12 Tips for New Sign Language Interpreters
by: Brooke LaTurno, EIPA 4.0 – Interpreter Coordinator - NIR Coordinator
If you are a sign language interpreter who is new to the field, welcome!
When you first enter the field as a novice sign language interpreter, it can be overwhelming to navigate all the new challenges and experiences. The lessons that you learned from your Interpreter Training Program (ITP), instructors, peers, and community will be a powerful support during those first moments in the industry.
Below are twelve tips that I hope are helpful to you as you take your first steps in this new career.
1 – Always be learning
Stay curious. Keep learning about the world around you. You never know when a niche topic is going to show up on an assignment and help you do your work more effectively.
2 – Be hungry for work
Ultimately, we flourish as we gain more experiences. Make yourself available to the opportunities that greet you. You may notice there are particularly busy seasons in your area. If you make yourself available at those times, your community and your skills will both benefit.
3 – Set goals
Short-term and long-term professional goals are beneficial in their own ways. Accomplishing short-term goals along the path to your long-term goals will help you feel momentum as you make gains and improve. It is ok if your goals change as you learn more about yourself and the field. Writing down and committing to a goal is helpful because it gives you something tangible to work toward. Having a set goal will help you feel motivated and grounded as you achieve milestones throughout your career.
4 – Record your growth
In that same vein, it may be worthwhile to keep a record of your professional journey. Of course, nothing confidential or sensitive should be recorded. This is not about the details of the situations or people you encounter while on the job, but about your approach to the work and reflecting on your performance in the hotseat. If you take notes along the way, you will be able to look back and chart your path. This will help you appreciate how far you have come and see that you are constantly growing and learning, providing you with greater self-knowledge and perspective.
5 – Team, team, team!
Accept teamed opportunities as much as possible. You learn so much during teamed assignments! You will be able to see how another interpreter approaches their work, be inspired, and learn new things. You will also have another interpreter present to support you and you may even receive valuable feedback after the assignment is complete. It is likely you will gain a deeper understanding of your own preferences and tendencies during the process of teaming. Our profession can be solitary at times, so teamed experiences are an exciting chance to get a glimpse into another professional interpreter’s strategies and techniques.
6 – Participate in community events
Seek out deaf events in your community. Is there a local art show or a game night you could participate in? Are there theatrical performances, watch parties, or poetry slams that you could attend? Getting involved will help you develop a sense of the ethos and cultural values of the community, which will be invaluable as you pursue your career.
7 – Seek out professional development
Go to as many workshops as you can. Not only is it a great way to learn and hone your skills, but you will also have the chance to meet your peers and hear different points of view. It can be meaningful to come together and see that others have had the same tricky days or difficulties. Additionally, workshops provide a chance to network and develop relationships with other interpreters. The people you meet may become part of your support system and a source of insight and camaraderie throughout your career.
8 – Stay on top of current events
It is worth staying informed about current events regardless of personal interest in pop culture, sports, politics, global news, etc. If there is a momentous event, your clients might discuss it the next day. It may even end up dominating the conversation. Of course, our role requires that we remain neutral and not share our personal opinions, but awareness of different perspectives will help you navigate assignments.
9 – Engage with Deaf content
Watch deaf news sources and follow Deaf creators. We are so fortunate to have a wealth of resources and information available to us online. Gone are the days of buying VHS tapes and repeatedly rewinding them for additional receptive practice. Nowadays you can open almost any social media platform and find communities of Deaf individuals, interpreters, and signers all over the world who you can connect with. From recipes to exercise regimes, comedy skits to parenting commentary – online ASL content runs the gamut.
10 – Volunteer
Think about ways you can give back and lend a hand. What kind of pro bono opportunities would be a good fit for you? Donating your time can have a significant impact on your local community.
11 – Work with a mentor
After doing some self-assessment of your work, it can be useful to have input from another person in the field whose opinion you trust. Keep in mind that a great mentor does not necessarily have to be someone who has been in the field for decades. NIR hosted a workshop in 2017 entitled “Mentoring: Passing the Torch” during which one of the presenters said that their best mentor-mentee experience was with a peer who was only a little more experienced than themselves. They explained how beneficial it was to work side-by-side on their professional goals with someone close to their experience level and provide one another with feedback on their specific areas of focus.
12 – Support other interpreters
This is a tightknit community, and what we do on assignment affects each other. At the end of the day, we all share the same purpose and goals, and should strive to be a force of good in each other’s professional lives.
These are just a handful of tips that I found helpful along my own interpreting journey so far. We all will find different things beneficial as we grow in this field. If you have any advice from your personal experience, please share in the comments below!
If you are an interpreter in the Southeast Florida area, interested in freelance work and have availability days, nights, or weekends, please contact us! We have a variety of assignments throughout the community (medical, evening/overnight hospital shifts, day/evening college classes, school districts, legal, etc.). Visit our website and submit our New Interpreter Questionnaire.