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I am a student majoring in ASL interpreting. The teacher had us go to a live gay & lesbian event to interpret. I did not feel comfortable with the subject matter. I am from another country where this is not talked about and some of the topics discussed went against my religious upbringing and beliefs. And I did not even know many of the signs to convey that topic. I think the teacher should not have us interpret religious issues but interpret at neutral events.

If I had been offered such an assignment I would turned it down. The teacher gave me a bad grade. My question is what does RID ethics say in such a situation. And is it appropriate to force a student to interpret at an event such as this if it is in conflict with their religious teachings?

asked 21 Apr '13, 08:33

rwbil's gravatar image


edited 21 Apr '13, 08:53

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

The AIIC professional code of ethics states that [it] lays down the standards (...) which all members of the Association shall be bound to respect in their work as conference interpreters.

While asked to interpret for this event, the person who has "forced" you was acting as a teacher. I don't think that de iure the code of ethics applies in this case. But anyways, let's rather focus on the human and pedagogical side of things:

One might say that the role of your teacher is to expose you to situations which will force you to get out of your comfort zone. Each time I am "forced" to do a sight translation and afterwards being criticized in front of a dozen of people, I'll just take the pain: I deeply trust my mentors' experience (Julia, if you're reading these lines... :-) ). And hey, that's what I signed up for.

Of course, once you're on the market, you could refuse some contracts. Just as a doctor who after his studies choses to become a GP wouldn't have to do autopsies. Yet, medschool students do autopsies. They throw up, faint or have nightmares, but they still have to go through the learning process of being confronted to death, bloods and smells.

Re: "being forced". I never have been. I could refuse. I could escalate. But I choose not to, because the uncomfortable moments are part of the training. I guess you didn't clearly refuse either - or are we missing a part of the story ?

I have the feeling that you didn't bring up your concerns soon enough, if at all, to your teacher. Maybe next time, you should share your concerns - it makes it easier for everyone involved. I doubt that anyone (/hope that no one) would force you to interpret at an event that makes you really uncomfortable because of religious / personal convictions.

Bottomline: Either deal with it or talk about it, depending on how impairing the problem would be for the quality of your interpreting performance.

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answered 21 Apr '13, 13:57

Gaspar's gravatar image

Gaspar ♦♦

edited 21 Apr '13, 14:01

As a professional interpreter you are unbiased and impartial. You cannot afford to introduce your own agenda or attitude. Of course, you are entitled to have your own opinion, however, your personal opinion has nothing to do with your professional obligations. There will be many sensitive and unexpected topics you will be dealing with during your career, so it is best to leave personal preferences out of the equation from the very beginning. Such is the nature of our profession.

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answered 14 Oct '14, 19:54

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

Any conference may include references which you may not agree with - what if you had to interpret for a politician whose views you found ridiculous or laughable? Would you do it badly, or refuse?

Perhaps your teacher was deliberately testing you to see what you would do in that situation. I had a similar experience in class and you have to learn to deal with it.

I guess in the real world you would pick and choose your assignments, but then again you never know what is going to be said, so however uncomfortable you may have felt, think what you can learn from the experience. A key element for interpreters is to prepare the topic well and predict vocabulary and expressions. Just because they were not ones you might use you should still have known them.

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answered 28 Apr '13, 05:51

vidboy's gravatar image



I have to agree with vidboy -- you could be hired to interpret at a conference on policing and suddenly, one of the speakers starts talking about relations with minorities, including the LGBT community, and it'd be your job to interpret. Remember that you aren't talking, someone else is, and that your role is simply to relay the message.

You have no way of knowing what you'll end up interpreting and it's your job as an interpreter to be fully aware of the world, not just the subsection of it that makes you comfortable. I once found myself interpreting detailed forensic interviews with pedophiles and sadists and I didn't have the option of just walking away -- it's part of the job and always will be.

As an aside -- a colleague told me, on more than one occasion, that if he ever had to interpret a prayer, he'd refuse. Lo and behold, a prayer came on the other day and ... he just interpreted it. Such is life.

