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Andrea interpreting for Former President, Bill Clinton
Andrea interpreting for Former President, Bill Clinton

Today was another new milestone for me. I interpreted for a fashion show to benefit a charity cause that is near and dear to me. Anyone who knows me will understand how ridiculous it is for me to do such a job. It's not that I'm ignorant about fashion per se, but I truly consider myself lucky to make it out of the house every day with all the socially required pieces of clothing properly in place.


There is also nothing quite like being on stage with a traipsing parade of gazelles to underscore that special feeling of being caught in a spotlight where you don't belong. As I am given to accessorizing with cat hair and seek outfits that can do justice to what can only be described as a Botticelli figure, I find dressing for these types of work occasions particularly challenging. Here are a few tips that I find invaluable for the work:


1 - They told you to wear black in school. Please stop complaining and just do it. Unless you really do look like the Corpse Bride. In which case, throw on some bright red lipstick and embrace your inner zombie.


2 - They never told you to run that black outfit under some seriously bright lighting though, did they? Black is SEE THROUGH with the right material under strong lighting (you know, like when you're on stage or rocking the red carpet), so make sure you check that before you go public with the goods.


3 - Do NOT sacrifice comfort for fashion. There is nothing more unattractive and distracting in this world than a girl tugging at a hem line or hauling her neck line back into place repeatedly. Keep your outfit modest and comfortable.


4 - Tank tops are NEVER okay. I don't care what the assignment is. Unless you are interpreting somewhere in the desert and, even then, I'm sure you'd do better with a nice wicking material. Our job requires us to wave our hands in the air while our clients stare at us intently. No one wants to see your sweaty pits.


5 - Pockets. I really can't stress this enough. You will get caught at work with your cellphone, car keys, Chapstick, or some other small object that you can't/won't/don't want to get rid of. Either you run the risk of setting it down to be stolen or forgotten or you stash it somewhere. The bra is a bad choice (sweaty and insecure). Your waistband won't work either (guns seem to fit without slithering down your backside, but smaller objects can and will find the exact vector to travel at maximum velocity to the floor at the most awkward moment). Buy work clothes with pockets.


6 - Take a look around. See what the clients are wearing. You shouldn't be the best or worst-dressed person in the room. Keep some neutral jewelry in your bag. It's a quick fix to bling your outfit if you find yourself looking like a hobo in a room full of well-dressed people. Layers with more casual shells and underpinnings are an easy way to dress it down if you accidentally wear a power suit to someone's non-profit retreat where hemp fiber is the dress code. Think about ways you can manipulate your outfit so that your car doesn't wind up looking like a poorly organized hamper.


That reminds me. It's Sunday night. Time to go rotate laundry and sort my blacks from my.....who am I kidding? Everything goes is the darks cycle. 😀

One of the projects I have been working on is on licensing interpreters practicing in DC (and, hopefully, MD and VA). I have been embroiled in this controversy for several months now and I have fought my way through pounds of rhetoric, hours of arguments, and the piranha pool that is any political struggle. The Deaf consumers have a perspective, the hearing consumers (DC agencies, in this case) have their interests, and the poor interpreter is getting ground between the mortar and pestle of these opposing factions. I generally support the cause of licensing and the reasons are legion. Last night, I had a classic example of why I feel this way.
I am frequently called out to respond to police calls overnight. Last night I was called to a hospital to interpret for a detective investigating allegations of a sexual assault. I arrived on the scene to find an interpreter present for the hospital (this is normal). I introduced myself and explained my role, but I could tell she had no clue what I was talking about. I asked her name and the name of the company that sent her. A quick internet search revealed:
  • This "interpreter" is not even a member of RID, much less certified.
  • The company that sent her has three employees listed on the web, none of whom are certified interpreters in any way or have any kind of professional presence in this field beyond this company.
  • Neither the interpreter nor the company members are members of PCRID.
The doctor on staff gave the detective the run down on the information that had been given to her via the interpreter. When the detective and I tried to enter room, the interpreter (we'll call her SS, short for "Sunday Signer") followed us in. She proceeded to comment and respond to the detectives questions of the patient before I even had a chance to finish the interpretations. She was trying to communicate with the patient to add her own interpretations to the process. I finally had to kick her out of the room since she clearly didn't understand what was going on.
As the investigation proceeded, I discovered a multitude of factual errors from this interpreter's original work. To wit:
  • The name of the deaf patient was wrong (wrong first name).
  • The patient's birthdate was wrong (wrong month and year).
  • The patient's address was wrong (wrong street name and wrong apt number).
  • The location of the alleged attacker was wrong (wrong state).
  • The age of the attacker was wrong (30, not 70!!).
  • The date of the allegation was wrong (4, not 18).
And, most importantly, the basis of the complaint was WRONG. She never made an allegation of sexual assault. What she did sign could (maybe, possibly, if you were slightly drunk and had recently had a stick poked in you eye) have been misunderstood, but the Deaf gal was clear, repetitious and adamant about what had happened. I just don't know how SS could have messed that up so badly.
The tragedy of this is that there was a huge waste of resources to respond to this imaginary report. Since SS has no professional credentials, I have no one to go to and file a complaint. I have contacted the company who sent her to the hospital and I am hoping to find a resolution there. If not, I will escalate the issue with the hospital and the police department. I don't think it is fair that the DC government had to pay me and the detective to respond to that situation because a company failed to employ appropriate quality controls in staffing their assignments. I think it's horrifying that the patient had to undergo unnecessary examination, treatment, and extremely extended wait times because of these errors. Licensing of interpreters to practice would, hopefully, go a long way to regulating these fly-by-night interlopers. I have no problem with Sunday Signers learning the language and working in their local churches to support their communities. I have huge issues with these charlatans putting their shingle out to act as a professional interpreter, a career to which I devote an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort.

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!

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.