Anonymous Interpreter: I feel it’s time for interpreters to focus on the important parts of our job

Posted on February 10, 2017

The below article is from a fully qualified and registered interpreter, who wanted to share their views but asked for their identity to be hidden in order to protect their career. Posting this article does not reflect the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here

Please read the comments below this article to get a sense of the range of views among sign language interpreters.

I am a qualified interpreter, I am freelance and own my own limited company.

As I see it I am free to accept jobs that I feel able to do and meet my skill set, I am free to set my own terms and conditions regarding hours, fees, booking conditions and so forth – as would be expected of any other business operating in a free market environment.

Except that I am not.

I want to be able to offer bookings for only one hour, accept two hour bookings and not have a three hour minimum but to do so would be career suicide.

Other interpreters have told me I’d be affecting them and that I’d be an outsider by not showing solidarity with the majority.

I would be ruining the likelihood of the other interpreters getting work if I accepted a one hour or two hour booking as the agencies would be putting pressure on them to accept reduced hours.

I appreciate that the whole system needs looking at, as the situation in Sheffield serves to highlight.

A small group of interpreters decided to encourage others to join their protest of Language Line as the agency were offering a 2 hour minimum booking and these interpreters felt they ‘deserved’ a minimum of three hours.

Where or how this three hour minimum first made its way into the interpreting world I do not know but I can only assume that interpreters were fed up of the fees some agencies charged and only receiving a fraction of the amount.

And here in lies the whole crux of the issue – greedy agencies charging exorbitant fees as well as interpreters feeling it is somehow their right to earn a fee for three hours – although in reality it could be as little as 20 minutes work.

I know not all agencies are charging ridiculously high fees but some do and it’s tarnished them all unfortunately, much akin to the Sheffield debacle.

This situation has entirely backfired as Sheffield Council have decided to use a remote online sign language service for all GP and hospital bookings thereby reducing the face to face interpreter bookings to almost nil.

What is so grossly unfair is that this affects ALL interpreters and not just the group who initiated the boycott. For those interpreters who continued to work with Language Line because they felt it was unfair to affect the deaf community in this way, it is a slap in the face.

We need to question our motives for becoming an interpreter. Is it a job in which we grab our cash and head home, each our for ourselves, or is it a vocation where our aim is to ensure everyone we meet has the best service even if that means going above and beyond our ‘role’ or using our time.

I want to be able to utilise the ‘free’ part of freelance to enable me to support deaf people as they wish to be supported whether that is for half an hour, one hour or eight hours and to be able to charge whatever I see fit for my service.

Perhaps I charge an old age pensioner nothing for helping him translate a 2 page letter but I charge a GP surgery a high fee for a one hour appointment.

Surely, as the owner and director of my own business I am within my right to do this?

It’s time we came together as interpreters to focus on the important parts of our job and to stop activities that I feel serve only to alienate the deaf community even further and as we’ve just seen, don’t actually work.


A comment from ‘Vicki’ posted this morning says:

As a freelance interpreter, you run a high outgoings business. Any basic analysis using the full cost recovery model will show this; travel, membership fees, training, use of home, computer equipment. Then there are the days you don’t get paid – bank holidays, sickness, annual leave, quiet periods like August and school half terms. When you work for yourself, a good rule of thumb is to assume that your take home pay will inevitably be around half of what your chargeable fee is. If you’re taking a booking for one hour at £30, congratulations, you’ve just made £15 profit.

All qualified interpreters hold postgraduate qualifications, or an equivalent. Some of us also have an undergraduate degree. Many interpreters also hold various other degree level qualifications – this is not a job that you can just walk into and expect to earn a living from. You study and develop your skills for a long time and you expect to earn a salary that you can live comfortably on – otherwise what is the point of training! If you are achieving a postgraduate qualification with the expectation that you will then earn less than minimum wage, which is what it often amounts to when you take one hour bookings and pro rata your salary over the year, then you are frankly not in a position to be running your own business and you should probably go and work for an agency and let them manage your finances for you.

Also, as an interpreter who charges a fair fee, I am then in a position to do pro bono work. I regularly do jobs where I don’t charge clients, there are various reasons for this, but it’s because I am able to sustain a living by charging a fair fee that I can offer to waive my fee elsewhere.

The use of remote services over face to face is not because of the boycott. If you even do a basic google search about the NHS and interpreting services you will see that NHS trusts across the country are all trying to reduce their costs related to face to face interpreting.

At the end of the day, how you run your business is at your discretion – the joys of the free market. But what we do a say professionals does have an impact on our colleagues, you can chose to bring them up or push them down. Inevitably, if you are accepting fees at unsustainable rates all you are saying to your colleagues and the deaf community is that you have so little confidence in your skills and abilities that you don’t feel you deserve to earn a fair wage.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.

The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below: