We hire people for the wrong reasons.

By watching the hiring process for a new faculty member the other day I realized something that I think matters.

Typically when departments, organizations, or agencies hire a new faculty member or a new executive director, etc., the question they ask is, “do we like this person?” And the question the applicant asks is, “How can I get them to like me?”. This makes sense, because if there’s chemistry between the hiring committee and the applicant, the applicant gets a job and the organization gets a new colleague.

I remember going through this same process when I was on a board that hired our first executive director.

There’s a downside to this, however. The downside is, when you’re in a marginal field – interpreting, geography, etc. – it’s just as important to hire people who can sell the field and keep it alive, not just people who we like and who likes us.

We need to think strategically.

Which means instead of hiring people based only on disciplinary expertise, we need people who can lead. We need people who know how to organize people and coordinate projects and conduct efficient meetings and sell our specialization to the world.

If we don’t change how we hire interpreting faculty, recruit RID board members, and build broad professional expertise, we will have a hard time sustaining the profession through ongoing economic and cultural pressures. 

Job Cancelations are Wonderful!

  
Every interpreter I know works their hands off to provide great interpreting services. This usually means spending far more time doing assignment preparation and professional development than they can bill for. Most of this work is thankless, socially undervalued, and quite often ignored. Not to mention, with the abundance of under qualified interpreters out there, being a great interpreter (with a corresponding wage) can just as often mean not getting the job. Also, clients can be fickle and cancel or re-schedule assignments repeatedly causing a loss in real wages if a canceled booking prevented other billable booking. 

So when an assignment gets cancelled and it’s still billable, an angel in heaven gets its wings. Every interpreter loves the feeling of having an hour or two of breathing time. Most of us use it productively: catching up on professional development, checking email, billing, paying bills, reading for fun, or grocery shopping.

We don’t talk a lot about cancellations, though, so I’m curious what you do with your “down time.”

What do you do with your extra time from cancelled assignments? 

Billing Software for Interpreters

When I first started interpreting I designed an invoice in Apple Pages, and used that to do all of my billing for a long time. It was simple, clean, and it worked.

About a year ago I got tired of typing my hours into a Word document and decided to try one of several online billing apps that would allow me to track hours and generate invoices.

I tried Freshbooks, Zoho Invoice, and Harvest. I ended up choosing Zoho Invoice because it has a free option and seemed a lot more intuitive overall. I can enter hours each day into my timesheet, and then generate an invoice form un-billed hours whenever I need. Then I download a PDF of the invoice and email to my agency.

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There are a lot of great options that I don’t use, such as emailing from within the app and allowing clients to pay online through a bunch of methods.

I’m curious. Do you use billing software as a contractor? If so, what? If not, how do you do your billing?

Should interpreters have a professional website?

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Interpreters are language professionals that sell their unique skill set to customers who need to meet their communication needs. Interpreters are certainly knowledge workers, although we are a peculiar kind in that our work is not captured in easily defined “products”.

This means that it’s all the more important for interpreters, many of whom are independent contractors or freelancers, to put a face on their work. To have an online presence and perhaps a portfolio.

Not a blog, like this one. A real website that sells your image as a professional and allows people to hire you.

But after a quick internet search last night, I noticed that unlike other knowledge workers, I can’t find any ASL interpreters who have their own professional websites.

Do you know of any interpreters with professional websites?

Do you think interpreters should have professional websites?

Why are they so rare in our field?

Interpret with the courage of your convictions.

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I did not expect to love the film Julie and Julia so much. But there’s something I love about a pudgy expat woman in her 40s sticking it to the publishing industry, French aristocracy, and TV culture.

Julie Child is famous for saying “cook with the courage of your convictions.” And although I have no idea if she actually said this, I like it.

And here’s why I thought of it. Just this week I started teaching an online course for 15 working interpreters from around Ohio. To start the course, I spoke with each participant on the phone to hear more about what moves them.

I loved hearing their stories of struggle and success. Interpreters who, despite being misunderstood by virtually everyone in the school system, have found bold, creative ways to empower mainstreamed deaf students against all odds.

These interpreters don’t check their job description before caring for others. They don’t start by saying, “that’s not my job.” They don’t assume that someone else will solve these problems. They jump in. They find a way. They make things happen.

Despite the educational industry. Despite the interpreting aristocracy. Despite the culture that tells them to do the minimum work possible to collect a paycheck.

“Bravo!” Julie Child applauds you.

From the Archives: 1981

In 1981, the year I was born, Sharon Neumann Solow published a book through RID press called Sign Language Interpreting: a Basic Resource Book. 

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The small, brown book predates most of what is available now, include the Baker-Shenk and Cokely green book of ASL linguistics. Sharon’s simple and direct language provides practical guidance to working interpreters on matters of interpreter placement, ethics, and special situations. I loved the fact that she included a list of discussion questions and citations at the end of each chapter. But perhaps my favorite part is the series of sketched images that appear throughout the text, such as the following:

FullSizeRender (1)I especially love the “fabric background” idea. I imagine interpreters carrying around black smocks, fabric backgrounds, and foldable partitions.

Even though some of the suggestions in the book appear dated 34 (!) years later, I’m moved by how relevant and current the format is. For instance:

  • The chapters are short and uncomplicated, which means people might actually read it. The entire book barely cross 100 pages, perfect for interpreters on the move.
  • The book actually contains citations – a crucial part of tracing the development of thought over time.
  • Most of the suggestions are nuanced and still accurate, such as: “[Sign-to-voice interpreting] is probably no harder than voice-to-sign interpreting, but hearing audiences, being generally less exposed to interpreters, rely differently on the interpreter than the average deaf audience.” (51)
  • The typesetting and hand-sketched images is simple but effective, especially when compared to the design catastrophe that is So You Want to Be an Interpreter? 

Ideas do not necessarily get better over time, nor do the quality of books improve with technology. Sharon’s book is a great example of this.

In Defense of Academic Writing

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Academic writing has taken quite a bashing since, well, forever, and that’s not entirely undeserved. Academic writing can be pedantic, jargon-y, solipsistic and self-important. There are endless think pieces, editorials and New Yorker cartoons about the impenetrability of academese. In one of those said pieces, “Why Academics Can’t Write,” Michael Billig explains:

Throughout the social sciences, we can find academics parading their big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases. By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real—something to impress the inspectors from the Research Excellence Framework.

Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those…

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