The New NIC Interview

With the new NIC Interview and Performance Exam released in December 2011, comes a whole new way of preparing and approaching the Interview. While surely the changes in the Interview were designed to make it easier for the raters to evaluate the exam, it does not reflect the process interpreters go through as they apply ethical decision making to real world ethical dilemmas.  Following is a comparison of the old and new exam.

The old NIC Interview rubric was based on the process of making ethical decisions similar to the one presented by the Markkula Center For Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. That process was basically the following:

How to Make Ethical Decisions

  1. Recognize the issue or specifically the conflict with the Code of Professional Conduct. Consider the amount of harm that would be caused by refraining from action or by taking action. Recognize the choice between the good and bad alternatives.
  2. Gather Facts – identify the relevant facts and consider those who are stakeholders in the outcome.
  3. Evaluate the Options – consider the possible options or solutions as it relates to the 5 core ideas of ethics; balancing benefits and reducing harm (greatest good), protecting the rights of those involved (rights), treating participants equally or fairly (justice/fairness), leads you to be the person you want to be (virtues), and or best serves the community as a whole (common good).
  4. Take Action – make a decision and test it. Ask yourself, “How would someone I respect react to this decision?”  Recognize your responsibility and accountability.
  5. Reflect on the Outcome – how the decision affected the stakeholders involved and what can be learned from the consequences that will influence future decisions.


The previous NIC Interview Rubric had three domains:

  • ž  Conflict
  • ž  Solution
  • ž  Consequences

These domains followed the steps of making ethical decisions stated above and do and will apply to your own real-life ethical dilemmas. Becoming familiar with the domains and how to apply them to situations will benefit you greatly in your interpreting career.

Let’s review the domains:

Domain #1:

 Identification of problem or conflict:

Clearly and comprehensively describe the conflict or problem between the situation and the Code of Professional Conduct, policies, procedures, and/or laws.  Provide a substantial discussion of the perspectives of involved parties. Who is involved? What is the conflict from the perspective of each of the stakeholders, primary, secondary and tertiary?

Domain #2

 Construction of a decision or solution:

 What would you do and why?

Provide a substantial discussion of perspectives of involved parties.  Present a successful solution or solutions.

Domain #3

 Consequences of a decision or solution:

 Provide sufficient discussion of both the short-term and long-term effects that might include cultural, political, and/or sociological implications. Your solution or decision will affect the current participants and set precedent for the future.  Identify the difference between short-term and long-term consequences. Short-term consequences may include potential issues that might arise immediately. Long-term consequences could potentially occur as a result of your decision on an ongoing basis, and could possibly affect stakeholders that are not present. The short-term and long-term consequences may be different for each of the stakeholders.

What to Expect From the New Exam

According the NIC Candidate Handbook 2011, the NIC Interview and Performance Exam consists of seven video-based “vignettes”, or short problems that contain a real world problem or interpreting activity: two ethical “interview” vignettes and five interpreting “performance” vignettes.

The exam will be approximately 1 hour in length.  The test administrator will start the exam video player and camera and then the exam will continue on a pre-set flow and time schedule.  There are built-in breaks between the vignettes to allow the candidate to rest and prepare for the next problem. You will not have the ability to change the flow or timing of the test once the exam begins.

For the “interview” section, you will be given a written description of an interpreting situation, an ethical dilemma that occurs, and told how an interpreter chose to respond.  You will then be asked to evaluate the interpreter’s actions from a prescribed point of view. You will be told to criticize the interpreter’s actions or defend them, based on the tenets of the CPC. You will be give 4 minutes to formulate a response (including reading the written description) and then 3 minutes to respond on video, using ASL.  You will be given a 2 minute rest break and then you will be given the second vignette.

As stated in the Handbook, the evaluation of the interview vignettes must be based on the CPC. The candidates are required to refer to specific tenets and sections of the CPC in their response.  You will need to memorize the CPC and practice applying the tenets and sections to interpreting situations.

