Interpreter Communicates Without Saying a Word

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sitting in church at age 8, Anthony Verdeja started to appreciate sign language. He joined a group of deaf people, started copying the hand movements, and within a year, he was helping interpret hymns.

In 17 years as a professional interpreter, Verdeja has worked in schools, businesses, conferences and even a few churches and synagogues. He has gone along on business trips to Russia and traveled to conventions in California.

"I love the challenge of going into a myriad of various venues and settings and having to . . . struggle to ensure that the most effective communication takes place," he said.

He works as a staff interpreter at Gallaudet University, where his work is booked in two-hour increments. Previously, he has worked as a freelancer, and those assignments can be by the hour or by the day -- or, in the case of trips to Africa and Russia, by the week.

About 41,000 people work as interpreters and translators, and the field is projected to grow 25 percent by 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Verdeja sees some shortages of experienced interpreters and notes that it can take up to seven years to become proficient.

Verdeja has developed a niche signing for arts events. The task is complicated because the audience wants to watch the performers, not him. He tries to "get information out and direct them to the stage."

Interpreters are not supposed to censor words or statements, even when they are derogatory or vile. "There are times when I struggle with that," he said, but he puts aside his qualms and notes: "These are not my words or my signs."

-- Vickie Elmer

© 2008 The Washington Post Company