(03 Oct '14, 14:46) alexandrec

Who knows why, but quite a lot of male interpeters (in Europe at least) are gay, so you might want to try to keep relatively quiet about how your upbringing/ religious beliefs don't chime with homosexuality...In the booth at least ;)

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answered 14 Jan '15, 11:50

Eric's gravatar image


Since finishing my MA, I've interpreted for economists who were promoting ideas I found offensive at best, politicians who I thought were vile criminals for years before I was assigned to work with them, people claiming to want to help poor communities who clearly didn't care, men in court defending beating their wives, defense attorneys claiming a rape victim was asking for it, and for defendants at a war crimes tribunal who said they only tortured their victims "a little bit".

Of course I've had my own thoughts about these people, and more than a few "can you believe that guy?!" sessions with colleagues when it was all over and we'd left the building. But I'm not being paid to express an opinion here. Our problem as interpreters is whether or not the other people in the room understand the speaker, not whether we want to have lunch with him or vote for his cause. If anything, our interpreting ideas that we think are absolutely horrible means that more people had an opportunity to hear them and say, "yeah, that guy is really awful!"

Moving on to the second issue here- like the poster above said, a lot of interpreters are gay. "I come from a place where..." is not really a defense of bigotry. I grew up with plenty of homophobic people, but that doesn't mean I have to continue bearing the torch for their repugnant views. As humans we evolve, and fortunately we live in an era where we have access to information and other kinds of people, and can learn to overcome the blind prejudices we were raised with. If the presence of homosexuals is still so offensive to your culture you can't possibly bear being paid to be in the same room where they are being discussed, perhaps it's time to consider a career change where you never have to leave your village.

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answered 20 Aug '16, 09:30

InesdC's gravatar image


..let me quote a few tenets:

From the aiic code of professional ethics:

Members of the Association shall not accept any assignment for which they are not qualified. Acceptance of an assignment shall imply a moral undertaking on the member's part to work with all due professionalism.Any member of the Association recruiting other conference interpreters, be they members of the Association or not, shall give the same undertaking.

Members of the Association shall not accept any job or situation which might detract from the dignity of the profession. They shall refrain from any act which might bring the profession into disrepute.

Members of the Association shall neither accept nor, a fortiori, offer for themselves or for other conference interpreters recruited through them, be they members of the Association or not, any working conditions contrary to those laid down in this Code or in the Professional Standards.

...and from the aiic professional standards

In order to avoid any difficulty between the parties, members of the Association shall not accept any contract for recruitment unless they know the precise conditions thereof (...)

Members of the Association shall not withdraw from a contract unless they are able:

a) to give sufficient notice;

b) to give sound reasons, and

c) to suggest a replacement to the recruiting interpreter or, if there is no recruiting interpreter, directly to the conference organiser, unless the latter prefer to recruit the replacement themselves;

d) at all events, to secure the conference organiser's approval of the change as quickly as possible.

You specifically mention RID ethics: here's their code and a few highlights:


Tenet: Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.

(...)Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

2.1 Provide service delivery regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other factor. (...)

2.3 Render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communi- cated, using language most readily understood by consumers, and correcting errors discreetly and expeditiously.

2.4 Request support (e.g., certified deaf interpreters, team members, language facilitators) when needed to fully convey the message or to address exceptional communication challenges (e.g. cognitive disabilities, foreign sign language, emerging language ability, or lack of formal instruction or language). (...)


Tenet: Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation. (...)

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

(...) 3.2 Decline assignments or withdraw from the interpreting profession when not competent due to physical, mental, or emotional factors. (...)

3.7 Disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

3.8 Avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest that might cause harm or interfere with the effectiveness of interpreting services. (...)

Finally, 2 previous questions that may prove interesting:

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answered 21 Apr '13, 21:11

msr's gravatar image


see this discussion on LinkedIn in the Forum called: Teaching Simultaneous Interpretation: (you may have to be logged in and be a group member)

Interpretation is not about YOU!

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answered 06 Nov '16, 23:25

Cyril%20Flerov's gravatar image

Cyril Flerov

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question asked: 21 Apr '13, 08:33

question was seen: 9,477 times

last updated: 06 Nov '16, 23:25

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