After a morning spent guzzling coffee after coffee, I made my way to the University of New Mexico, one of the certification testing sites for people seeking their national certification as American Sign Language interpreters.
The kind administrator explained the rules and led me to the room where I would be tested. I stood facing a television, and facing me was a camcorder standing ready to record my work interpreting between American Sign Language and English. Before stepping outside the room, the administrator started the first section of my test by playing a video of a deaf lecturer, which I was to interpret into English. Butterflies were having a party in my stomach and my mouth turned to parchment. I could actually hear my own pulse pounding in my ears.
As the lecture started, the first few words out of my mouth were strong and deliberate, but then I missed a sign the lecturer had used. I became fixated on what I had missed and the video slipped into a background blur of hand-shapes. My focus had shifted to how badly I was doing rather than the task at hand. After what seemed to be an eternity of saying nothing, I walked out of the room and into the confused gaze of the administrator.
“What happened? Is the equipment running okay?” She asked me.
“I just froze, and…got lost.” I felt completely defeated.
After making a call to her supervisor with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the administrator told me that I could go back in and continue from the approximate point at which I had left off. Although I knew I had already failed the test that I had spent almost a quarter of my monthly income to take, I went back in. But now the dynamic had changed, and so had my focus. I decided that the experience would be helpful practice for when I would have to do the test again in six months.
A strange thing happened when I began to interpret in front of the camera once again. I did a good job. I did so well that I easily passed the remaining four sections of the test.
What did I learn?
- Focus on the task, not on me. When my self-imposed anxiety was eliminated, I was able to use all the tools I had learned for overcoming the inevitable challenges I could expect while interpreting. My first experience proved this; it was no longer some abstract concept, but something I could trust.
- Failure is a fact of life, not a judgment of personal character. A bigger indicator of a person’s mettle is how he or she responds to failure. Valuing lessons learned and turning them into opportunities is the trait most tied to success.
Six months after my “failed” attempt, I passed all five sections of the test, earning my RID Certificate of Interpretation (CI). In the same timeframe, I passed a second similarly structured examination to be awarded the Certificate of Transliteration (CT).
If you are reaching out for certification as a sign or spoken language interpreter, I wish you a calm, focused mind and hope my experience can be an encouragement for you.