After the 2 “interview” vignettes, you will be given 5 “performance” vignettes. You will be presented with an interpreting situation and context (2 minutes) and then interpret the conversation (4 minutes). Between each vignette, you will receive a rest break (2 minutes).

How to Answer the Interview

The New Interview has provided you with the Solution by telling you what the interpreter decided to do and asks you to support or criticize this solution using specific tenets and sections of the CPC. By telling you to defend or criticize the decision, they are telling you if that decision was right or wrong.  In a lot of ways, this has made the interview easier for you but does not teach you to make real decisions in real world situations.  That is why it is still crucial for you to practice the decision making process stated above in your everyday interpreting practice.

For the New Interview, you will need to identify the conflict and the stakeholders before you can proceed. One way of organizing your evalution is to identify what the conflict was in the original scenario and pick the 2-3 main tenet sections that apply to it. Once you identify them, organize them in order of importance and then expand on each one by identifying the stakeholders, how they are affected by the conflict and how they will be influenced by the solution.  Use the 4 minutes allowed and scrap paper provided to write out an outline you can follow so that your answer is organized and you are not tempted to wonder away from the points you are trying to make.

Example Scenario:

An out-of-town agency contacts a private practice interpreter to interpret for a physical therapy appointment for a Deaf person. The agency sends the contract and some other forms, one of which requires the interpreter to provide the insurance company with information regarding the session. It is asking if the patient was seen by the physician, was the patient in pain and was a follow-up appointment scheduled. The interpreter feels uncomfortable answering these questions, but the insurance company is paying for the services.

The interpreter decides to decline the assignment.

Defend the interpreter’s decision using the CPC.


The tenets that apply to this decision are:

1) 1.1 – Confidentiality, sharing info on an “as-needed” basis

2) 2.5 – Professionalism, refrain from giving personal opinions

3) 3.0 – Conduct, avoid performing a dual role


1)      1.1 – The interpreter was right in declining this job because the insurance company was requiring him/her to break this ethic of confidentiality. The interpreter can share info, but it should be on an “as-needed” basis as it relates to language access.  The stakeholders involved are a) the interpreter, b) the PT office, c) the deaf patient, and c) the Agency .  By upholding this tenet of the CPC (and HIPAA laws) the interpreter is protecting the rights of the deaf patient and the PT office. The Agency and insurance company will have the opportunity to be educated on the ethics of Sign Language Interpreters and have more confidence in our profession.

2)      2.5 – By providing the information requested the interpreter would be giving a personal opinion as to the patient’s level of pain etc. This would be an opinion, since the interpreter is not trained as a medical professional… (use compare/contrast – how accepting the job would violate the tenet) …etc.

3)      3.0 – The role of the interpreter is to provide communication access and not to report on the patient. The insurance company can contact the therapist or PT office directly to get that kind of information… etc.

Becoming familiar with the process and comfortable with the format of the NIC Interview will be the key to your success in passing the exam.  Practice, practice, practice will help you feel confident and keep your thoughts and comments on track.  A good way to do this is to make videos of your evaluations and review them and then improve upon them.  Working with a trusted mentor or peer will also be helpful on your journey to become certified.


Teresa V. Ford, NIC Advanced

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Viewing Yourself As a Professional

Viewing Yourself As A Professional

By definition a professional is:

  • a person who belongs to one of the professions, especially one of the learned professions
  • a person who is expert at his or her work
  • a person who engages in an activity with great competence

As interpreters, I would say that we fit that definition. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but we have learned our profession and have skills that set us apart from others. Without us they would be at a loss to communicate effectively and in a timely manner. We are experts at our work and hopefully, we engage in that activity with great competence.

Despite these facts, we struggle to be recognized by others as professionals. Using family members to “interpret” for doctor’s appointments or other situations has helped to encourage this view that anyone who can “sign”, can interpret. But that is a whole other topic for another day. But my question is: Are you doing things that undervalue yourself as a professional and devalue our profession? Do you view yourself as the professional that you are? What can you do to elevate our profession and the view that others have of us?

