Articulating Your WHY
Adding motivational values to the discussion

How often have you been asked about your reasons for becoming an interpreter? I know I have responded to this inquiry countless times since I first decided to pursue this path and apply for my Interpreter Education Program (IEP). Many of us have developed our ‘go-to’ response to these kinds of questions and may have several variations depending on who is asking and that person’s knowledge of the field. This article will expand on a 2015 study that explored how we articulate our reasons for becoming an interpreter and how those statements may conflict with our personal value system.

One of the reasons I researched motivational values in the field of ASL/English Interpreting for my Master’s thesis is because I believe we can all benefit from digging a little deeper into our motivations for entering the field, leading to a more genuine articulation of our reasons for pursuing this line of work. And understanding these motivational values can lead us to a deeper reflective practice. There is substantial literature to support the impact our values have not only on the occupation we choose but also on ethical decision-making processes within our chosen profession (Amentrano, 2014; Ben-Shem, & Avi-Itzhak, 1991; Brown, 2002; Glover, Bumpus, Logan, & Ciesla, 1997; Karacaer, Gohar, Aygun, & Sayin, 2009; Macedo, Sapateiro, & Filipe, 2006; Watt & Richardson, 2007). In the field of signed language interpreting, several scholars have discussed the importance of values in the way we frame ethical conflicts (Cokely, 2000; Dean & Pollard, 2013; Meckler, 2014).

In my experience as an interpreting student in both undergraduate and graduate programs, values were discussed but never explored deeply or in a way that was personal to my own experiences. The further I dove into this research, the more I realized that this discussion could enlighten not only our understanding of who we are and why we choose this work but also how these values impact our professional practice. For the purpose of my study, the Schwartz’s (1994) definition of values was applied. This definition contains five components:

  1. belief
  2. pertaining to desirable end states or modes of conduct
  3. transcends specific situations
  4. guides selection or evaluation of behavior, people, and events
  5. is ordered by importance relative to other values to form a system of value priorities.

(Schwartz, 1994, p. 20)

In May of 2015, I developed a survey that was posted on various social media pages. I collected 298 completed surveys, filled with useful data about the motivational values of practicing interpreters and IEP students.

There were three components to the survey:

  1. demographic questions
  2. open-ended question asking respondents to ‘Briefly describe your reasons for pursuing a career as an interpreter.’
  3. 40 item questionnaire developed by a psychologist, Dr. Shalom H. Schwartz, to assess motivational value types, called the Portrait Values Questionnaire (PVQ).

Below is a chart showing the PVQ results for the entire sample of 298 respondents. The results show the following ranking (one being ranked the highest and ten the lowest) of Schwartz’ ten value types (For more information about how these means were calculated please refer to the full thesis).

(Ramirez-Loudenback, 2015, pp. 36-37)

The second part of the online survey included an open-ended question about reasons for entering the field. This provided another point of interest. One of the most prominent discoveries was the discrepancy between a respondent’s value systems (identified in the ranking of value types from the PVQ, as shown above) and the values expressed in their response to the open-ended prompt “Please briefly describe your reasons for pursuing a career as an interpreter.” Why would a response to this prompt stand in contrast with a person’s value system?

One theme identified in the responses to this prompt, coded as “hedonistic/language responses,” referenced the pleasure derived from using American Sign Language (Ramirez-Loudenback, 2015, p. 59). Generally, these responses were a variation of the response “I fell in love with the language.” The coding of responses was based on Schwartz’s ten value types. The value type of hedonism is defined as the goal of pursuing “Pleasure and sensuous gratification of oneself” (Schwartz, 1994, p. 22). While the term ‘hedonism’ can have negative connotations depending on an individual’s background, it is important to recognize that each value type describes an essential aspect of the human experience. We all want to derive pleasure from and enjoy what we do, which is captured in this value type. This research seeks to start a discussion about the way we prioritize these essential values, not to disparage or judge anyone for expressing a value. One of the questions that this data brought to mind is why the hedonism value seems to be expressed frequently in the open-ended responses, while being ranked quite low (sixth) within the overall PVQ results (Ramirez-Loudenback, 2015, p. 37).

The purpose of my research is not to provide any solid answers, but to propose questions for us all to ponder and explore individually and in our professional communities. There are many possible reasons for the contrasting values expressed in the individual value system versus the open-ended question. I think one possible reason is that we hear responses to these questions and we mimic them, such as “I fell in love with the language and culture.” Personally, I have heard that type of response countless times in my journey as an ASL student, as an interpreting student, and now as a professional. It may also be that some interpret this question more as ‘How did you get involved with ASL or the Deaf community?’ because for some individuals, the two choices are linked or happened simultaneously. My research shows that all of the responses that were coded this way, except for one, did not list ASL as their native language. I believe that these conflicting values may also be an indication that many of us have not fully examined our motivations for entering this field.

Interpreters can benefit from a closer examination of our motivations and work toward articulating a more authentic, value-based answer to this question. This research aims to encourage all professionals to think more deeply about what drew us into and keeps us working in this field, leading us to reflect on how these motivations and values impact our current practice.

As a result of this research I have actively tried to articulate competing values in my own reflective practice and I feel that it brings me a greater ability to empathize with multiple perspectives and an awareness of how my personal values impact my work as well as how I feel about my work.

So, the next time someone asks you why you chose to become an interpreter, take a breath, and take notice of your response.

For more information about this research refer to the full Master’s thesis paper at:

Photo by Liz Wade

Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback, MA, NIC

Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband and two children. She completed her BA in ASL/English Interpreting from Western Oregon University in 2009 and her MA in Interpreting Studies from WOU in December 2015. She interprets mainly in post-secondary and community settings. She has had her NIC since 2009.


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