The Demanding Control Schema of Interpreting

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Robyn Dean has her demand-control schema. But most of us have also used a less researched approach to interpreting: the demanding control schema.

The demanding control schema only works in cases where communication between clients has imploded to an irreparable level of chaos. Not because anyone is being nasty. Not because you’ve interpreting anything inaccurately. But just because the linguistic differences have subtly accumulated to the point where everyone is frustrated and no one knows why.

The demanding control schema says that interpreters with the right use of emotional intelligence and cultural capital can call a time-out and take a moment to explain the massive miscommunication to both sets of participants.

Demand control. For just a moment. In a patient, assertive way. Just long enough to get things on track.

(Sure, I’m just playing on the “demand control” language. There’s nothing actually “demanding” about this approach. But who says I can’t play on words just to have fun?)

I’ve seen this done. I’ve done it. It works well. Much better than when I’ve seen interpreters try to pretend that they can’t speak up. And they watch the communication ship crash on a reef and sink without ever shouting ‘ahoy!’

Why not speak up? Interpreters are hired because people need to communicate. We are language specialists. The idea that we “only interpret” and never speak as an independent professional is something we’ve invented for ourselves, not something clients are asking of us.

That’s the demanding control schema of interpreting.


One thought on “The Demanding Control Schema of Interpreting”

  1. I support this concept 100%. Years ago I attended a workshop by Gary Sanderson yeas ago (May he rest in peace). He supported two concepts that I have tried to embrace in my work.
    1.) We are NOT Invisible. I cringe every time I walk into an assignment and hear my team say, “I am just the interpreter, pretend I am not here.” We are there! Our presence is going to change the dynamic of the situation – period, end of story. Depending on the situation I prefer to introduce myself to the hearing consumer by saying, “I am here to interpret. Please do not change what you normally do. IF I need anything I will let you know.” To the Deaf consumer I let them know that I am flexible and if they need me to change anything to let me know and I will do my best.
    2.) We are NOT married to the chair. This was more in relationship to classroom settings, but it can be applied to any assignment where the interpreter normally sits. Guess what? It is okay to stand up if it is going o help facilitate the communication for all involved. And you know something else? You can even move around in some situations. I have worked in K-12 class rooms where I have even started writing on the board because the teacher was not and the pace was too fast for me to keep up with fingerspelling names of cities in other countries. So I wrote them on the board.

    Austin, you are right – The interpreter can interrupt, ask for a pause, explain what is breaking down communication, switch models of interpreting to make things more clear and even stop the situation to ask for a CDI.

    It is always better when you have an empowered Deaf consumer who is savvy enough to take control. But if communication is falling apart, it is okay for the interpreter to take a step back and first ask the Deaf consumer for the right to stop things, and then do it.

    Here is a link to a paper Gary wrote that was published in RID.

    It addresses more than what we are discussing here, but it does focus on power shifts and an interpreter’s responsibility.

    Thank you Austin for bringing up these topics.


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