent highlights of my days:


Andrea interpreting at a music concert
Andrea interpreting at a music concert

- Interpreting for a dear old friend as she entered the final stages of her pregnancy. I don't do a great deal of medical interpreting anymore, so this was a particular treat!


- Having an excellent, although difficult, conversation with a couple of colleagues who found themselves desperately over their heads in a legal interpreting situation. I am particularly proud of this work because I could have really made their days suck and the situation be horrible if I had chosen to go that route. I was inspired by a colleague who was telling me recently that we have a choice when confronted with other practitioners doing it "wrong". She told me that we could keep our frustrations to ourselves and then engage in a smear campaign or we could address our feelings in the moment and take a risk that a learning moment might happen. I am pleased to say that this was the first time that this worked out well for me.


- Working with an amazing scientific demonstration that involved projections on a spherical surface as a way to display the fantastic data that our satellites produce.


Of course, there are other amazing things, but I have to abide by my confidentiality mandates. All of these experiences mean that I clearly was NOT in Atlanta last week attending the biannual RID conference. Due to some health issues, I chose not to go. I can't say I was at all excited to go in the first place. I mean, who chooses JULY?!? 2013 will be in Indianapolis, so I will likely attend that one. However, 2015 is going down to New Orleans. As tempted as I might be to visit the Big Easy, I've already been there twice and will have to seriously consider what that might be like in August. Ugh.


I've considered adding a regular feature to this blog to talk about some of the news around $$$. The most obvious fact that interpreters should be aware of at this point in time is the IRS change to the mileage reimbursement rates. We get a whopping 51 cents/mile right now, so don't be afraid to accept those far-flung gigs. For more information, visit the IRS's page on the subject.


Happy Trails!

Yesterday's shooting at the Holocaust Museum was a solemn reminder to us all that hate is still alive and thriving in this "enlightened" age. For the interpreting community, another reminder was broadcast: You are responsible for your own safety.

A colleague of mine was working at the museum where the shootings occurred and was, fortunately, safely ensconced in a bathroom when the shots were being fired. However, it drives home an important point that many interpreters do not consider as we flit from location to location. No one knows where we are. Our loved ones do not know where we are working on almost an given day and even the buildings we enter are frequently unable to account for our presences in the even of an emergency. The fact remains, no one will miss us at roll call when the head counters are going down the lists.

What this means for us is that we have to manage our own safety. That begins with having a plan for contacting your loved ones in the event of an emergency. Did you know that the local phone lines were burdened to the point of uselessness during Katrina and 9/11, but that long distance calls could still be made? Authorities recommend that you plan to touch base with someone outside of the local area and make it known to those who care about you that they should call that designated person if they can't get ahold of you directly.

When entering any facility you should, of course, make yourself aware of the evacuation plan. In DC, many of those buildings are a virtual rat maze and we are usually escorted around the premises. Stop and make sure you know where you are in the building and that you can get out, if necessary. Don't rely on your mental trail of breadcrumbs. Know the exit routes or where the building maps are on the walls. In addition, be on the lookout for any rooms labeled "Shelter in Place". This is where you'll need to go in the event that something is going on outside that makes it unsafe to be on the street (think "chemical attack" or "zombie invasion"). Also, keep an eye out for an AEDs and fire extinguisher. The AED (automatic electrical defribillator) is your best friend in emergencies involving people not breathing. It will help walk you through CPR.

There is a great deal more to think about with emergency planning and I can't emphasize how important this is to do for yourself. Most employees have the luxury of relying on their place of employment to have a well-developed plan for emergency situations. Outside of the DC area, I would be surprised if those places really DO have good plans. Even if they do, you are still an unknown quantity.

Take care of yourself.

A recent case of mine involved a client locked up for assault. Said client carries a diagnosis of mental retardation, severe epilepsy, and psychotic tendencies. A recent outburst of the aforementioned psychotic tendencies is what landed his butt in jail.