First of all, are you a member of RID and if not, why not? Since its inception, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has promoted our profession. It is the national professional association for interpreters and transliterators. Quoting from the RID website:


RID has played a leading role in establishing a national standard of quality for interpreters and transliterators. We encourage the growth of the profession, educate the public about the vital role of interpreters and transliterators and work to ensure equal opportunity and access for all individuals. 

Mission: “Support the Continued Growth and Development of the Profession
It is the mission of RID to provide international, national, regional, state and local forums and an organizational structure for the continued growth and development of the profession of interpretation and transliteration of American Sign Language and English.

 Philosophy: “Ensure Effective Communication
The philosophy of RID is that excellence in the delivery of interpretation and transliteration services between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who are hearing, will ensure effective communication. As the national professional association for interpreters and transliterators, RID serves as an essential arena for its members in their pursuit of excellence.

Goal: “Promote the Profession
It is the goal of RID to promote the profession of interpreting and transliterating American Sign Language and English. 


You don’t need to be certified to be a member of RID. You can join on a Student, Supporting, or Associate Member.  Supporting our profession in this way is the first step.

Striving to reach higher than state certification or EIPA and going for the NIC is another way to promote our profession.  Teachers must be certified, lawyers must pass the Bar and good doctors take the extra step to be Board Certified. Why should we expect any less from ourselves? Your consumers will have more faith in you if they know that you are certified and thus qualified. Many agencies that operate on a national scale won’t even consider hiring you unless you are nationally certified. For more on this, see the previous article, Why You Should Take the NIC Exam.

As professionals, we adhere to the Code Professional of Conduct. Sadly, some interpreters do not follow some of the tenets and thus undermine our profession.  Are you doing your best to follow the CPC? Are you taking on assignments that you are not qualified for? Do you show respect for your colleagues and consumers? Are you dressing professionally? Taking a hard look at ourselves and where we can improve will help us all to act more professionally and promote our profession.

Another problem that I see is the touchy subject of pay rates. Do you set your rates or do you take what others will give you? I see too many freelance interpreters accepting low rates just for the sake of getting work from the agencies. If we all demand higher rates according to our skill level and experience, they will have to comply or they won’t have anyone to provide quality interpreting services and you know they are charging their clients a lot more than they are willing to give us. Let me tell you a story of what happened to me a few years ago. I was living in the Midwest, an area that has pretty low rates in comparison to other parts of the country. I had several jobs booked with this one agency when I received my NIC: Advanced certification. I decided this would be a good opportunity to push the envelope a little and so I announced that I would be raising my rates (by about $5/hr) to reflect my new certification. (Mind you, I was still asking for less than I was making at my full-time VRS job, where they take out taxes etc.  In my opinion, rates for contract work should be higher because we have to pay our own taxes and have other expenses.) The agency then promptly cancelled all my jobs, saying they couldn’t afford to pay my new rate. I held my ground and waited them out. Within a month, this same agency was calling me back and was willing to pay my rate. What would have happened if I had caved and accepted what they were willing to pay me? Would compromising for the sake of a few jobs promoted my professionalism and my profession? I don’t think so. I am happy I stood my ground. I am not saying that everyone should go out and raise their rates, but I am saying that if you have the skills and experience, why are you accepting the same rates that newer interpreters coming right out of the programs are getting?  I don’t mean to stir up a pot of worms here, but it is something to think about.

Let’s open this up for discussion. What are your thoughts on this? What other way do you think we can promote our profession and view ourselves more as professionals? Please post your comments.  I would love to hear your viewpoint and what you have to say.

~ Teresa V. Ford

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Reading the Fingerspelled Word

Developing your receptive skills can be a challenge and should be an ongoing goal. The most challenging receptive area for most Interpreters is fingerspelling.

Coming from a long line of Deaf family, I have noticed a difference with each generation. My Great-grandmother, who lived to be 98, spelled a lot but with a slow music-like rhythm. My Grandmother and Grandfather signed a little more, with a little less fingerspelling, but there were some differences in speed and style. I noticed the same style and speed with her brother, who is Deaf . My own parents, who are now in their early 70′s, sign a little faster with a different style even yet.

