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Interpreting and lifelong learning

By Karen O'Toole

Interpreting can be a very isolating profession, especially in the area of educational interpreting. Two years ago, despite being involved in the Deaf Community for over 20 years and being a qualified interpreter for over 13 years I still felt I needed to increase my experience and knowledge of the Deaf Community and improve my interpreting skills.

I decided to find ways to improve that did not involve formal study. I have always been involved in professional development and have benefited greatly from the professional development run by ASLIA and ASLIA New South Wales over the years and thought maybe it was my turn to volunteer on the committee and give back to the organisation that had helped me so much.

I would recommend and encourage all those interpreters who have not been involved in ASLIA New South Wales to give it a go. I benefited greatly from the experience and gained an appreciation for those who came before me. Without their tireless efforts, we wouldn’t have the training, conditions, pay, or high standard of interpreters that we have today.

Being part of the committee broadened my understanding of what our professional association does and I gained better knowledge of the disability sector and all the stakeholders involved in providing services for Deaf people. Knowledge like this can only help in the variety of situations in which we interpret. I also made friends and got to know more of the amazing people who share this great profession.

As well as joining the ASLIA New South Wales committee I decided to try more freelance interpreting. I had mostly done educational interpreting up to that point. I was unsure at first and felt out of my comfort zone but would highly recommend to anyone who has been interpreting in the same area for a while to try something new.

Working with a range of Deaf adults, in a variety of different settings helped me to improve my skills dramatically. Being able to work with co-interpreters on a regular basis was also extremely beneficial. Just the incidental learning is amazing and if you are lucky enough to work with co-interpreters who are willing and able to give constructive feedback it can make a huge difference to the speed of your improvement.

I would also recommend approaching the interpreting agencies you work for in your state or territory about mentoring programs. The Deaf Society in New South Wales has a great mentoring program called the John Ferris Internship.

I applied for the internship and was lucky enough to be accepted as an intern in the program which meant that I was paired up with a mentor – a more experienced interpreter- to work for the Deaf Society once a week for a whole day for 13 weeks. This gave me the confidence I needed to accept jobs that I might never have before.

Interpreting is a profession where you never stop learning and improving. The methods I’ve used to improve my skills over the past few years have not actually cost me in monetary terms they have just required time, commitment and a willingness to step out of my comfort zone.

Have a think about ways you could continue to develop and improve your knowledge and skills so that we can continue to raise the standards of this wonderful profession!

Karen O'Toole lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and two children. She has been involved in the Deaf community for over 30 years both here in Australia and in England. She has interpreting experience in a range of settings including education, medical, business and the disability sector. She is looking forward to meeting the challenges that the NDIS will bring and hopes to be part of this rewarding profession for many years to come. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.