What Makes Being an Interpreter the Best Job in the World

Each year, on September 30th, translators, interpreters and language professionals around the world celebrate International Translation Day. The day also marks the feast of St. Jerome, an Italian priest known as the patron saint of translators who was responsible for translating many of the New Testament manuscripts from Greek to Latin as well as parts of the Hebrew Gospel from Hebrew to Greek.  

In honor of the special day, yesterday, we interviewed Kat Jackson, VP of Language Operations and Master ASL Interpreter with over 30 years of interpreting for the deaf community. Kat has held leadership positions in national interpreting agencies and is passionate about leading and training interpreting teams toward excellence.

In this exclusive interview, Kat shares with us how she was first introduced to the world of interpreting, her experiences with Deaf culture and what makes being an interpreter “the best job in the world”.

Kat Jackson

1. How did you get into interpreting?  

My mother taught at a school for the deaf and I volunteered in her classroom.  I quickly ditched my original major, Sports Medicine, and went down the path of training and educating myself on the interpreting profession. 

2. Why ASL?

Short answer is because I live in America so that is the sign language used here, and because that was the community I was introduced to at the right time.

The longer answer is because it was very natural for me to pick up, made sense to me, I became more comfortable in that visual language than in my own spoken English, was able to communicate more clearly and found confidence expressing myself through it.  I even spell English words more accurately if I first fingerspell them on my hands in ASL.

3. Deaf culture is a significant part of communication within the Deaf community. What is your experience with Deaf culture and how do you immerse yourself as a hearing individual?

From a very early age I was interacting with Deaf kids my age and continue to have significant lifelong relationships with members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.   I attended Gallaudet University (an all deaf college for the Liberal Arts in Washington DC) and then NTID, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY (an all deaf technical college within the Rochester Institute of Technology)  where I had the privilege to meet many smart and talented Deaf students and staff who have risen to be leaders and top contributors in their fields.     

As with any community the way to immerse yourself is to approach with sincere intent, be an ally to collective causes, show an interest in learning about the people, the language, be of service, be a friend, be authentic and show up.

4. What is the hardest part of interpreting?

What makes it the hardest is also what makes it the most exciting. That challenge is juggling the many different demands that need to be managed in order to render a successful interpretation.  As Dean and Pollard outline so well in their research and findings on the Demand Control Schema, an interpreter must manage not only the linguistic demands of each encounter, but also the paralinguistic, environmental, interpersonal and intrapersonal. 

Most consumers of interpreting assume we simply verbally exchange one word for another and don’t appreciate the mental juggling taking place in the interpreter’s brain.  Establishing rapport and credibility in the opening exchange with all the participants sets the tone for the rest of the encounter, and how the interpreter manages issues that arise during the encounter, the best and most seasoned interpreters are masters at that art form.

5. What led you to work in healthcare versus legal or business?

I have interpreted in all those fields and find each rewarding in their own way.  I particularly like healthcare interpreting because, as I mentioned, one important aspect for the interpreter (along with managing the other dynamics) is building rapport and trust with your consumers.  I like being aligned with the goals of the medical setting and I like being that bridge for people during some of their most vulnerable times.  That makes me feel good about the investment of my time and energy that day, it’s truly for a good cause!

6. Any tips for providers when working with ASL interpreters and Deaf patients?

First to remember that interpreting is a practice profession, it is both art and science. It’s important to work with your interpreter who is there in service of the goals of the medical encounter, we are on the same team in that sense. Look and speak directly at your deaf patient, even when their eyes are on the interpreter.

No two deaf people are alike, there are linguistic, cultural and fund of knowledge differences, as well as preferences for receiving information.  Be respectful of those preferences and allow the interpreters time to not only assess the unique needs of the individual but recommend adjustments for optimal communication.  These could include rephrasing a complex concept, using visual aids, asking more questions of the patient to gauge understanding.

One such recommendation may be to utilize the services of a CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter) to team with the hearing ASL interpreter, in many scenarios this has been shown to increase understanding and satisfaction.

7. What motivated you to become a part of the Stratus Video team?

The challenge!  We knew video technology had proven successful with the sign language community, but our little start up wondered “could remote interpretation be enhanced by bringing spoken language interpreters to the LEP community via video as well?”  It was not long before we got our answer, the market said “yes!” and we have not slowed down since.

It was exciting to be able to build an organization from scratch, building that with like-minded people, doing work we loved and most importantly, disrupting the status quo so that we could make a real difference in people’s lives.  What could be more motivating than that?!

8. Stratus Video has experienced tremendous growth since its inception. What was it like to be part of the original crew? And how has the company culture evolved over the years?

We’ve grown?  I hadn’t noticed.  (ha-ha).   

In the beginning we were in building mode, the focus was more on action, as we’ve grown, we’ve had to adjust and focus more on developing processes and systems in order to scale.   We haven’t lost our start-up spirit; in many ways we are still in that mode.

It’s been gratifying because the growth has not just happened with the numbers, new business, staff or minutes, but inside each of us who have been a part of it.  We have challenged ourselves to do things nobody had done before, certainly that we’d never done before, we’ve had to dig deep, creatively work through roadblocks, learn new skills and hopefully developed a maturity and character to bring us successfully into the next phase of growth. 

9. What is the most challenging part of your role as VP of Language Operations?

Our department has three overarching goals; provide top quality interpreting services, run an efficient operation, and build a culture that promotes a highly engaged workforce. The most challenging moments are when those goals conflict or must be prioritized differently than I personally would like because of the needs of the business or in response to a market demand. 

However, we work hard to maintain that balance, I still believe we can create a unique, successful business and a great place to work.  We have the right people leading the teams, they care about their people and our mission, and we have wonderful interpreters who are professional, caring, hardworking and ethical. That is a recipe for success.

The challenge is to keep us working well together, and moving in the same direction, some days we succeed and sometimes we fail but to key is to keep moving together!

10. How is working for Stratus Video different than other places you have worked in the past?

It is absolutely the fastest growing and most dynamic place I’ve ever worked. 

What other place is as diverse and unique as we are?  We span the entire United State, are in Costa Rica and Mexico, we provide over 200 languages, 35 on video, we offer remote video, remote audio, translation, on site, our interpreters and customer service reps come from all over the world, live in multiple time zones, possess interesting skills and talents, contribute full time, part time, contracted, at home, in call centers, fans of divergent soccer/futbol teams yet we are group of diverse people who have come together to offer something special to people that need our services.  

We do work that really matters and each of us contributes to that in our own special way.

11. What makes being an interpreter “the best job in the world”?

Interpreting takes you to places you would never be invited to in your own personal life. Through the highs and lows, my life has been enriched in every possible way.

It is a huge privilege and a great responsibility.   The job of interpreting is challenging in all aspects, yet when done well and with integrity, can be very rewarding. Reflecting on the profession brings me much pride and much humility.  I am honored to be a part of this profession and I can only strive to leave it better than I have found it. 

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