I got my first introduction to the world of interpreting as a kid, maybe 11 years old, from a woman named Pam who was teaching our entire family American Sign Language (ASL). ASL was Pam’s native language. Both her parents were deaf, and she first learned English through the television, she told us. She grew up to be an ASL interpreter.
The culmination of these lessons involved my sister and me practicing our own ASL interpreting as Pam read aloud from a children’s book by Shel Silverstein. It was not exactly on-the-fly interpreting, however, since we knew the story ahead of time and Pam had reviewed the vocabulary with us. I couldn’t remember all the words, though, and invented some of it. My mother video recorded us doing it live, so this remains the closest thing to formal interpreting I’ve ever done.
Notwithstanding how low-key it was supposed to be, I found this childhood exercise extremely challenging. I couldn’t stop and look up a word when I forgot, which made me feel helpless. This may be why I have never been tempted to try my hand at interpreting.
Interpreting is, in fact, challenging. Looking back, I have a lot more compassion for 11-year-old me than I did at the time. And if you’ve ever been tempted to think that it should be easy, like I told myself at 11 years old when I forgot ASL vocabulary as Pam recited the English, then perhaps this issue will help enlighten you — it’s challenging, and I have more respect than ever for the professionals.