When I visit Interpreter Training Programs and speak to ITP students who are excited about becoming a professional interpreter, I have a go-to phrase that is a bit crude, but I also firmly believe it:
"Don't be the stupidest person in the room."
The solution is simply to be a life-long learner. That means that you should aim to read at least 1 book per month. I, personally, am far less interested in the kinds of books you would find in your college prep program. I love interdisciplinary studies and seeing what other fields have already researched, learned, and put into practice. We don't need to reinvent the wheel.
Here are 10 books I recommend to every interpreter, new or old, deaf or hearing.
1. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
It's critical that interpreters understand the power dynamics in leadership, education, and how oppressed groups interact with each other and with the oppressing group. This book does an excellent job explaining how to navigate tough waters for hearing and deaf interpreters.
2. How Good People Make Tough Choices
This is the best book to understand applied ethics as a leader, communicator, or interpreter. It takes a bit of brain power to apply this to your work, but ethics are never cut-and-paste. You will always have to translate your thoughts and principles into action. Remember, a true ethical dilemma is when both options are wrong...or right.
3. Building a StoryBrand
I stumbled upon this book while researching how narrative approaches to communication can be more persuasive. I also admire Joseph Campbell’s work with A Heroes Journey. This led me to StoryBrand. The SB7 framework helped me to craft my messages more clearly and understand how to be persuasive, communicate effectively and develop programmatic and organizational planning.
PS— each interpreter is their own brand, so you better know what you’re selling to people.
A crucial part of interpreting is understanding what compels people to action. Often times, we serve as a middle-person with consumers on both sides that have outcomes they want from the communication encounter (read How to do Things With Words, #6, below). Pink does an excellent job describing the intrinsic (and, occcasionally, extrinsic) things that push us to action. Note -- as I mentioned under StoryBrand, each interpreter is their own brand, their own business -- you want people to want your business.
5. Pedagogy of Freedom
This is Freire's second book on this list (he also is #1). Oppressed speaks to how the communities function with oppressors, within themselves, and how people can advocate, lead or teach them. Freedom speaks to a different notion, but they are intertwined. How can our actions and beliefs lead others towards justice? What can we learn from Freire's own personal principles and values? And, potentially most importantly, what could a better future look like? This book is equally inspiring as it is challenging.
6. How to do Things With Words
Speech-Act Theory puts into words what many of us already intuitively know, that words aren’t just words. Words are actions! They, in fact, are speech-acts. Do yourself a favor and read this book, it lends a framework to many ideas that people have about interpreting: vicarious trauma, that having an interpreter in the room changes the dynamics, that we change the people we work with and they change us too. I did my masters thesis on this theory and it was a rich experience.
7. Limitations of Interpretation
Every interpreter should be aware of Umberto Eco. ITPs don’t teach Eco, but they really should. Interpreters aren’t the first people to “drop the form and keep the meaning.” Semiotics is a linguistic field of study that has to do with symbols, meaning, signs and how they connect with other parts of language. Sound familiar?
It’s basically interpreting! Read as much of Eco as you can.
8. Intercultral Communication: Globalization and Social Justice
This one isn't cheap. In fact, nearly all intercultural communciation books are expensive. This is the only one of the 10 that might end up on a syllabus. Interpreting is many things, but at it's core, it's mediating between two people practicing intercutural communication. Intercultural means cross-cultural. Intracultural would mean communication with someone within your own culture. Interpreting is a relatively new academic field. This book is a good primer to some communication theory and wrapped around a social justice theme.
9. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Interpreting is not and will never be about being a machine. We threw out the machine model of interpreting quite some time ago. It’s also important to understand how community groups work. The Deaf community is a tribe. Far more tribal than a white, hearing America. Their tribe is being ripped apart through changes in education, the reduction of Deaf Clubs, and gains in technology that allow communication without social interaction (think the Video Phone, FaceTime or FaceBook). It’s vital for a modern interpreter to understand leadership and tribes.
10. Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership
My favorite (and, I think most ethical and effective) framework of leadership is servant leadership. A simple way to think about it is that a typical leadership structure is a triangle. The front lines are large in number and serve the managers. Managers are the middle of a triangle. The leaders serve the C-level executives or Executive Director. Servant leadership flips the triangle upside down. What can the organizational leader do to empower the supervisors and managers? How can the leaders be a resource so that their direct reports succeed? Servant leadership is always looking at how you can do better, model better and communicate better.