Introduction to…

As I walked into the conference room I noticed the chairs where set up so the participants would sit in groups of six, with the tables forming a large crescent facing the front on the room.  On each table was a random assortment of items which I paid little mind to in deciding where I was going to sit.   

I was at the Supreme Court of Ohio, at the invitation of their Judicial College, to participate in Fundamentals of Faculty Development; a “training the trainer” type of 2-day seminar which I was hoping would strengthen my presentation skills.

 As with most seminars the day began with introductions.  Here, the random assortment of items came into play.  We were asked to pick one of the items and to incorporate it in our introduction.  I quickly chose the Independence Day VHS tape, but not before I suggested to my group I should select the wolf-headed wooden stake.  That suggestion lead to a $10 bet/dare about beginning my intro with “Hi, I’m Kevin and I once slayed a vampire.” I volunteered to go first and once I gave the comic vampire slayer intro, I then gave my actual one using the flick.

To me, choosing the VHS tape was a no brainer. Looking at the imagery and introducing myself as an interpreter what better than the image of an alien ship interacting with a government building.  Obviously, my intro had very little to do with the movie. I referenced folks who don’t speak English, or are limited English proficient and come into contact with our courts/government whose language of record is English.  I compared what we do to the beam of light in the image enabling these two separate entities to interact. 

The intros where short and sweet and as I listened attentively to another 30 something introductions I thought of another way to expand on the Independence Day imagery.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “oh, that person doesn’t need an interpreter, they were born here.” As if a person’s place of birth determines what language they speak.  While place of birth may be an indicator, there does seem to be a prevailing notion that users of interpreter services are all foreign. As a result I’m sure most interpreters have had the opportunity to interpret the immigration warnings to a US citizen.  “I know you were born in Puerto Rico, but just in case, be advised that a conviction…”

Conversely, this also reminds me of the notion that simply because someone is foreign they need an interpreter.  I think of the number of folks who get routed to a language services office simply because they have an accent. Some English speakers just don’t handle accents well. I find that because I’ve been exposed to many different languages and accents throughout my lifetime, I am able to understand accents a lil’ better than the next guy, but at the end of the day I just make the effort to pay attention.

Maybe in choosing the alien ship imagery I helped perpetuate those notions.  Hope not.  Perhaps comparing the language barrier to a vampire which sucks the blood out of communication and the interpreter to the wolf-headed wooden stake may have been the way to go. 

2 Comments
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 16:37h, 23 December Reply

    This reminds me of something that happened in my family. My sister was dealing with a car salesman and he would not let up his superior attitude toward her. She looked him squarely in the eye and said something like “I know I have an accent and I may sound funny to you. But that only means that I speak at least one more language than you. So, no I am not stupid; on the contrary, I am very intelligent – in three languages.”

    Great piece, Kevin.

  • Jennifer De La Cruz
    Posted at 22:24h, 28 December Reply

    Interesting activity!
    It’s always a source of frustration to me when the potential LEP isn’t sure if he/she wants to use the interpreter. In pursuit of accuracy and a smooth delivery, we’ve all encountered those who say they want an interpreter, only to burst into English unexpectedly (throwing us for a loop). The more I try to find the perfect question to ask or the most concise explanation as to why some choose to use an interpreter while others don’t, the more I see that the decision to use an interpreter seems to be almost as individual as a fingerprint. I have chosen to give up. You say you want me to interpret, I will. You decide halfway through to change your mind, that’s fine. Flexible is my new middle name – that much I can decide.
    Jen

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