One of my first placements as a grad student was at Housing Works. For those of you who live outside of New York, Housing Works is a great organization that provides a healing community for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Housing Works provides a network of health, housing, and other supportive services for those who are cross marginalized by their status. This was one of my first experiences as an ASL interpreter and it definitely provided me with a lot of experiences to think about.
As an intern, I facilitated workshops and group counseling sessions. In addition to providing educational information on harm reduction and living with HIV/AIDS, I facilitated a space where clients could talk about their day to day issues and discuss job leads.
One of the first things I noticed about clients who needed ASL interpreting was their directness in approaching their issues. They would immediately jump into what they needed, whether it was help filling out forms or needing information about emergency housing. As a product of an American upbringing, I was more used to the warming up that comes from small talk. To the outside observer, this directness might seem rude, but this is just one of the many fascinating differences between ASL and English. The sequencing of ASL (time-object-verb-adjective) leads to a directness that is not found in spoken English. As an interpreter, you need to be aware of this difference. Mistaking it for rudeness can lead to misunderstandings and build an uncomfortable atmosphere between clinician and client.
I do admit that at the beginning, getting used to this cultural difference was a little difficult. In a way, it reminded of the cultural differences of my own upbringing. Language is a fascinating thing, isn’t it?