Interpreter Q & A: When Interpreters Omit Information

Interpreter Q & A: When Interpreters Omit Information

By Brenda Cartwright
Tuesday, September 1, 2015

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. There isn’t always one “right” answer to every question, and different people have different opinions on how to handle different scenarios. That is why more than one perspective is provided in this series, however, more opinions always exist. These perspectives are gathered from talking with experienced interpreters and deaf consumers from across the United States and Canada and do not solely come from the author.

Dear BC,

I have noticed that an interpreter that I team with nearly every week (she has been an interpreter for over 20 years, and trust me, she never lets me forget it for one minute) tends to omit information. Either she doesn’t think it’s important, or she just doesn’t understand it herself. Forget suggesting giving her "feeds" from me, I’ve "only" been nationally certified for 5 years, and still am a baby in her book. My problem is that she always asks me to do team interpreting assignments with her, and asks for nobody else. I know you’re going to tell me to say something to her, but our community is so small I can’t afford to anger her, financially or professionally. How can I handle this?

Concerned Teammate

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

Your situation might not have the negative conclusion you seem to fear. There is no reason at this point to think that saying something to her will anger her. Start by telling her that you have noticed that she omitted "xyz." Be specific. It is possible she has legitimate reasons for omitting certain information. Give her a chance to explain herself. For example, there are legitimate reasons why someone interpreting a "how to" computer software class will not sign everything a chatty trainer might say. You may get the opportunity to see something from a different perspective. If, however, it is as you infer - that she is omitting valuable material - ask for her perspective in a positive way that does not put her on the defensive and indeed make her angry at you. Choose to say something like, “What leads you not to include that?” instead of asking her a defensive question like, "Why are you leaving that material out?" Depending on her answer you may have to make a choice of how much you want to work with her or what else you might say or do.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

I had to fight and advocate for ten weeks to have an interpreter replaced in a team setting during a 15 week graduate class. The supervisor of interpreters finally came and observed the interpreter’s skills and agreed that in spite of her certification and years of experience, her skills were indeed inadequate in that particular setting. Had her team interpreter reported her, I would not have had to go through ten weeks of missing valuable classroom information and weeks spent advocating on my own. The supervisor was in fact reluctant to replace the interpreter because of her years of experience and because the team interpreter never said anything.

I believe the team interpreter had a responsibility to give feedback to her colleague and peer about what was lacking. Interpreters are responsible for communication the whole time they are on the job not just during their "shift." Once an interpreter is out in the field, there is no other monitoring system other than peers in team situations. Interpreters shouldn’t worry about angering the other interpreter, but focus on communication that the Deaf person may not be getting that could result in failing a test, not getting a promotion, or any number of other negative consequences.

Have you experienced this problem too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

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