Our Interview with a BSL Interpreter
Why did you become an interpreter?
“I felt it was the right time for me to make a career change – I was an engineer and was getting fed up with working outside in the cold and wet!”
What did you have to do to become an interpreter?
“Well I had to become qualified and it was quite a lengthy process. I studied my Level 1 and Level 2 at evening school, followed by a pre Level 3 course which gave you all the tools to be able to go out into the world and collect the evidence on the NVQ Level 3, that was BSL language. Then when I finished that I had to do BSL Level 4 Language, at that time it was called that, it didn’t change to Level 6 until later, and then BSL Level 4 Interpreting. So Level 1 and 2 took a year each, the pre Level 3 was about a year to 18 months and the Level 4 Language and Interpreting were each 18 months to 2 years.”
What do you enjoy most about being an interpreter?
“The fact that my work is so varied and that I meet lots of different people and go into lots of different domains – some of which I wouldn’t normally be able to go into unless I was an interpreter. For example, I never would have been bright enough to be a doctor, but I have had the privilege of going into people’s appointments with them and seeing things from the other side”
What do you find most challenging?
“Because of the different domains that I go into (it could be medical one day and then environmental sciences the next!), I have to know the terminology and jargon for many different areas. However, sometimes I don’t get any preparation notes, perhaps because of confidentiality issues or people don’t know how the meeting is going to go, so not being able to research the terminology/jargon before the job can make it quite a challenge!”
What would be your top tip for anyone wanting to become an interpreter?
“Take your time, it is a long process, and I think rushing through NVQ’s in as quick a time as possible isn’t always the best way, I think you need time to practice and develop your skills. And I think, for me personally, going into interpreting as a 2nd profession was beneficial because I felt the life experiences I gained beforehand helped me with my new career path”
What has been your most unusual assignment?
“Water-skiing with the Deaf Youth Club, I even got to have a go at the end as well!”
Do you specialise in any particular area?
“I do a little bit by the nature of what I frequently get requested to do and at the moment that’s quite a lot of social services and medical work. It is probably easier to say what I don’t specialise in and that is court or police work, as I don’t do any of those at the moment.”
What is something you have really learnt from becoming an interpreter?
“That people don’t listen! When you are making an interpreted phone call you have to explain to the other person that you are a British Sign Language interpreter and the phone call is interpreted and there might be a delay. The amount of times people still say ‘Hello, hello? Are you still there?’ and then you have to explain again that ‘Yes, this is an interpreted phone call …..!’. “
Can you paint a picture of a day in the life of an interpreter?
“There are two different types of days to be honest; one day I could be providing office support work and would be in the same office with same person all day and on another day I could have anything from 2, 3 or 4 different bookings, obviously driving between each booking. That poses challenges because if a booking overruns, I still have to get to the next one on time and find car parking, the building and then the person. For me, on time means 15 minutes early, so I have time to meet the person and chat to them to find out what their aim/objective is for the meeting/appointment, etc. So the days can be long! “
If you could change something for the better for the Deaf community what would it be?
“Make Access to Work easier, smoother and fairer. Deaf people face difficulties when they are looking for jobs in the first place, a lot of companies are not aware of Access to Work anyway - even if they are, then company budgets can be extremely limited, which just makes it harder for Deaf people to find a job and to keep a job.”