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American Annals of the Deaf

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More Than Meets the Eye: Revealing the Complexities of an Interpreted Education
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One student who graduated with an associate’s degree in interpreting from Palomar College and then went on to get a baccalaureate degree in Deaf Studies with an Emphasis in Interpreting from a university with a program that is well respected by the Deaf community contacted me to request information and resources about educational interpreting. She was certified by the only national organization in the United States of sign language interpreters, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), and she had worked as an interpreter for 1 year each at two different high schools.

After working for 2 years as an educational interpreter, she began working as a freelance interpreter. However, she often found herself back in the schools. When she contacted me looking for good references related to educational interpreting, I asked her why she was looking. She replied, “To be honest, the reason I am looking for more info on educational interpreting is just for more clarity. I think that it can be a sticky area to interpret. A lot of different ethical issues come up weekly, most of the time dealing with your role in the classroom. It seems like everyone I talk to has a varying opinion of answers to sticky situations.” This interpreter went on to say that she had been disheartened by an article (Corwin, 2007) in the January 2007 issue of the RID Views (RID’s monthly newsletter) and the subsequent editorial response (T. Smith, 2007) to the article, both of which, she felt, reflected a clear lack of consensus regarding the role of K–12 interpreters. (The article discussed historical perceptions of educational interpreters and the controversy about the RID board’s decision to accept interpreters who had passed the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) at a level 4.0 or above as certified members of the organization.)

Other nationally certified interpreters have expressed to me in conversation their discomfort and/or uncertainty about what is expected of interpreters working in mainstream classrooms, stating that educational interpreting has different requirements than interpreting in other settings. In spite of the fact that many interpreters are underprepared for employment in K–12 schools, I have noticed that upon entering the interpreting program some of my students mistakenly assume that interpreting at the elementary level would be easy or boring. My own experiences interpreting in elementary school settings have led me to a different conclusion.

INTERPRETING IN PRIMARY GRADES DURING MY EARLY INTERPRETING YEARS

I am a nationally certified interpreter. I hold a Certificate of Interpretation and a Certificate of Transliteration (CI and CT) from RID and a Level V: Master from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).[4] I worked for a short time as an interpreter at the high school level, passing the ASL-to-spoken-English segment of the district’s in-house evaluation at their highest level, in spite of the fact that I incorrectly interpreted several facts from the story told in ASL by an elementary-school-aged Deaf boy. Overlooking time indicators, my interpretation (as I recall) had him pull out his loose tooth at least four times before he actually pulled it out. Prior to that evaluation, I had never seen a signer under the age of 18.

I also faced an unfamiliar set of challenges when I had occasion to interpret for several long field trips at the elementary level. Roberto was in fourth grade when I first met him. I was the interpreter for a weeklong field trip to an historical area of town. Students went out to different buildings and settings to observe and learn about the ways of life of people who used to occupy the region. I had been the interpreter for Roberto’s group throughout the week. Roberto and several of his classmates, including some in his group, were profoundly Deaf. I had worked as an interpreter in postsecondary settings for several years, but I was completely unprepared for this light-hearted, fun-filled, fourth-grade field trip.

Every morning, 50 to 60 children filled a room in preparation for the daily activities. Sometimes the teachers would introduce the children to vocabulary or content that might be encountered later in the day. Sometimes they would just play games or sing songs until all the school buses had arrived from the various schools. One of my first challenges was trying to interpret a children’s song designed to increase awareness of the phonology of vowels. The lyrics of the song are simple:

I like to eat
I like to eat
I like to eat
Eat apples and bananas.

The song is sung several times in a row, and each time, all of the vowels are replaced with the long vowel sound of a targeted vowel. For example, if the vowel a were specified, the task would be to replace the vowel sound in all of the words with the long a (/a/) sound:
Ā lāke tā āte
Ā lāke tā āte
Ā lāke tā āte
Āte āpples ānd bānānās


4. After 2006, these tests were no longer offered. NAD and the RID instead jointly developed a certification instrument called the NAD-RID National Interpreting Certificate (NIC).
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