Note From Uncle Dale VIEWS Fall 2019

Dear Interpreting Student

Dale Boam, CI, Attorney at Law

Note From Uncle Dale

You know how you can hear things about yourself from friends that you would never accept from your family? And you know how you can accept things about yourself from strangers that you would ignore from a friend because “that’s just my friend talking”?  

Hi. I’m Uncle Dale, it’s likely we’ve never actually met. I hope you won’t feel it presumptuous of me if I tell you a few things that your interpreting instructors want you to know, but may be hard for you to hear.


You are in an interpreting program. Although you will continue to learn sign language for the rest of your life, at this moment you have more than enough vocabulary to interpret any idea from any text given you in class, because it’s

not about the vocabulary; it’s about the visual concept. Stop thinking you don’t know enough signs to do this. You must not let the phrase, “I don’t know the sign for that,” stop you from interpreting the idea anyway. As Morpheus says to Neo in the movie The Matrix, “Stop trying to hit me and just hit me.” Stop trying to interpret and just interpret.


Look around the class – you see that student? The one who always seems to get it? For someone in this room, that student is you. Deny it all you want, it’s true.


When I was in law school my professors would say things like, “Of course you will remember this from elementary school,” and I didn’t, but everyone else seemed to. I kept thinking, “Maybe I was sick that week?” One day a professor hit on a topic I knew something about. BEST CLASS EVER! She kept asking me questions and I kept answering and even when I got it wrong the discussion continued and it was great. When class was over a student sitting a row behind me said “I didn’t understand half of that, but of course you did. You’re the smartest one in the class.” At that moment I realized all the fears I had were the same fears everyone else in the class had. In your classroom, right now, you are someone’s “smartest kid in the class.” Don’t spend one moment trying to argue with me in your mind or dismiss the idea. You are. Everyone is nervous, everyone is afraid. You are fine.


I have students every semester who tell me they did not raise their hand or their homework is late because they are “nervous about messing up.” I understand you will mess up, and I absolve you. I absolve you because if there was ever a place to try something and fall on your face, it’s here, in the classroom. Why? Because this is a class. You are expected not to know how to do it yet – that is in fact the whole reason you are here!

But if you don’t try, I can’t evaluate your progress. If you try a little and pull back, I don’t know what the upper limit of your potential is. Listen carefully: I’m not judging you, I’m grading you. You can roll your eyes or even laugh, but there is a powerful distinction between those two ideas. The first says that I attach your worth to your work; I don’t. I am looking at your work to see if you have or have not applied the principles I have taught. Yes=higher grade, No=lower grade, and that is it. My evaluation of your work says nothing about you personally. I don’t think less of you for struggling; it actually gives my job purpose. Do not tie your ability to do this assignment to your own self-worth nor think for one minute that I do. I just want to make you better, and frankly, I understand.

I understand because I was not born into this – I had to learn it too. I struggled and learned from someone more experienced. (Never try to learn math from a person who has never struggled with math. They say things like, “And so you see…” or, “It’s obvious that…” but I DON’T SEE AND IT’S NOT OBVIOUS.) My point is, I understand because I’ve been there. And believe me when I tell you, this is the place to step up and try because, no matter what your work looks like, this is a classroom. Here, it will never end with the client in a morgue or in jail, just with a grade. One last thing before we leave this topic. Don’t apologize to me for your work or any mistakes before you give it to me. It’s your work, it will tell me everything I need to know. If there are errors, I will likely notice – it’s kind of my job. More than that, I will know that you know there are errors, because I will likely have asked you to analyze them.

Well. I’ll let you get back to it. Good talk. I hope I said something you needed to hear. I will try to stop by sometime later and we can talk about certification.

Dale Boam, CI, Attorney at Law, is an Associate Professor of Deaf Studies at Utah Valley University, an attorney advocating for the rights of persons who are Deaf, an interpreter, and a blogger at “Uncle Dale’s Rules for Interpreters.” He consults and presents nationally on both interpreting and legal topics. Dale recently received a favorable decision from the Ninth Circuit Court that makes Section 504 more accessible to persons who are Deaf (See Ervine v. Desert View Regional Medical Center). Dale has served in advisory committees for the NAD, the organizing board for Deaf Studies, Today!, and the 2007 Deaflympic Games.

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