By Kevin Slater
On occasion, an interpreting agency might recommend two interpreters be sent to a given job or assignment. Have you ever wondered why this might be? Shouldn’t one interpreter be enough to convey whatever message is being presented between yourself and the Deaf client? The answer is simple: the work of interpreting is mentally strenuous. In most cases, one interpreter is sufficient (think doctor’s office visit, a one-on-one meeting between an employer and their Deaf employee). Occasionally, though, two interpreters might be recommended due to length of time or complexity of the topic being discussed. An interpreter’s product is only as good as their mental capacity allows. Imagine one interpreter trying to keep up with someone presenting on nuclear fusion or on the way a computer sub-system is supposed to run. A professional interpreter would prepare beforehand, researching as much as possible. Oftentimes, information is not readily available, making it difficult to learn anything substantial prior to an interpreting job. This is where a second interpreter is useful. Colloquially referred to as a “team” of interpreters, these two individuals (and in rare cases more than two) will break up the work in chunks of time, switching between active and support interpreting. The active interpreter is the one you see signing and/or speaking, as needed. The support interpreter is usually seated, facing the active interpreter, attending to the message and providing “feeds” (information that the active interpreter might have misheard or misunderstood, as well as information the active interpreter might not be able to see, such as information on a PowerPoint). Breaking up the work into chunks of time, usually 15-20 minutes before switching between active and support interpreting, allows the interpreters time to mentally recuperate. Because the work of interpreting is mentally taxing, these team interpreters are vital, working together to provide the clearest interpreted message to those that need it.