Time for a Paradigm Shift V: Where Do We Go From Here?

First off, I apologize to Robert Pollard for getting his name wrong last time!

In any case, this will be the last entry in my “Time for a Paradigm Shift” series. But in the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” I’ve spent the last six months laying out a framework for a new perspective on our field (and by “our field,” I mean interpreting as a whole and unique field); but unless we implement that perspective, it’s nothing more than a thought exercise. (And I, for one, would be disappointed if there weren’t practical implications as well, after all that.)

A quick review of teleological decision-making

In this series, I’ve introduced the concept of teleological [outcome-oriented] decision-making and the Demand-Control Schema. To review, this process requires that we:

  1. Be aware of our values as interpreters: accuracy, completeness, neutrality, professionalism, and so on.
  2. Recognize the demands being placed upon us in any given situation. What environmental, interpersonal, paralinguistic, intrapersonal, linguistic, and divergent factors are influencing the way in which we do our work?
  3. Identify the controls at our disposal. What are all of the things that we could do, regardless of whether or not we should do them?
  4. Be aware of the values of the context in which we are working. What is valued in a legal setting? A medical setting? A religious setting? A conference setting?
  5. Handle the demand(s) by applying the control(s) that best fits with our values as interpreters and those of the context in which we are working.

Implications for court interpreting

As I discussed way back when, most existing court interpreter codes of ethics are mostly or wholly compatible with this way of thinking, because they speak to our values as interpreters (completeness, accuracy, etc.) and the values of the court (impartiality, etc.). Many of us have internalized a series of rules that we think are what our codes of ethics require. As I said at the very start of the series, I invite you, when you have some free time, to think back on a time that you acted according to one of those rules, and ask yourself: what demands was I acting under? What controls did I have at my disposal? (Think of them all! This is just a mental exercise; no one will ever know what options you considered.) Now, ask yourself : if I give up my preconceived idea of “the rules,” would any of my other options have also been appropriate in light of my code(s) of ethics?


Implications for the interpreting field

When the context in which we are working becomes a variable that informs our decision-making, court/conference/medical/community/education interpreters are no longer working in different fields­­—merely different contexts. We can recognize that what unites us is far more powerful than what divides us. We can learn from each other without a knee-jerk “But what a medical interpreter does would never work in a court setting!” reaction. (To be sure, maybe it wouldn’t—but maybe it would, or maybe a variation would.) We can learn together and train together, partly so that we can be aware of each other’s challenges, but mostly because three out of the four factors (demands, controls, and interpreter values) vary very little between contexts. We all value accuracy and professionalism; we all deal with good or bad acoustics, better or worse equipment or lack thereof, clearer or more convoluted speech patterns; we all have more or less the same tricks up our proverbial sleeve—ask people to speak up, make hand gestures, take control of the situation, walk out. (Note that I’m not advocating for any of those, merely listing some things we could do!)

Furthermore, if we are all one profession, we can unite with a common purpose: to work for equal language access for all individuals with limited proficiency in English, and for greater respect and better working conditions for all interpreters … without regard for language pair(s) or settings.

Implications for interpreter training

Not only can we all learn from each other, but the demand-control schema allows us to set aside judgment of each other’s choices. Next time you hear or see an interpreter do something that makes you think “I would never do that!” ask yourself “I wonder what demands he/she was under to make that choice, and what other controls he/she rejected and why?” Or better yet, ask the interpreter—“What factors led you to do it that way?” Each of us has so much to offer—maybe you would still never do that, but maybe there were demands at play that you were unaware of, that affected which controls the interpreter could realistically employ.

In light of this philosophy, Robyn Dean advocates for a “case-conferencing” training method of the sort practiced in medicine, where experienced interpreters (attending physicians) would supervise and guide new interpreters (medical residents) as they discuss together how their cases went, how they handled certain situations, what they could have done differently, etc. Unfortunately, because spoken-language interpreter training is not yet as rigorous or formalized as signed-language interpreter training, I think that approach is a few steps further along than can be realistically implemented for most of us. But as we develop more and more training programs, we can keep that approach in mind, and advocate for its inclusion as a valuable component of training, either in a formal educational program or prior to certification being granted.

Or in summary:

  1. Next time you have to make a decision, consider where you’re trying to end up, not just how you “should” get there.
  2. It’s high time that all interpreters see ourselves as one profession and use our strength in numbers to improve working conditions for all interpreters and language access for all LEP individuals, everywhere, at all times.
  3. Recognize that the fact that someone else made a different decision than you would have in a given situation does not mean that either of you is necessarily wrong.

That’s all, folks!

I would be honored if you would drop me an email at bethany.korp.edwards@gmail.com with a story about how you have implemented this way of thinking in your own interpreting practice, or how you think in retrospect you could have made a different decision if you had used this analysis. I’m taking a short leave of absence from blogging, but I would love to share some answers with everyone when I return in late October or early November.

And while I have your ear…

I’m very excited about the upcoming 2012 New Mexico Interpreters Conference. Entitled “Exploring the Confluence of Role, Responsibility, and Setting,” it is being spearheaded by three of the interpreters I most admire: Holly Mikkelson, Cynthia Roat, and Anna Witter-Merithew. It will be held October 5-7 here in Albuquerque, and more information can be found on the NMAOC’s website here.

In closing…

I’d like to thank Holly, Cindy, Anna, and Robyn once more for letting me piggyback off their ideas. I hope I’ve synthesized them cohesively, and I look forward to seeing where they, I, and others can take them next. See you later in the year!

1 Comment
  • Maria Cristina de la Vega
    Posted at 18:40h, 31 August Reply

    I think a great take-away from this is to create a group of volunteer, experienced interpreters, under the auspices of NAJIT, preferably in different parts of the country, that would be willing to take turns mentoring newly-minted interpreters in the various aspects of the profession.

    Thank you for acquainting us with Robyn Dean’s “case conferencing” approach which we can adapt to our industry.

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