What do you do for a living?

I am the state judicial sign language interpreter interpreting in state and local courts.

How would you describe what you do?

I am an officer of the court and there to serve at the pleasure of the court to ensure that communication services are provided between the court and citizens who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind and who use sign language, oral interpreting services or who need real time captioning if they don’t sign.

What does your work entail?

I perform interpreting services during court proceedings for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind.  I interpret along a sign language continuum from ASL to Contact Language or English to match the communication skills and style that the consumer uses.

Sometimes we employ the services of a Deaf Interpreter to team with to ensure the court and consumer have the best possible linguistic match.  Intermediary Deaf interpreters are often used in cases where juveniles are involved because they sometimes use different signs or slang or in cases where the consumer may have minimal language or no formal language development using gestures.  Deaf people grow up in a visual world and are skilled on picking up on all the nuances of a nonverbal language whereas as a hearing interpreter, I might miss something.

How did you get started in your job?

Years ago, I worked in the legal field as a paralegal while at the same time I was interpreting at church.  Later I met the wonderful lady who actually held this position at the time and aspired to do the same thing.  I decided to enroll in an Interpreter Educational Program at a local university to become a professional interpreter and put my legal skills to good use.  However, after a little exposure and training, I realized I was far from ready to work in this specialized field.  I went on to graduate school to get my master’s in a deaf related field and worked in the counseling field in several capacities.   I never gave up on my first loves of the law and interpreting and later decided to apply for this position.

What do you like most about being an interpreter?

What I like most about being an interpreter is the variety of experiences I have had over the years.  As a freelance interpreter, one can be up at the crack of dawn working in a restaurant kitchen interpreting for someone learning how to make biscuits while flour is flying off their fingers or the interpreter can be strapped into a harness and jumping out of an airplane with a student and flying through the air.

Interpreters sometimes have the honor to meet movie and television stars, famous performers and authors, popular athletes and important politicians who run our country.  Interpreters also have the opportunity to learn so much while working from biscuits or turbines to the latest research on stem cells or crime scene processing.  Because we know sign language, we are placed in countless milieus acquiring so much fascinating information that otherwise we would not have had the opportunity to learn.

What do you dislike?

Scheduling conflicts can be problematic because each court needs an interpreter and while we hire other interpreters to fill additional assignments, sometimes it’s hard to find someone available.

How do you make money or how you compensated as an interpreter?

I am on a salary but freelance interpreters are paid an hourly wage with travel time and sometimes mileage.

How much money do you make as a sign language interpreter?

My salary is approximately $49,000 and we pay $40 per hour with a two hour minimum to freelance interpreters.  All states pay differently and there is a huge disparity in pay levels across the nation, so it would behoove an aspiring interpreter to check pay rates in the state in which they live.

What education or skills are needed to be a sign language interpreter?

To become a certified interpreter with our professional organization, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or RID, the interpreter must have an associate’s degree to be eligible to sit for the certification exam.  In 2012, the educational requirement will be raised to a bachelor’s degree.

To become a good interpreter, you must have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, so the more education one gets only increases their ability to interpret well.  There are many interpreters for the deaf with higher education and have Ph.D.s, Masters degrees and even some with law and medical degrees.  Many interpreters are on a mission to gain more education and knowledge so they can provide an efficacy of services to their consumers whether they are working in a courtroom, surgical room or a classroom.

What is the most challenging about what you do?

The most challenging situations usually involve interpreting for someone without a formal language or for a deaf person from another country.

What is the most rewarding?

When an interpreter leaves an assignment and they feel they’ve done a good job, they are on “cloud nine.”  However, if an interpreter leaves an assignment feeling uncertain about the service rendered, it can be gut wrenching.

What advice that you would offer someone considering this career?

Be patient because it takes a lot of time to develop language skills to become fluent enough to become a professional interpreter and even if the person already knows the language, they must still develop interpreting skills.   It is important to understand that just because a person is bilingual, that doesn’t automatically make them an interpreter.  They must develop interpreting skills, ethics and professionalism.

Stay in school because no one would want to have an ignorant interpreter.  There is no excuse to avoid school because there are college programs offering scholarships and grants for persons aspiring to be sign language interpreters.

After you’ve learned ASL and ethics and developed professional behavior and interpreting skills, stay in school or keep learning.  The more you learn about everything will only help you personally and professionally and help you be a better interpreter.

Are there any common misconceptions people have about what you do?

In court, interpreters are not supposed to interpret everything that is going on prior to their case being called because the assignment is not about equal access.  The assignment in court is about being called to do a specific case and if the interpreter were to interpret all the cases before theirs is called, they might not be able to do the best job possible because they would be fatigued and run the risk of injury.  The common comment from deaf people is that they feel they are not getting equal access and they aren’t, but if the assignment was about access, we would have to hire a team of interpreters to switch out so that fatigue and repetitive motion injuries would not be a factor.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources available to send two interpreters to an assignment that might only last fifteen minutes.

What are your goals and dreams for the future?

I want to be the best legal interpreter that I can be.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about what you do?

It is an honor to work in the legal field, to work with deaf people and to be allowed to be a part of the process.  The legal system is something I have always been fascinated with and every case is different.  It’s a fascinating field wherein I can continue to learn.