The biggest challenge I find is with the younger generation, 7-21 years old. Keeping up with not only the speed, but the newest slang, the newest games and the most recent movies. As Interpreters, just trying to keep up with the trends in each generation is a challenge. So what are we to do? Here are some tips.

First rule: Don’t look at their hands! Keep your focus on the face. Many clues can be gained by staying focused there. Don’t worry, you will still see the hands and fingerspelling.

Also, try to see fingerspelled words as a whole unit rather than each letter. If you look at each letter, it will through you off. It is much like when you were learning to read as a child.  At first you sounded out each letter in a word, but with time and a lot of practice, you finally started to see the words as a whole.  Practice is key in training your brain to see the fingerspelled word. Using a site like is helpful.  Challenge yourself by keeping track of at least 100 correct words before moving on to the next fastest speed, working all the way up to deaf speed.

~ Roxanne Carpenter, CI/CT, SC: L, NIC: Master, CODA

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Improving Receptive Fingerspelling Skills

Dear Sally,

Can you give me any suggestions on improving my receptive fingerspelling skills?



Dear Tesa,

Sure! A great online tool is found at and it can give you practice to improve your receptive fingerspelling skills. My suggestion is to make a list of the words you get right on the first try and keep going until you get 100 words correct. Then work your way up to “deaf speed”. Have fun!

Interpreter Sally

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The Lousy Interpreter

“I interpret all the time, why am I lousy at it?”
How may of us have said this at one time or another? Go ahead, raise your hand. Mine is raised too. After a hard job or extended job, that little voice in the back of your head is screeching it. Why is it when I interpret a lot, I feel less effective? So out comes the paper and pen, frantically questioning each and every thing I signed or voiced during that job. I pull out my Demand Control Schema worksheet and evaluate the product, the dynamics, the environment, etc. Looking over the worksheet, it all seems as if I handled each quite well. Then why do I feel like I am a lousy interpreter?
There could be various factors involved. Ranging from time of day and situation, to our own self-evaluation of our skills. Are we comparing ourselves to our team? Are we degrading our skills because we feel like we are not filling in all the details that the English consumer is getting? Are we struggling with Job Burnout?
We just received the 2011 Journal of Interpreting book from RID press in the mail. If you haven’t got yours yet, I suggest you get one or borrow it from someone. There is an article on “Sign Language Interpreters and Burnout” by Tomina Schwenke starting on page 31. It got me to thinking about my “lousy terp” spiel that is constantly drumming in my head. On page 33, she explained exactly what burnout means. She quotes from Cordes and Doughterty, who described burnout as “a response to a high level of chronic work demands, entailing very important interpersonal obligations and responsibilities.” Tomina states “Conceptualized as a kind of work-related stress, burnout is a pattern of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal accomplishment that results from excessive work demands.”
Her explanation of “diminished personal accomplishment” triggered a thought process with me. It is the “tendency to have negative self-evaluation, which can lead to generalized feelings of dissatisfaction regarding professional performance and accomplishments.” Hey!! That is it! I feel like I am a lousy interpreter because I am burned out! It dawned on me. I am interpreting ALL THE wonder I am feeling ineffectual. I am tired, overworked, possibly not doing enough self-care. I need a break. I need to focus on something else for a change.
Exercise, recreational pursuits, family play time, lunch with the girls or guys (mind that it is not bashing time–use it for talking about other subjects besides interpreting), jumping in the City Hall fountain, doing something that you enjoy. All these are great burnout relievers. Schedule these into your weekly routine. In no time, you will feel like the world’s greatest interpreter, which we all know you are.
If you are still feeling less than great, I have a little story for you. There were these two lumberjacks who decided to see who could out chop the other in a race. Whoever had the most wood at the end of the day, was the superior lumberjack. So, the following morning they met and began chopping away. One lumberjack worked all day, swinging his axe and never stopping for nary lunch nor break. The other took frequent breaks all throughout the day. Finally, at the end of the day, their piles were totaled up. Do you know who had the most wood? If you said, the lumberjack who took the frequent breaks, then you are right. Do you know why he had the most wood? It is because during his breaks, he sharpened his axe. The main tool of his trade, he sharpened.
That corresponds to us as interpreters. Our main tool is our skills. Do we take breaks to sharpen them or do we constantly just keep working, thinking that more is better? Have a mentor assess your skills and discuss with you ways to sharpen your tool. Maybe just a little smoothing is needed, or possibly a longer, more focused sharpening is needed. The decision is yours to make. We all need our skills sharpened at one time or another. The more in command of our skill, the easier it is to effectually cut through that tree of communication.
So in conclusion, whether we need to schedule more play time into our work routine or do skill sharpening exercises to improve our work product with a mentor; interpreting is our profession that deep down, we love to do.
~Deborah A. Beavers
****disclaimer: The author does not take responsibility for any legal action for suggesting to leap into City Hall fountains nor will she ever report anyone for doing so. ****
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Visualization – A Vital Tool in Your Toolbox

