“Just An Interpreter”

Have you ever heard yourself utter these words during an assignment? “Oh, I’m just the interpreter.” It’s a strange juxtaposition to be arguably the most crucial person in the room and, at the same time, one who attempts to be nearly invisible in support of the provider-client relationship. If we do our job correctly, our presence may be barely felt, yet all walk away understanding each other, frequently in high-stakes conversations involving health, safety, and freedom.

Not only are we not “just an interpreter,” but it is not “just” language. Let me explain.

Language is a powerful tool. It unites groups of people, carries culture (language and culture are inextricably intertwined), and gives us a sense of commonality and belonging. On the other side of the coin, language can divide us and be used as a tool of oppression, denying those who aren’t proficient in the dominant language fundamental rights such as healthcare, safety, protection, and justice.

It is here that I introduce the concept of language justice. The American Bar Association, in their article Language Justice During COVID-19 writes this:

Language justice is an evolving framework based on the notion of respecting every individual’s fundamental language rights to be able to communicate, understand, and be understood in the language in which they prefer and feel most articulate and powerful. Rejecting the notion of the supremacy of one language, it recognizes that language can be a tool of oppression, as well as an important part of exercising autonomy and of advancing racial and social justice.

Access Language Solutions believes wholeheartedly in the concept of language justice expressed in the above statement. For that reason, we strive to provide professional language services to ALL. While any limited-English speaker in an English-dominant community will experience a degree of linguistic isolation, we especially work hard to find communication solutions for the speaker of indigenous languages from Mexico and Guatemala. The dominant language in their native communities (Spanish) is quite simple to provide for in the United States. That’s not true for languages such as Mam, Akateco, and Ixil.

We also work hard to increase and improve the language justice infrastructure. We continually offer entry-level interpreter training and financial assistance to well-qualified multilingual individuals. Access Language Solutions’ services and the linguistic services available to the

community are only as good as the locally trained interpreter infrastructure. A minimum of entry-level training and independent language testing in all working languages are necessary before interpreters are given assignments.

So, you’re not “just the interpreter.” And it’s not “just” language. You are essential in equal access to healthcare, safety, protection, and justice. Your work allows marginalized communities to not only survive but thrive. You help to even out the playing field for the most vulnerable among us. And autonomy is often something we don’t think about until there is a real risk of losing it. Interpreters are there to lessen the chance that the limited-English speaker loses their autonomy through not having a say in what happens to them.

To support the work of Access Language Solutions, donate here.

For more information about Access Language Solutions, visit our website.

*If you are interested in getting involved with the Kentucky Interpreter & Translator Association, email kitavista@gmail.com. We hope to have a one-day conference on September 30, 2023.

If you are not currently a client but want to know more about affordable access to professional interpreting, contact us www.AccessLanguageSolutions.org or schedule a call

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