These cases are always a challenge for an interpreter. The trick of the matter is to be confident enough in your skills to know that you aren't missing nuances because of a lack of linguistic ability. I was rather impressed at the client's comprehension of his condition and location. When I asked him if he knew where he was and what a jail was, he responded that "jail is where they put you when they are not happy with you." A simple explanation, but pretty darned accurate. In asking if he understood what a judge does, I learned that a judge "listens to your story and lets you go if he likes the story, but keeps you in jail if he doesn't like your story".

As an interpreter, these answers were a bit revelatory. We get so caught up in trying to explain all of the details that go along with whatever we're trying to explain in a legal setting, that we often forget that simplicity is really the best answer. It forces me to re-examine the interpretations I have been rendering. The tendency is to expand upon the concepts being presented either for purposes of clarity or in some vain attempt to level the balance of power in a legal setting. Understanding that this might just be another form of oppression in that providing too MUCH information to a client, helps me to be a better practitioner.

Everyday is a practice and sometimes that reminder comes from surprising places.

Andrea interpreting at a music concert
Andrea interpreting at a music concert
As I embark upon keeping a public record of my work, I have been asked by colleagues about the issue of confidentiality. One of the tenets of my profession is that we have to maintain a certain degree of secrecy about our work. This helps folks trust us in our work and know that we won't be blabbering the juicy tidbits about their nose job around town.

With that being said, a lot of the work that I do is a matter of public record and, to a certain extent, open to analysis and comment. Much of the court work I am involved with is open to the public. The exceptions being juvenile court or otherwise closed proceedings. I also do quite a bit of platform and performance work, which is also open to the public. I will maintain the cloak of confidentiality as much as possible and still share some of the trials and tribulations of my work.

The photo featured on this page is a photo of a gig I did late last year at the Sarah Brightman concert at the Verizon Center. Enjoy!

I think my job is pretty interesting. Strike that. My job is downright fascinating. At social gatherings, when everyone is sitting around doing their best impression of a coworker (who invariably resembles a character from the movie Office Space), I tend to be uncharacteristically quiet. You see, I'm self-employed. When my day sucks, it's my fault. The commute home, the long hours, the time spent smelling the armpit of the guy next to me on the subway is all my fault. Of course, I also don't have to beg for time off. When I hate the people I work with; I just don't go there anymore. And the money doesn't hurt either.

In case you're curious now, I'm an American Sign Language Interpreter. Yes, I talk with my hands for a living. Yes, you can make a living doing what I do and, no, I didn't get into it because someone in my family is deaf. There were a lot of reasons, but that wasn't one of them. I work in all kinds of environments and with all kinds of people. I get to learn about the world everyday in ways I never thought possible. All in all, I love my job and I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. To get up everyday excited about work (well....almost every day) is probably one of the best gifts a person could get in life.

Of course, there is more to me than just my job title. Since it's the most common way for people to get acquainted (sooo....what do you do? you know, for a living?) I thought I would start with it.

It's nice to meet you. Hope you enjoy what I have to say.....

Please refer to the complimentary PDF for the full text: Language and Domain by Andrea K. Smith

The courtroom vernacular of English (legalese) differs from secular English in many of the same ways that foreign languages differ. Legalese has important variations in lexicon, syntax, and discourse. These variations require the American Sign Language interpreters in the courtroom to understand the unique nature of legalese. Understanding the context in which the language lives and the requirement for precision that ultimately directs the development of the language guide the interpreter to an accurate, fully-developed interpretation.

About the Author

Andrea K. Smith has been providing professional freelance interpreting services since 2000. She has published several articles on interpreting and language in various journals. This article first appeared in the 2004 fall quarterly edition of Language Trade. Andrea currently resides in Washington D.C with her husband and cat.

Copyright Notice:

These articles are copyrighted by Andrea K. Smith. You may print one copy for personal use. Please contact Andrea for re-print permission if you would like to publish or re-distribute this article online or in print. Thank you.