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Auslan Interpreter: Why?

By Anne Horton, Sydney, New South Wales
Anne Horton reminisces on her career as an Auslan interpreter, what ignited her interest in learning the language,  and how she developed from beginner to professional.  

I have been a NAATI accredited Auslan/English interpreter since 1990. Even though I have two deaf (non-signing) relatives, I did not discover the Deaf Community until I was 23 years old. At the time I was studying psychology, and inspired by my young deaf cousin, I researched the impact of deafness on language development and learning. This led to a conversation with a Deaf Society of New South Wales Community Educator (Deafness Awareness). He concluded, “If you are this interested in Deafness, why don’t you learn Auslan and become a psychologist for the Deaf?” Little did I know the huge impact that single comment would have on my life.

“The NDIS is enabling Deaf people to access and pay for interpreters wherever and whenever they want.”

I entered the Deaf Community at a time of great change and breakthrough: Auslan had recently been acknowledged to be a language; the Auslan dictionary was published (1989); new courses were launched. Initially I learnt Signed English (1988) until an Auslan course existed (1989). Meanwhile, I socialised with vibrant Deaf people and went to every event I could. I joined a signing bible study group, who entreated me to interpret for them at church saying, “something is better than nothing”. Reluctantly I started to interpret and to my surprise and delight, discovered it was possible! (Apparently God appreciated my ‘leap of faith’ and decided to add His ‘super’ to my ‘natural’).

Soon an Auslan Interpreter Training course began at Petersham TAFE (1990) and I became a NAATI accredited interpreter. The Community Educator I had spoken to, went to another job and I became the Community Educator at the Deaf Society working alongside Deaf people. This role included interpreting and expanded to include work as a psychologist for the Deaf. My dream had come true!

Since having children, I have appreciated the great flexibility and versatility of professional interpreting which has become my career focus. Here are some of the challenges I have faced along the way:

Challenge: A strong sense of obligation - “I can do the job so I should do the job”. Solution: Learning that life needs balance and it’s ok to say “no”.

Challenge: Thinking I could never be such a great interpreter because I wasn’t a native signer. Solution: Realising most Deaf people aren’t native signers either. I’m a good match for many of them.

Challenge: Friendship with clients. Solution: Realising friendship need not compromise professionalism on the job. Familiarity increases interpreting fluency.

Challenge: Tension (muscular and mental). Solution: Exercising to maintain strength. Team interpreting. Massages. Faith. Purpose. A hobby.

Challenge: A tonne of volunteer interpreting. Solution: The NDIS is enabling Deaf people to access and pay for interpreters wherever and whenever they want. This creates another challenge however…

Challenge: The NDIS is creating an even greater demand for interpreters. Solution: Inspire more people to become interpreters; fit more jobs into each day (perhaps via video interpreting despite its many drawbacks); encourage the large number of interpreters working in other jobs (because they weren’t getting enough interpreting work) to come back to interpreting.

I have briefly shared my interpreting “story” of why and how I became an interpreter as well as some challenges I’ve faced. But what keeps me in the interpreting profession after all these years? … the privilege of being “the voice” of others; the importance and joy of connecting people; and the warmth and appreciation I experience from my clients (deaf and hearing) who cause me to feel valued and fulfilled every day. Interpreting makes the world a better place … that’s why I’m an interpreter.

Anne completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) in 1988 and went on to research the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on cognitive processing. Anne gained her NAATI Auslan/English Paraprofessional Interpreter accreditation in 1990 and worked as a Community Educator, Interpreter and Psychologist for the Deaf Society of New South Wales until 1995 when she gained her NAATI Auslan/English Professional Interpreter accreditation. Anne’s career has focused on interpreting predominantly medical and religious settings as well as a wide variety of community settings in Australia and abroad. Anne is based in Sydney, Australia.

Reproduced with permission: ASLIA June 2017 e-Update