Visualization – A Vital Tool in your Toolbox

I just returned from the TerpExpo in Baltimore. It was a wonderful conference and I really enjoyed myself.  I highly recommend that you attend if you ever get a chance.  One of the workshops that stands out in my mind is “Discourse Mapping” by Shannon Simon.  It was an excellent reminder to me of the importance of visualization and how practicing this skill will improve memory and interpreting product.

Mind Mapping

Although I am a visual thinker and never have had much of a problem with visualizing, I have never really done mind mapping before.  It was amazing that drawing a picture really helped me remember the details of a story I had read 3-4 days earlier.  If you have never tried mind mapping, I would suggest you try it. You will be amazed!

Mind mapping really helps you to let go of the words and get to the meaning.   The presentor used the illustration of an iceberg.  The top or surface of the iceberg is the lexical level, the grammar etc.  This is called the cohesion or form. The bottom of the iceberg is the  textual or deep structure, the meaning behind the words.  This is called the coherence, the meaning , and involves using your ELK (extra linguistic knowledge).

Another illustration that was used, which I appreciated,  is attributed to the GISH model of interpreting.  The source language is like a tree.  As we process it, we chop it down.  Then we reconstruct it in the target language, and there is no need to add every leaf!  How many times have we gotten stuck on the details and lost the true meaning or intent of the source language? I know I have…many times.  

If you have never done any mind mapping, here is how.  Take a text and draw it.  No need to draw all the details, just put down something that will trigger your memory.  You can draw it in a linear fashion or have one central picture as the theme and have subsequent ideas coming off it as spokes from a wheel.  Any way that you feel comfortable doing it is fine.

I think you will find that you will draw it in a way that your mind already works. For example, I tend to be a minimalist.  When I sign, I normally get to the point and then add essential details later.  I notice that I did this also with my drawings.  I took 7 paragraphs of text and drew two pictures and those pictures are enough for me to remember most of the details of the text. 

Mind mapping is not only a visualization tool but is a great way for you to expand your memory and improve your processing skills. Try it.  You may like it!

~ Teresa V. Ford

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Ethical Decision Making

As interpreters, we are in a rare position to affect the lives of others.  What we do and how we do it has an impact.  Making ethical decisions using critical thinking is a skill.  Just like fingerspelling and use of space, it is a skill that takes practice to develop. 

 The NIC interview tests these analytic skills.  They want to see our thinking process and how we come to our decisions. How we score on this portion of the exam can make or break us.  So what exactly do they want to see as we answer the questions about a given ethical dilemma or scenario?

 The interview consists of three domains.  The conflict, the decision or solution, and the ramifications of that decision.

 Domain #1:

 Identification of problem or conflict: 

 Clearly and comprehensively describe the conflict or problem between the situation and the Code of Professional Conduct, policies, procedures, and/or laws.  There may be more than one conflict, but concentrate on the primary one. State the specific tenet of the CPC, referring back to the actual language of the tenet when stating the conflict. 

 Provide a substantial discussion of the perspectives of involved parties. Who is involved? What is the conflict from the perspective of each of the stakeholders, primary, secondary and tertiary?  Avoid tunnel vision of your own point of view and widen out to include the perspectives of all the stakeholders.

