Let’s talk about assumptions. I’m going to make one right now and assume you’ve all heard of the famous saying regarding assumptions. I’m going to move on with my blog post, blissfully unaware that I may be leaving some of you behind, confused and bewildered. You poor souls grin nervously and look around as the rest of the audience smiles and nods, clearly understanding my reference perfectly. You think that surely you know this saying, everyone else does, why shouldn’t you? You rack your brain, desperately trying to recall anything about assumptions and you miss everything I’m talking about now. By the time you give up and mentally check back in, it’s too late. The rest of the group has moved on and this post is now an utter failure to you. And I say an utter failure to you because I, as the poster and interpreter here, have failed you.
As educators, we love talking to people and teaching them everything we possibly can about our favorite subjects. For the educators at my Nature Center, this means we’re constantly talking about snakes and turtles, trees and lakes, hiking trails and canoeing. However, when talking to our visitors, we make certain assumptions about them: their level of education, their prior knowledge, their ability to process certain vocabulary words. This is a common occurrence that happens nearly everywhere you go. But as interpreters, we need to step back and reevaluate these assumptions. You cannot assume that everyone possesses the same seemingly basic knowledge that you might have. When presenting a talk on snakes, for instance, I cannot simply assume that everyone in the crowd knows what reptiles are. No, I have to start at the beginning for each and every group by building a solid foundation of knowledge for my talk to build upon. Yes, this takes more time and yes, I don’t always get to cover as much as I want to about the snake, but my audience walks away with having understood everything in my talk.
Appearances can be deceiving and can lead an interpreter to make embarrassing mistakes; never trust your eyes! Looking at me, a young person in today’s society, you might assume that I know all about every new piece of technology that appears. Not so! To this day, my personal phone is one of the old-school flip phones. The first time I was handed an iPhone by my organization and told to turn it on, I sat there in mute befuddlement until the IT Tech took pity on me and taught me how to operate the phone. Had he taken the time to speak with me beforehand, he would have known that technology and I have a very rocky relationship. When looking at participants for a program, you as interpreters cannot rely on what your eyes tell you. Your lecture hall could contain visitors who don’t speak English or speak it as second language-have you provided visual stimulation and interpretation for them? Your hike could include participants who have non-visual medical conditions or physical disabilities-have you planned an alternate route to allow for slower hikers in the group? Many times, our programs can hold participants we never expected! And what about your surroundings? As an interpreter whose programs mostly take place outside, I have learned NEVER to make assumptions about the environment around me; a fascinating plant that was on the path a week ago may not be there today. And a sunny day on Thursday could easily devolve into a hurricane on Friday.
As interpreters, we are constantly faced with challenges, some harder to overcome than others. Sit back and take a look at your site: what assumptions do you make about your visitors and program participants every day? Are there ways to reevaluate those assumptions or test their validity? Work with yourself and your team to shake up those preconceived notions and develop all-inclusive programming to open up opportunities for all of your visitors, even the ones you didn’t know you had! And remember, nobody likes being made an a**, especially not you and me.