An Interview with Chris Gorges about ASL Interpreting as a Career

Interpreting as a Career – INTERVIEW

What does your work day typically look like as an interpreter?

The short answer is … it depends. I work mostly in the field of education, so my work day will depend very much on who I have for a student. For instance, my day with a 1st grade student would differ greatly compared to my day with a 12th grade student.

Lower grade students may require a little extra attention and there may be more focus on language building. Where as, an older student may need a little more assistance staying on task. In a way, you are also providing a role model for the student to follow.

How many hours a day do you interpret?

For educational interpreting, hours typically range between 6 to 8 hours a day. However, if your student doesn’t show up to school, your day gets cut short pretty quickly. On the other hand, if your student is involved in an after school program or is in sports, your days can become much longer.

During the summer when schools are out, the demand for interpreters typically lightens up and that frees up my time to interpret for the community; clinics, hospitals, emergency situations, therapy, mental health institutions, and other jobs of that nature. 

What would you do if you were in my position pursuing such career today? 

If I was back in my early 20s and in college wanting to pursue interpreting, I would take as many classes related to the field as possible. College ASL classes to learn the language and learn about deaf culture. I would also search for a good Interpreter Training and Preparation Program (ITP) while at the same time immersing myself as much as possible within the deaf community. 

Is this where you thought you would end up? 

No. I actually started my career as a Civil Engineer at the age of 14 in the year 1999. I stayed in that field until the recession of 2008. At that time, demand for engineers plummeted. Engineering can be a feast or famine type of work. When the economy booms, there is often an overwhelming amount of work available. However, when the economy slows, there is very little work to be had at all.

It was after the recession that I started to consider other options. Eventually both my wife starting interpreting for a local college and started working with several mentors. However, interpreting for a college can also be a feast or famine career depending on how many deaf students are attending college and how many classes they enroll in (and whether or not they show up to class). That meant we couldn’t make interpreting a full-time career yet. However, in 2016 we found work in Central California at an interpreting agency where we had enough work to do interpreting full-time.  

What are the pros and cons of your career?

One of the pros of interpreting is the fact that you are supporting the deaf community and providing accessibility to those that need it. Working in the field in education is particularly rewarding as you see students progress through the years.

Most of the cons of interpreting revolve around finding enough work to support yourself. If you are a freelance interpreter or work as an independent contractor, finding steady work can be a challenge. However, if you are hired as an employee with steady hours, many of these cons go away, and you are left with a very fulfilling and rewarding career. 

Once acquiring such certification/license, am I limited to one specific discipline or is there flexibility in such field?

Once you acquire certifications, your opportunities only grow from there. With various certifications, you then have options to work directly for schools, hospitals, or other institutions and businesses in which interpreters are hired directly. For example, while working for the agency I have been employed with, I have interpreted for schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, dentists, theaters, police departments, physical therapy offices, mental health institutions, and other forms of community work. 

What used to be some of your weaknesses? 

When I first started interpreting, my skills in the language were fairly strong, however I still had a lot to learn about the minutiae of interpreting. For instance, I remember one of the first classes I interpreted for the professor was being irate with the students. Although I was technically interpreting everything he was saying, I was not conveying the way it was being presented. My facial expressions and demeanor were not in sync with the teacher … in fact, as he was yelling, I was smiling because I found the situation a bit humorous. The mentor I was working who was nationally certified, quickly pointed out that if the teacher is upset, then I need to be upset. If he was yelling at the students, then I needed to yell at the students. I am very appreciative that I have been able to work with so many skilled interpreters when I was first getting started. The experience and the advice I received have since proven to be invaluable. 

How have you handled some of your biggest obstacles in your profession?

One of the bigger obstacles for myself was finding enough steady work to make interpreting a full-time profession. Overcoming that obstacle at first meant working multiple jobs. My first year interpreting, I worked three separate jobs simultaneously. I worked for a college interpreting part-time, I worked at an engineering firm part-time, and then I worked for Uber part-time. Other than that, learning the interpreting process can be difficult at first as well, and fortunately I had a lot of mentors to help me expidate that learning process.

Is the current Net Income (Salary) of your profession a concern for yourself or upcoming professionals?

Simply put, getting started in the field of interpreting can be rough. As previously mentioned, if you are not able to find enough work, it can be very difficult to make interpreting your primary career. However, if you are able to find enough work in your area and becoming skilled enough to acquire certifications such as the ESSE, EIPA, or NIC, than you can most definitely make interpreting a full-time career. 

What are you most proud of regarding your professional career? 

If I had to choose only one thing, it would probably be working with students and helping them grow and fully realize their potential. For many years, I have been an educator at heart and being able to work with and inspire students achieve what they once thought impossible is a feeling hard to explain. 

What professional organizations are you associated with?

My current position is Interpreter 2 with Fox Interpreting in Central California. With this company I have been given the opportunity to interpret in variety of fields. In all of these fields however, it is encouraging to know that you are not only facilitating communication for someone, but are making a real meaningful impact on the lives of others in your local community. 

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