What’s the difference between a BSL/English interpreter and a tin of baked beans?

By NUBSLI | Published on 27 November 2016

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Read the transcript

One is a good, one is a service. Goods are a tangible thing. If you fancy a tin of beans and go to the supermarket, you can pick one up off the shelf and take it home knowing one tin of beans will pretty much be the same as the next tin.

Services aren’t the same.

When I completed my interpreters training we were taught all the things you should consider before accepting a booking. We were told that you phone the agency who will be able to tell you:

  • The name of the Deaf person
  • Any background information about the job
  • Any preparation material you might need

They would discuss whether you had the skills to take the booking and if there were any concerns
There was usually someone on hand to speak to if you wanted to talk anything through.

Interpreters were being properly supported to ensure that the jobs they took were within their capability and this would ensure that the Deaf person got a good level of service. You would never dream of accepting a booking unless you knew exactly what it would entail. There was a real added value to good agencies.

If you compare this to what happens now…

We receive a list of booking times and dates with a couple of words to describe the domain via either text or email. We are made to feel that if we don’t accept these immediately then we will lose out on getting any work.

So what has happened?

It’s known as commoditisation. This is where a service is being sold as a product. Booking an interpreter has become like buying a tin of baked beans!

Agencies such as LanguageLine who are profit driven don’t understand the important role a good agency has and the added value it brings to both the Deaf consumer and the interpreter. Whilst there are a handful of good ethical agencies sadly these are now few in number.

This commoditisation of interpreting is short-termism at its worst. In not providing a service you can remove many of the costs involved. Selling interpreters as if they were tins of baked beans means that you can reduce the price. There will be no incentive for new people to train and become interpreters and eventually the market chain will collapse.

Don’t become a tin of baked beans! Get involved.