Do hearing children need to interpret for their parents?

Awhile back, I commented on a blog of a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) regarding her topic on NOT wanting to interpret for her deaf parents.

For the benefit of my blog readers who are unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines CODA as:

a hearing person who was raised by a Deaf parent or guardian. Many CODAs identify with Deaf and hearing cultures.

Wikipedia further explains that:

because CODAs are hearing, but are raised in visual signing environments, some face difficulty with social and cultural norms that differ from the norms within their deaf community. Some CODAs receive enough exposure to spoken language models through extended family members, neighbors, and television.

In my more than 15 years of living with the deaf community in the Philippines, I have witnessed many deaf parents who have hearing children. Some of them even chose me to be the godfather of their children, especially those families who are close to me and ehem, I’m responsible in matchmaking their deaf parents. 🙂

It’s sad to note that as I observed some of their children grow, quite a lot of them are not proficient in sign language. Worst, a few bunch seem so detached with their deaf parents while they became more close to the hearing members of the household. How do we expect them to interpret for their parents if they don’t even know how to sign?

I’m not a CODA so I belong to those who are “not-in-authority-because-I-have-not-experienced-it” group. Nor will I admit that whatever I say is a gospel truth. However, let’s dissect some of their grounds why they don’t want to interpret for their parents.

  • CODAs are compelled to “tweak” what their deaf parents say in order to make them “look good”. – I don’t see anything wrong with that. I even think it’s cool! Let’s face it, deaf people, no matter how intellectually capable they are or how high their educational attainments are, still lack tons of information that can be acquired through the ears. Biology taught us that 13% of what we learn came from our ability to hear. We can’t do anything about it. What we can do is make our parents “look and feel good”.
  • CODAs might expose the ignorance of their parents. – So what! The world understands their inability. Every time I interpret in the hospital, I always assume that I don’t know most of the medical terms. So exposing my ignorance provides more chances for the doctors to explain further everything in plain and simple language. That way, I can interpret clearly.

Every time I meet CODAs, I encourage especially those younger ones to be proud of their roots and help their parents by interpreting for them. I feel so blessed if I find CODAs that took the path and mission of sign language interpreting like my new found friend Jeff.

I interpret for the deaf most often because I have no choice and nobody is available unlike in other developed countries where there are roster of interpreters on call and their disability rights are very strong. In my country, interpreters are in great scarcity. Most of us do multitasking. Many are teachers for the deaf by profession so they cannot just be called to interpret on short notice. A great number of them are even lured and migrated to the US where pay is very good. 😦

I forgot about the exact figure but when I attended a conference in 2007, I learned that an independent study here says that there is roughly a ratio of one interpreter for every 5,000 deaf persons. You could just imagine that even those who only know fingerspelling are tapped to interpret. In other words, interpreting is a luxury here. Even if a Deaf can afford an interpreter, there is not much around.

If we are too “strict” with the legalese on interpreting ethics, then, I believe, we cannot live in a social world. Besides, you are not interpreting just for anybody. They are your parents. You are not even paid to interpret for them. You do it because you love them. You help them because you care for them. You protect them against unscrupulous people who are out to take advantage of their disability.

I believe personal emotions and inhibitions must be set aside in order to obtain our common goal of giving them their rights to know and be heard.

So to answer my topic question, I don’t think so. Nobody can compel you to do things you don’t want. However, I simply appeal to the children of deaf parents to continue interpreting for them. It’s one blessed way of honoring your parents. (Exodus 20:12) 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Do hearing children need to interpret for their parents?

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  1. Big NO! If the CODA hearing kids are much willing to do some basic interpreting for their parents in social circles.

    CODA kids should be not encouraged to interpret. Deaf parents of hearing children needs to do the written communication with their neighbors and hearing friends.

    The courts of the law must provide qualified interpreters for deaf victims/ accusers, not the CODA ones.


    Robert L. Mason (RLM)

  2. I’m curious about your first blog that you mentioned, I’d love to see it if you could link it.

    Here are some of the issues I have with Codas interpreting under the age of 18. I am a Coda.

    The expectations that children must sign for their parents and not with them is quite tragic. Deaf parents should teach the language or mode of communication that fits their family. Being a parent, we do the best we can with the information at hand. I am very proud of my Deaf heritage. However, the “family business” was not a path I took. At first because I didn’t even know it was a profession and later when I tried the field – it didn’t work out for me. Each coda is individual with their talents. What a shame for all of us to be interpreters. We would miss out on wonderful authors, techies, cooks, teachers (both in deaf and hearing schools), humanitarians and many more gifted people.

    I think you may find it interesting that many sections of the US cannot accommodate for all Deaf people. There is a strong need for more interpreters. We Codas cannot keep up the labor pool, so I think education among the general public about how lucrative and in demand of interpreters is the best fit. In the US we have many high schools that consider it a foreign language. This would be a great way to have a career path that focuses on sign language interpreters.

    By not interpreting for your parents in our younger years, it keeps our childhood secure. We do respect our parents by listening and doing what other “hearing” children are expected. The problem with exposing codas to interpreting is that it is impossible to shield them from the ignorant comments they will most likely have to endure. This is not protecting your child, this exposes them to a greater Pandora’s Box.

    You are correct, we cannot be forced (or can we if we are minor children) to interpret. However, by not doing it, certainly cannot show disrespect. Understanding that there is trauma in the situations we are placed in. If we go out to eat, ordering a coke for our parents is actually the exception. It is good for the child and actually builds some self confidence. However, interpreting doctor’s appointments, insurance information and other inappropriate situations is not acceptable. Not only should the Deaf parent NOT do it, the hearing adults should know better.

    If you are not yet a parent, then you won’t understand. Children are shy and to be told they must interpret to avoid being scammed by unscrupulous people is more burden then they know how to process.

    I can understand how you would think about protecting our parents, but our job isn’t that. Our lives from birth to 18 is to be a child.

    I thank you for allowing me an opportunity to comment.

  3. Hello Lisa!

    I was hoping you would drop by my blog. You did! Thanks! I am a fan of yours. In fact, I added you in my blogroll. 🙂

    Actually, the blog that I mentioned was yours! If you notice, I’m the 7th commenter. Here is my comment link to your blog.

    I did not put a link on your blog post because I don’t want to create animosity from you nor misquote/misinterpret you since yours is a video blog. I’m a newbie blogger. I don’t want to attract unnecessary enemies. 🙂

    Yah, I agree 101% from your comments. The tragedy and pressure in interpreting for your parents at a very young age are insurmountable. Back in early 90s, I was able to watch a Hallmark movie “Love is Never Silent”. I’m sure you have too. The emotional stress of a young child interpreting for her parents in choosing a coffin for her younger brother really hit me hard.

    Also, as my blog title says, I’m an outsider. I have no deaf relatives and children. My college course was not even special education. Never in my entire life prior to 1991 have I ever thought of entering into the deaf world. You are more credible and in authority in this field simply because you are immersed with them. I admire your conviction and I respect that 100%.

    Hope you can comment some more. Thanks. 🙂

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