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AN INTRODUCTION

Defining Our Role

An interpreted message is a message at risk.  An interpreted conversation can feel like a computer reformatting and executing commands, or like a more-powerful person oppressing a less-powerful person.  Alternatively, it can be one of the nicest things to happen that day, leaving participants feeling better (at least no worse) about themselves and one another.  

Such outcomes are the result of many, many factors.  One of these factors involves the choice of interpreting service model. 

For our use here, the word model means the same as paradigm.  But, what does paradigm mean?
  


"A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices

that constitutes a way of viewing reality

for the community that shares them."

                                              
     - Yahoo Education definition of PARADIGM


Over the years, models of interpreting service have evolved, changing to match society's view of reality.

For an interpreted conversation to feel like an interaction with a computer, the interpreter is not a real person.  Rather, the interpreter is viewed as an interpreting machine having no sense of self, no judgment, and no self-control.  Under this model, consumers would not expect an interpreter to mediate the message in any way.  The interpreter would be expected only to translate the signs or the words whether or not the translation made sense.  The interpreter would simply repeat for one what the other had said with no accounting for cultural differences, which, unaccounted for, could throw a major wrench into the works.

For an interpreted conversation to feel like an exercise in oppression, the model would have to assume that interpreters by virtue of their hearing status obviously know what's best [sic] for consumers.  In this paradigm, interpreters are more powerful than consumers, and all parties expect interpreters to simply go ahead and make difficult, complex, or otherwise challenging decisions for less-powerful consumers.

Happily for all concerned, interpreting service models have come a long way.  In 2009, interpreters are neither computers nor oppressors.  American society endeavors to empower all persons equally; societal practices and mores (including service models) reflect current thought.

Where have service models been, and where are they going?

Service Models
A Few Basics


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

                                             - George Santayana, 1905


THE HELPER MODEL

To help is to change for the better, give relief to, or offer a remedy (to fix).  The implications of the Helper interpreting service model are unsettling; even oppressive and destructive.

Sure, everyone appreciates a helping hand now and again.  However, when someone is early on and consistently helped when help is not needed, learned helplessness can result.  

The effects of learned helplessness are insidious, far-ranging, and self-fulfilling (cyclic).  If I believe that I need help (when I do not), I will continue to expect, seek, and accept it -- and I will view myself as unable and dependent.  If you believe that I need help (when I do not), you will continue to offer it -- and you will view me as unable and dependent.   

Following the Helper model, interpreters notoriously and inappropriately made decisions on behalf of consumers, all the while believing such behavior was helpful.

Even now, after much discussion, reflection, analysis, and enlightenment, some interpreters seem stuck in the notion that legally competent adults who happen to be deaf are incapable of making their own decisions ... and, further, that the interpreter is somehow the one qualified to make those decisions.  How disrespectful (dare we say kooky) is that?

Codependence is complex and egalitarian, so deaf consumers weren't the only ones whose needs were not respected.  For interpreters providing service under the Helper model, the needs of the deaf person came first.  Interpreters would forgo their own needs and comfort because they wished to altruistically help the less fortunate [sic].  Helper-interpreters found pride in being selfless.  

THE MACHINE MODEL (aka: THE CONDUIT MODEL)

In a sincere effort to leave the Helper service model behind, people over-reacted.  The Machine/Conduit model is the interpreting community's attempt to get rid of Helper paternalism as much as possible.

Following the Machine/Conduit model, interpreters simply and flatly s-a-y-w-h-a-t-t-h-e-y-s-a-i-d without address to how such literal translations might impact discourse.  Hmmm.  Can you imagine how some of those conversations went down?

The Machine/Conduit model was no place for an inappropriately compassionate, selfless helper.  Interpreters were automatons, they had a job to do, they showed up to do it, and then they left.  Too dark for the deaf person to see the interpreter's hands?  Too bad.  The hearing person plunked the interpreter into a corner where the deaf person can't see the interpreter and the presentation at the same time?  Too bad.

THE COMMUNICATION FACILITATOR MODEL

In a seek toward center, the interpreter became a Communication Facilitator.  Finally, interpreters are becoming professionals, managing and facilitating the logistics of the interpreted communication process.  Lights, camera, action, and break.

Although the Communication Facilitator model improved things for the interpreter and allowed for practical and professional considerations and adjustments, there remained the communication problems resulting from those Machine/Conduit literal translations.

THE BILINGUAL-BICULTURAL MEDIATOR MODEL (aka: THE BI-BI MODEL)

During interpreted discourse, portions of an intended message can be skewed or lost in translation.  Body-language, idiomatic sayings, cultural expectations and meanings, and more, are features of communication that, if left-out or misinterpreted, can completely change the course of conversation and events.  

Enter the Bi-Bi interpreter.

Under the Bilingual-Bicultural Mediator service model, the interpreter's job includes bicultural mediation.  To mediate is to act in an objective way to inform or minimize difference.  Through his or her extensive knowledge, the Bi-Bi Mediator facilitates communication clarity by resolving not only linguistic (language) differences, but cultural differences, as well.

THE ALLY MODEL

Currently under active and engaged discussion and development is the newest service paradigm: the Ally model.  

Two of the biggest questions to be answered here are When is a Helper not an Ally? and How are they different?  

For example, what should the working interpreter do if the deaf person says directly to the interpreter and in a back-channel-sort-of-way, "Is my hearing aid squealing?"  Voice what the deaf person signed?  Simply respond in a back-channel-sort-of-way?  Interrupt the discourse to explain to the hearing person that the interpreter and the deaf person need a moment?  Or, what if a diversity-sensitive and -respectful hearing person addresses the working interpreter on the back channel with, "Was that insensitive of me?"

During interpreted discourse, when should such communications be discretely managed, and when should they be seized upon and exploited as opportunities for diversity training?  Well, as interpreters say, DEPENDS.

... to be continued.

This page was edited: 09/15/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: October 2008.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2008; 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics™ is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.

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