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I’d like to share with you an ethical dilemma that has been an ongoing subject of debate among interpreters I know for the last several years. First I’ll set up the situation for you; then I’ll offer you the two extreme opposing points of view....

Do people often ask you, "So you're one of those people with the little machine?" (No, that's the court reporter.) "What is it you do again?" "How do you manage to do that?" Or our collective favorite, "I grew up speaking [language], how do I start working for your court as an interpreter?... I have to do *what*? An exam? But I really speak both!" Here are a few videos to pass along to your friends/family/co-workers about what it is we court interpreters do, precisely:

Pardon the interruption to your regularly-scheduled programming, but it’s spring! And I must have spring fever, because all I want to do is go around singing. In all seriousness, I wanted to share with you my absolute best getting-the-interpreting-juices going trick, something that I’ve never heard...

Now that we’ve established in Part I that we’re going to think about interpreting in a teleological (outcome-based) way, the obvious next question is: What outcome are we talking about? In this entry, I will use the term “goal” rather than “outcome.” outcome Pronunciation: /ˈaʊtkʌm/• noun • the way a thing turns out; a consequence: it is the outcome of the vote that counts goal Pronunciation: /gəʊl/• noun • 1(in football, rugby, hockey, and some other games) …2 the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result: he achieved his goal of becoming King of England That is, an “outcome” is what eventually happens in a given situation. A “goal” is a desired result (outcome) that you put an effort into reaching. (Thanks to The Oxford Dictionaries Online.) Because, as a practice profession, we make decisions in such a way as to bring about the outcome we want (teleologically), we will refer to the desired outcome we are working towards as the “goal.” Any situation in which we find ourselves has an ultimate goal, a desired end outcome. When we go to the grocery store, our ultimate goal is to acquire the things we need. We probably also have other, intermediate goals, such as not taking all day to get them all, not spending more than our budget permits, and so forth.  The same can be said for any situation in which we find ourselves interpreting.
My apologies for the slightly off-topic salute to this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Song. The question I really want to ask is, of course, less silly and more important: is interpreting a technical profession or a practice profession? Think of each of the following groups of professions; then consider which group you would place interpreting in: 1. Astronomy, medical research, product safety inspection, archaeology. 2. Medicine, law, law enforcement, pedagogy, ministry. Can I get a show of hands?

So why the pop quiz?

I’m going to bet that most people would instinctively place interpreting into group #2, and therein lies the problem. It's not that #2 is the wrong answer (actually, I would argue that it’s more correct than we know!), but that we interpreters (of all stripes, but particularly court interpreters) relate to our profession as if it belongs in group #1 ... causing ourselves no end of headaches, backbends, self-justification, defensive posturing, and guilt. (Really!) Let’s explore what the professions in each group have in common.The professions in group #1 are all scientific and objective in their approach; they are called technical professions. A technical profession follows a specified process to reach an unspecified end result. (For example, the Scientific Method: “First, define the question. Second, gather information and resources. Then, formulate a hypothesis...”) If the process is not strictly adhered to, then the end result is invalid. The second group is a list of practice professions, which are extremely context-dependent and subjective in their approach, despite requiring technical skills. A practice profession employs various processes to reach a specified end result. (For example, the Hippocratic Oath: “...I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism...”) A physician may get from point A (sick patient) to point B (applying required measures while avoiding over- and undertreatment) through many different techniques, based on the circumstances, and the context in which he or she works; but the goal is always the same.

Why does this matter to me?

Why do I say we treat interpreting (especially court interpreting) as if it were a technical, rather than a practice, profession?