16 Jan Promotion or Demotion? The Perceived Value of Interpreters
My heart is racing and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. I was in court, and when the judge called my case, she misspoke and said “Attorney Reme Bashi” instead of “Interpreter Reme Bashi.” The bailiff quickly corrected the judge (an unusual thing), so the judge chuckled and said to me “Oh, I gave you a promotion.” I, in turn, smiled and said, “I actually think it was the opposite, Your Honor. If it were easy to become an interpreter, there would be more of us.”
Looking back on that day, although there were only a handful of people around us, it may have been wiser to keep my thoughts to myself. Luckily, the judge and the attorney who were present did not take offense to my comment, and I later had the opportunity to speak to them and expand on my idea. After my conversations with them, they seemed to understand the complexity of our profession a little more. I have been pondering the actions interpreters can take to make our profession seem more valuable in the eyes of others.
At one point in my interpreting career, I interpreted for Jay Bildstein, a public speaker and sales expert from New York City who offered training sessions in Mexico. I learned a few lessons as I interpreted for him. I often think of how these business ideas apply to how we sell our language services and how they’re perceived.
Consider, for example, if a product or service is scarce, it’s considered more valuable. Since I’m in Wisconsin, let’s think, beer. The famous Milwaukee beer with the blue ribbon is sold at every gas station, and you can find it beyond Wisconsin’s borders. It’s anything but scarce, and the perception of its value is low, as is its price. On the other hand, craft beer made in Dane County, sold only in Wisconsin, is scarce. People perceive that it’s special, and the money they pay for it mirrors that perception.
Let’s now consider perceived value and price. Imagine you’re looking for a birthday cake. You find very similar cakes in a range of prices. The main variation between the cakes is the price, and you have no point of reference to know which cake is tastier than the other. If you were trying to get the tastier cake for your birthday, you would likely base your choice on price and buy the more expensive one. We tend to perceive more expensive items as being of higher quality.
Going back to the beginning of my story, the judge did not know there were only around forty certified Spanish court interpreters living in Wisconsin, in contrast to thousands of attorneys. What’s more, Spanish-language interpreters in our state don’t make a lot of money, so the perception of the value of interpretation is not high. I thought to myself: Instead of getting angry about how people perceive interpretation, I will take action to change that perception.
This is my dual action plan. First, I will take every opportunity to sing the praises of interpreters and explain how specialized our art is. If we don’t market our talents, no one else will do it for us. Second, I will price my services according to the scarcity and quality of my professional abilities. All professionals establish their fees according to their perception of value. We are no different.
Reme Bashi has been a certified court interpreter in Wisconsin since 2008. She began her career as an interpreter and translator in Mexico, at the University of Veracruz, where she majored in pedagogy. Being bilingual in English and Spanish lead her to language teaching and then to translation and interpreting. She was a conference interpreter for several years, interpreting for the media and government events in Mexico.
In the Midwest, Bashi has interpreted in a variety of settings – education, manufacturing, legal, and community. When she’s not interpreting, she likes to learn about new subjects, something that she considers pivotal to becoming a more proficient language access professional. Recently she has immersed herself in hospitality, urban gardening, and ancestry research. Contact: email@example.com
Featured photo taken from “Business coaching: Employee benefits” by Jeremy Dawes at Complete Business News, under a CC BY 4.0 license. Text-body photos: “Craft beer paddle” by Crystal Luxmore at flickr, under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license; from “Maple Syrup Cake” by Evelyn Chartres, under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.