The trend of awarding interpreter provision contracts or framework agreements to the cheapest bidder has brought to mind the topic of self regulation.
Professions can be self regulated or by government. Interpreters are neither protected nor regulated by legislation, which leaves us regulated only by ourselves.
Before interpreting became so focussed on business and profits, we were the preserve of the Deaf community.
We were cherry picked to be interpreters as Deaf people recognised the special heady mix of potential from the right attitude to ones ability to sign. Researchers have tried to pin point and formally record what this mix of attributes are. Interestingly, Deaf people rated different attributes higher than the ones interpreters did. Deaf people now have interpreters who are self selected and those who are not necessarily right for the job.
Along came BSL qualifications and the mainstream NVQ. With less Deaf people being used to teach interpreters and the focus on profit for course providers, people were encouraged to train regardless of aptitude. Quite often students of interpreting have been on training courses without this input from Deaf tutors leaving gaps in many interpreters’ skills.
I had a memorable conversation with someone after a booking where she broke down in tears. She had spent £6,000 on training and had finally realised after repeating many qualifications that she didn’t have the right mix of skills or the aptitude for sign language. Through her tears she asked why no-one had ever told her.
Another element of self regulation is that it engenders trust from the community and the clients we serve. The better our self regulation and abilities as individuals to allow for that to happen the more able we are to be trusted, to work with others and to gain the recognition we deserve.
If you are not yet convinced of the need for more self regulation, ask yourself the following:
How many newly qualified interpreters have you experienced gaining their full registration status and on the back of that fling themselves headlong into a booking they are not neccessarily ready for with the bravado of someone who has finished their long training? N.B training never finishes.
How many interpreters have you heard say, ‘I think I’ll do legal work now’? The thought of a court or tribunal booking, where accuracy is vital, more so than in any other booking, should send fear into the hearts of anyone not registered and fully qualified for at least five years. Sadly it no longer does. Do not take on assignments for the status and privilege of doing them, or because the agency wants you to do it, but because you are safe and experienced enough to do them. Tribunals where a panel may decide to keep someone under a section or a court case where someone’s child may be taken into care is not the place for you to practice your skills but where someone fully competent and experienced should be working.
How many interpreters have you seen, even though they have been working for a few years, refuse to engage in meaningful CPD activities? Throwing money at training courses excluded, try videoing yourself and critiquing the clip. With the sound off.
Have you worked with an interpreter who is not self-reflective? Either whilst working or one who is unable to have those open conversations and exchange feedback afterwards.
So how do we further our own self regulation? The obvious is compulsory CPD but as we, as a profession have voted that in and rightfully pushed it onto the NRCPD agenda, I shall leave that as a given. Additionally our other responsibilities should be to:
1) Seek feedback from clients and each other.
2) Debrief after assignments and discuss how we can make improvements.
3) Do not accept work until you are ready and safe to do so with the appropriate experience, skill set and support in place.
4) Do not assume you are safe and ready because you think so, the agency offered you the job or you have convinced yourself but by checking with mentors, peers, clients and friends.
5) Engage the services of a mentor should you want to enter a new domain of experience and ask them to tell you if you are ready for a particular assignment.
6) Complain. Or rather talk to each other if problems occur in bookings, if you can not resolve them submit a complaint to the NRCPD. We are still reluctant to do this to our peers but should an inrerpreter not practice in a safe way, complain we must.
6) Learn what it is to co-interpret properly. This does not mean interpreting for 20 minute stretches each but watching each other for mistakes, correcting them or offering support. Especially inside a courtroom.
Without extra certification in place for interpreters who want to work in legal and mental health settings the above ways of working become even more important.
Ultimately, if we are too fearful or defensive about having these conversations about our own work as practitioners and are unwilling to engage in more self regulation there is usually a reason. It can be an indication that an interpreter is either fearful of what they might be told or understand on some level that what they are doing is wrong or worse, unsafe.