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Spoken Myths

Myths some, a small minority of, spoken language interpreters may hold about sign language interpreters:
Myth 1: We earn twice as much.
If only. Maybe we earn more some areas or for some contractors. Mostly we are facing reductions in fees just as you are. The large agency is king and is taking its cut more than ever. See previous post on One Stop Shopping.
Myth 2: We are known as Deaf or Deafblind interpreters.
No. There are Deaf (Relay) Interpreters and Intermediaries. They are often to be found working in courts and mental health. These are working interpreters who are Deaf. As native users of the language they are more adept at working with Deaf people who have additional communication needs and they work alongside Sign Language Interpreters. For more information see this article.
Myth 3: We are called BSLs.
No. You are not called Mandarins or Russians. You are interpreters as are we. A correct term would be Sign Language Interpreters. If you must shorten it SLIs would be better.
Myth 4: You are being discriminated against because in the MoJ contract we are being paid higher fees (well for now anyway). This is discrimination because we are mostly white and British and you are mostly not.
No. Well yes to the last part. But no. If I spoke Cantonese and I was white and got the job but you were Chinese and didn’t, that would be discrimination. But you are doing your job and I am doing mine, which is a confusingly different but yet similar. The fees were decided, in my understanding, on the basis of standards. I will come to this one next…
Myth 5: Spoken Language Interpreters have just as high standards of training etc.. as SLIs.
Really? It takes us 5 – 10 years to become fully qualified and registered. This can cost a minimum of £6,500. More if you came through the university route. This is mostly because we are not native users of the language and we have to take this long to become proficient. Plus there is the Level 4 or Postgrad training in interpreting to complete which takes a minimum of a year on top of all the language training.
This is not to say you don’t have these things. You have great skills and courses with the potential for study at MA level and doctorates. The whole standards thing boils down to the minimum requirement needed to interpret for a public service and the perception of this by the authorities. The minimums for NRPSI registration take less time to study for, partly because you are already fluent in the language. This is unfortunately seen as lower standards and this has been used against you. Which brings me nicely to my last point.
Myth 6: We look down at you.
A categorical no. I have the utmost respect for you. I have marvelled at stories of your stamina in court where there has been one of you for a whole day and we normally have two interpreters working together. We normally have an interpreter working for defence barristers and separate ones for the court to avoid conflicts of interest. I have heard stories of you having to do both. I am not sure this is physically possible.
So let us talk Truths…
Truth 1: We have all been shafted. The contract has gone to… well we all know don’t we. They have effectively ripped up the NRPSI and the National Agreement. Standards and quality have now gone out of the window on the basis of saving costs.
Truth 2: You got shafted again. In order to register for the aforementioned agency you have to pay £100 for an assessment even though technically you have already been assessed. Correct me if I am wrong. Rumour has it there has been a reduction in price as not enough interpreters signed up for it. Not surprised. I love your ‘Say no…’ campaign. Over half of NRPSI interpreters won’t work for them. I shudder to think at who they will get to work. I know. Perhaps one of the legal clerks who happens to know a bit of Gujarati? Well that will see justice done.
Truth 3: The media are not helping. All this talk of interpreter costs and how bad it all is really does take away from the bankers and their continued fat bonuses, doesn’t it? If only the FSA had some muscle. Anyway…
Truth 4: We really all should be working together rather than finger pointing and laying blame. When we do, it works really well. I’ve seen the questions in Parliament. I know it can be done. And there is strength in numbers. So can we all please dispel these myths and look at the truths? Stop wasting cash on expensive legal fees for Judicial Reviews (unless they are founded). Stop setting up alternative organisations. Stop blaming and let’s all please do a bit more work together.

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  1. In general, I agree with what you’ve said but there is one thing which I cannot accept. Dealing with Myth no 5 you say: “This is mostly because we are not native users of the language and we have to take this long to become proficient.”
    The vast majority of us, including myself, are native speakers of only one language – exactly like it is with you. You are a native “speaker of spoken” and you have to learn the sign language. We are native speakers of one language and we learn to speak the other – on an academic and not only conversational level (though it is about to change, I guess…).
    The JR on grounds of discrimination was nothing personal, please understand. It was one of the ways to try and get this ill thought decision quashed.
    All the best
    Spoken Language Interpreter