 Domain #2

 Construction of a decision or solution:

 What would you do and why? 

 Provide a substantial discussion of perspectives of involved parties.  State the perspective of all of the stakeholders previously mentioned in the conflict.

 Present a successful solution or solutions. The solution must be related to the same tenet of the CPC stated in the conflict.  This is where you bring in resources and/or past and present practices.

 Domain #3

 Consequences of a decision or solution:

 Provide sufficient discussion of both the short-term and long-term effects that might include cultural, political, and/or sociological implications. Your solution or decision will affect the current participants and set precedent for the future.  Identify the difference between short-term and long-term consequences. Short-term consequences may include potential issues that might arise immediately. Long-term consequences could potentially occur as a result of your decision on an ongoing basis, and could possibly affect stakeholders that are not present. The short-term and long-term consequences may be different for each of the stakeholders.

 As you can see, you have daunting task ahead of you.  You can’t ”go with your gut” on this one. The ability to apply the tenets of the CPC to scenarios and consider the ramifications is a skill that requires time and practice. The more you practice this process the easier it will become. 

 The NIC Interview Independent Study will cover the CPC and these domains in-depth and give you ample opportunity to develop and practice these analytic skills.  

 (The sentences in italics are taken from the NIC Interview Examination Rubric Anchor  found on the RID website.)

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Why You Should Take the NIC Exam

Why You Should Take the NIC Exam
You are probably thinking, “I already have state certification. Why should I take another certification exam? Isn’t what I have good enough?”   Have you thought about how you can challenge yourself?  Have you considered what would be a good indicator of your qualifications?  Have you ever been in an interpreting session and felt like we were not viewed as the professional we are?  We need a better way to promote our profession.
Taking the National Interpreter Certification exam through RID is a good way to challenge yourself , is an indicator of your qualifications; plus it promotes our profession. As sign language interpreters we want to be recognized as professionals. Teachers must be certified, lawyers must pass the Bar and good doctors take the extra step to be Board Certified. Why should we expect any less from ourselves? Your consumers will have more faith in you if they know that you are certified and thus qualified. You will have more confidence doing your job if you are Nationally certified.
The NIC is national recognition that you are qualified to do your job, and thus are entitled to receive higher wages and fees. Many states do not have their own testing system or Quality Assurance Screening (QAS) and use the certifications recognized by the NAD and RID. If you live in a state that has a QAS, and hold state certification, you are limited in your ability to work outside of your state. Circumstances change and you never know when you may need to relocate. Having the NIC assures you that you will be able to work anywhere. Once you receive your NIC, you will be listed as certified on the RID registry, thus opening up the potential to receive job offers and assignments by interpreting agencies nationwide.
Even if you hold an older certification through NAD or RID, taking the new exam will challenge you to prove what your years of experience have accomplished. It will prove you are not only serious about promoting your profession, but that you are serious about staying current with the direction that our profession is taking.
For many of us, time is running out. After June 30, 2012, you must hold a B.A. degree to sit for the exam. The current requirement is an A.A. degree, but many will still qualify to take the test by the Alternative Pathway to Eligibility. Do not delay. Do not hold yourself back. Make plans to take the NIC exams.
In summary, listed below are the Six Reasons why you should get your NIC:
1. Promote our Profession
2. Be Recognized as a Professional
3. Prove your Qualifications
4. Be Nationally Recognized
5. Stay Current in the Field, Maintain Skill Level and Challenge yourself
6. Receive Higher Wages/fees
Interpreter’s Ally is here to help you.
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Hello ASL interpreters!

We are here to assist you in connecting the pieces to support you in seeing the whole interpreting process.

Ally: a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose: a person who associates or cooperates with another; supporter.

Synonyms: unify, join, combine, partner, confederate, friend, aide, assistant, colleague, helper.We are here to support you in achieving your interpreting goals, whether it is to improve specific skills, or pass the NIC exams. Let us be your support, your helper, your friend, your ally.

Contact us at:

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