Interpreters lend helping hand

As a language grows and evolves, it draws speakers from many different sources.

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By Samuel Finch / Features Editor

Teaching moment (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

By Samuel Finch / Features Editor

As a language grows and evolves, it draws speakers from many different sources.    
For some, the inspiration to enter the field of interpreting comes at a young age.
“My first exposure was when I was a little girl,” said Diana MacDougall, World Languages department chair and coordinator of the Interpreter Education Program. “My neighbors were Deaf. I saw they were signing and went home and looked in the dictionary under ‘deaf’ and memorized the alphabet and introduced myself. I wasn’t shy.”
A graduate of RCCMacDougall has been teaching full time for 16 years and interpreting American Sign Language for over 30 years. In addition to teaching all of the courses required for the interpreting program, MacDougall also teaches sociology and anthropology, including linguistics.
“Research has shown that a language is a language is a language, whether it’s a visual one or an auditory one, the process is pretty much the same for learning it,” MacDougall said. “Some people tend to be more visual and might gravitate toward a visual language, while others might be more auditory and pick up accents and so forth. The process of learning a language is the same, not only the vocabulary, but the culture, syntax, and grammar rules, how to engage and how to have dialogue, like any other language.”
Riverside City College’s ASL Interpreting Program strives to prepare those interested in becoming nationally certified interpreters.
Students must complete four semesters of ASL courses or equivalent and be near-fluent before entering the Interpreter Education Program. The program takes two years, and includes a number of courses taken consecutively, beginning with two the first semester and one each of the following three semesters.
These courses include further education in the fundamentals of ASL, professional ethics, examination of aspects of American Deaf culture, and extensive preparation for interpreting. Students earn an associate’s degree or a certificate upon completion, but many continue taking general education courses in order to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree, working toward national certification in the process.
Due to the need for extensive student participation and instructor interaction, class sizes are kept small.
“To be standard within the industry we like to keep it to about 15 students, no more, but because of budget cuts and wanting to work with the college, I had a class coming in, the graduating class now, of about 30 students,” MacDougall said. “That’s double what we should have, but the need is there.”
The class scheduled to graduate at the end of the spring 2012 semester currently stands at 10 students. Three of these students, Cecilia Mendez, Katie Collins and Tabatha King, spoke highly of their experiences with the program.
For Mendez, a trilingual student, learning the cultural aspect of ASL was perhaps most intriguing.
“I think the Deaf Culture class has definitely been one of my favorite classes, just because coming into the interpreting program and the Deaf world I had no idea there was this Deaf community, this Deaf world, I just thought I was coming to interpret one language to the other,” Mendez said. “I had to learn about the Deaf community and their views and how they view sign language.”
For Collins, reaching the heart of interpreting was greatly rewarding.
“Interpreting III, when we got the opportunity to actually interpret,” Collins said of her favorite course. “One and two were learning, observing professional interpreters, but in Interpreting III we actually got to go what we call ‘in the hot seat,’ where we got to be in the interpreting chair, interpreting for Deaf clients. It was what we were working towards, so it was a very exciting experience.”
In the case of King, the program’s reinforcement of ASL’s basics was greatly beneficial.
“I would say probably one of my favorite classes, and it’s low on the totem pole, was finger spelling,” King said. “As a student interpreter I’ve always been very hard at critiquing myself and trying to interpret because it’s not my language, and one of the aspects was finger spelling. I always felt that I wasn’t getting finger spelling enough, so that when I was trying to finger spell, it wasn’t clear enough. But in the class itself you learn certain shortcuts, certain breaks in words, that it was OK to pause there.”
As they approach graduation, each of these three students look to the future with different aspirations.
“I have definitely been wanting to study psychology after I’m done with this program,” Mendez said. “I want to continue and offer counseling and community service for the Deaf community as well as the Latino community, and just be available for anyone who needs help.”
Collins plans to apply the same body of knowledge to assist the Deaf community in her own ways.
“My goals upon completing this program and becoming a professional interpreter would be working in the medical field as a medical interpreter, and my main goal is to start a deaf ministry at my church,” Collins said.
Though King has a clear idea of what she would like to do with her education, she stated that she hopes to remain open to other possibilities.
“Taking these ASL courses, I’ve had the opportunity to take a praise and worship class, which is pretty much where we broke down music, and from there grew a love of musical interpretation,” King said. “After I graduate I would definitely like to continue in the performing arts and musical interpretation field, but also I don’t want to limit myself, so there are different genres like legal and VRS (Video Relay Service) that I would like to attempt as well.”
Though Mendez, Collins and King each have different aspirations upon graduation, they share one sentiment for the future of the program.
“I hope to see the interpretation program here at RCC grow,” Collins said in agreement with her classmates. “We’re seeing more students here in the program, but I’d also like to see more professors wanting to be involved.”

Looking forward (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

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