Banner reading: March Interpreter Spotlight, Hale Hawthorne, American Sign Language Interpreter, Denver, Colorado

Each month we get to know one of the interpreters in Boostlingo’s Professional Interpreter Network. This month, meet Hale Hawthorne, an American Sign Language Interpreter based out of McCall, Idaho.

Hale Hawthorne has worked as an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter since he was a teenager. Despite the wealth of experience, he decided to enroll in a formal interpreter training program which he completed in 2016. After years as a video relay service (VRS) interpreter for large agencies, he decided to make the move to freelance interpreting in 2020.

Since the move to freelance, Hale has become a part of the Boostlingo network as an ASL Interpreter. He is also the Director of Human Resources for Hands Up Communication, a language services partner in the Boostlingo Professional Interpreter Network. Oh, and did we mention he once interpreted for Michelle Obama?

In conjunction with his move to a freelance career, Hale moved to the mountains to build a house with his family. He caught up with us from his new home to answer some questions.

What do you think ASL interpreters need to be successful?

I personally feel that ASL interpreters need as much training as possible. A huge thing that I was taught coming up in the field is that when you think that you’ve arrived, you should probably be done in the field. [ASL Interpreting] is a field that is constantly in flux. We’ve been around since about the late 1960s, and never had a moment of stagnation, or static in this field. It’s always changing, especially with technology and the advent of VRS, and now everybody’s doing video remote.

I really want all of my interpreters that come under my team, even just the mentees that are still going through their program, to learn the basic communication skills of how you represent yourself professionally. How do you handle your basic ethical dilemmas? Also, and I hate to say it, but how do you defend yourself when you’re being mistreated?

I personally feel that every interpreter needs to go through an interpreter training program. I’m glad that the national certification requires continuing education because that’s needed. And it’s not just in linguistics, it’s really ethics, power, privilege and oppression, diversity and inclusion. I mean, that’s stuff that you need in order to do this job well. Some people become interpreters and we’re seeing kind of a —pushback isn’t the right word — it’s more of a form warning in programs and even in the new edition of So You Want to Be an Interpreter.

We’re making it very clear to people that want to come into this field, that just because you enjoy American Sign Language does not mean that you are automatically going to be the right fit for an interpreter. It is more than just an invisible process that takes place in your head. You have to be a master of interpersonal communication and professionalism and a million other things.

What do you love about being an interpreter?

My mom and other people in my social circles always told me when I was in my teenage years that I was probably going to struggle when it came to finding a career because I had so many different interests in so many different pots. And what I love about interpreting is that it engages all of those things that just get me all excited and get my blood racing.

With interpreting, it’s not just linguistics and translation. You have to be a lifelong learner in order to be an interpreter. You are walking into medical settings, education, business, all of these different kinds of things. And so it kind of sparks that interest for me. Every assignment really is a different thing. You know, one day you’re in with a kiddo in their high school class, and then it’s a surgery, and then it’s something else, so it’s never a boring field.

Okay, tell me about one of your favorite interpreting assignments. It can totally be Michelle Obama.

Oh, it was totally Michelle. I wouldn’t have said anything else. I loved working with her. That assignment was just absolutely crazy. I woke up that day, without any idea that I would be working with her. I actually found out I think like two hours before the assignment. Through no communication of the agency that had me do it. It was just that I was looking through the job notes and I saw that it was for a big symposium. And I was like, oh, cool. I love that. And it’s the platform interpreting zoom [Zoom Webinar], right? So you’re going to be in front of people.

I did some Googling, and I saw that, okay, the section that I’m doing is for the keynote speaker, and I Googled some more. And the keynote speaker is Michelle Obama. I’m walking around the house with a brown bag, just like hyperventilating.

It was just so much fun. She really is a very authentic woman, and she truly cares. I mean, her niche has always been education. She has always cared about healthcare issues systemically with children and their education, because she grew up in kind of a situation that mandated that for her. I had luckily read her book Becoming a few years prior, so I had that extra linguistic context. But she was just she was a peach, she was so sweet.

What kind of social support do you have for the work you do?

My mom specifically, is very fascinated by it. She loves talking about theory, especially interpreting theory. And we could sit down and just talk about stuff that’s happened to me on assignments and do you do, and this is what happened, she loves that. My entire family is very supportive of it.

The biggest issue that interpreters are running into is with their mental health. And the thing is, we train interpreters left and right, I was trained on this in the program, about shutting it off that. You know, you go through really stressful situation, you debrief, you take it to your therapist, and you get through it, and that’s just the way this works. It is extremely stressful.

Being an interpreter on the preparation is just kind of exhausting. And then the process can be extremely exhausting. There’s a reason the human brain only has 18 minutes of good cognitive processing. After that, you’re just dead tired.

I don’t really have too many situations that have really shook me, I’ve had a few. I do I take it to my therapist, I talk with my family about it, like my mom, and they’re supportive of me in that regard. I think the biggest thing that interpreters need from their social circles and their family is the ability to be authentic with each other.

You’re spending upwards of eight hours a day, if you’re working full time as an interpreter, not being yourself, you’re an actor, you’re putting on somebody else’s words, you’re putting on a mask for eight hours a day, you don’t get to be yourself. And so, when they’re with people, they have a hard time leaning into themselves again. So that’s really important from anyone’s family: a kind of support to allow somebody to just kind of breathe a bit.


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