With the cost of tuition rising as rapidly as ever, higher education is becoming less and less accessible to even the most meritorious scholars. To combat this, some B.A. of Interpreting students at Gallaudet have turned to professional work within the field prior to graduation. The faculty of the Department of Interpreting (DOI), however, highly discourage student involvement in the profession… at least for the time being.
Just as any other profession, there is a wide array of knowledge one must learn before fully delving into the interpreting career. From ethical tenants to billing procedures and proper technique, there are surely many aspects of the job that call for proper education. “We don’t want students to start working until they are ready,” explains Dr. Valerie Dively, former Department chair and current interpreting professor.
Some students argue that interpreting is a career of practice, and that these lessons can be learned with a more hands-on approach. Third-year B.A. of Interpreting (BAI) student Abdiel Davila-Cruz agrees that students should not accept high-stakes assignments such as government meetings, mental health appointments, and legal situations, as they are not appropriate platforms for practice. He argues, however, that “students from this program should be allowed to work as long as they are advanced enough to understand their limits.” He goes on to explain: “Low-risk assignments such as small informal gatherings or basic-level classes are an excellent arena for honing one’s skills.”
The fear is the propensity of novice interpreters to overestimate their respective abilities and experience levels. They may be far less prudent in the assignments they accept. It is the responsibility of the interpreter to understand the ins and outs of our field before attempting to work in it. If beginners bite off more than they can chew, it will be apparent and their clients will notice. Because the Deaf community is relatively small in size, word of mouth is very much capable of make or breaking one’s interpreting career. Ultimately, if ill-prepared students choose to start working before they are ready and give provide underwhelming services throughout their debut year, it will likely make it difficult for themselves in the long run.
On the same token, however, there are some exceptions to this standard. There are a handful of students who have worked extensively prior to enrolling at Gallaudet. There are students who have raw skills with respect to the task of interpreting. As these students are learning about the theories processes involved in the job, some argue, they should be proactively applying the knowledge to the practice, rather than putting it in the back of their minds to hopefully one day emerge from their distant memories.
All that being said, the DOI faculty at Gallaudet who are hesitant to encourage students to work as interpreters while still enrolled in the BAI program have concerns that are not entirely unfounded. Those on both sides of the issue, however, share one common goal: to provide the world with better, smarter, more qualified interpreters.