No profession is all smooth sailing, especially not that of ASL interpreters. With a career that involves working in varied settings with people of different temperaments, ASL interpreting comes with its fair share of challenging times. 

Like most others, the positive impact of ASL interpreting on the Deaf community may have driven you to choose this profession. However, the challenging nature of the job might leave you feeling flustered. 

Challenging situations faced by interpreters

Some uncomfortable situations you might have to deal with include:

  • Interpreting topics that are triggering or sensitive for you, including death, assault, trauma, and illness, among other things
  • Use of cuss words by clients in their communication with one another
  • Use of derogatory terms by clients. For instance, terms or slurs that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic 
  • Extremely personal information revealed by clients
  • Rude or insensitive clients

Whether you are dealing with demanding or rude clients or interpreting sensitive topics, you will find yourself in uncomfortable situations now and then. While facing such difficult times is almost inevitable, there are ways to handle such situations. 

Let us look at how you can interpret uncomfortable situations with ease. 

Interpreting triggering topics

As an interpreter, you are the connecting link between the Deaf community and their hearing peers. While on the job, you might have to interpret sensitive topics. For instance, legal interpreters might have to relay accounts of trauma or violence, or medical interpreters might have to share a doctor’s diagnosis that the patient might have been dreading or respond to emergency medical calls. 

Photo by Cottonbro Studio

ALT Text: A woman in a black top crying 

During these tough times, it is essential to maintain professionalism. If you get swayed by your emotions, you might not be able to interpret them effectively. Your emotions may affect the flow of communication, which is something you want to avoid at all costs. 

You could start with some introspection to see what situations trigger you. Once you have recognized a pattern, you can focus on how these triggers affect your interpreting work. Practice controlling your outward reactions so they do not interject with your work. 

Emotional detachment from your clients is important for interpreting sensitive topics that might otherwise trigger you. Instead of empathizing with the client during such challenging circumstances, practice sympathy. Your role is to understand your clients so you can get their message across accurately. Sometimes, not feeling for your clients and their woes might be humanly impossible. However, learn to discern your feelings from those of your clients; this might take some practice and professional help. 

Photo by SHVETS production

ALT Text: An interpreter talking to a mental health professional about their job    

Lastly, set boundaries and only accept projects you can handle emotionally. For instance, If you are uncomfortable accepting a project that deals with accounts of violence, you can pass it. If you are working with an agency, like Unspoken Language Services, you can inform them about any cases you would be uncomfortable accepting.

Interpreting inappropriate language 

When discussions get heated, and clients use derogatory or unkind words in their communication, they might expect you to leave out the obscenities when you interpret. You, too, might find yourself in two minds about interpreting inappropriate language. 

If you are faced with this dilemma, remember an interpreter’s primary responsibility- to interpret accurately and wholly; this includes interpreting everything the clients have said, even if it is obscene. Leaving out certain parts of the communication would mean modifying the message, which goes against the ethics of the profession. 

Before starting any project, you can let all parties involved know that you will interpret everything that is spoken. This can help your clients have realistic expectations of your work. 

Dealing with difficult clients

Interpreting involves dealing with varied types of people, including the not-so-nice ones. As you might already know, not every client will be reasonable or polite. They could have unreasonable demands about the work or rates, or they could be plain rude. 

Client satisfaction can determine the success of your current project, while also affecting the likelihood of you getting projects in the future. Thus, you might want to handle these challenging clients tactfully. 

First, do not let the client’s attitude get to you. This might be easier said than done, but it is also the most effective way of handling such clients.  It is easy to let your emotions get the best of you when you feel disrespected as a professional. When you feel yourself getting agitated, take a moment to calm yourself down. Doing so can help you put your point across effectively. 

Second, use facts instead of emotions. When you are talking to a client who is unwilling to understand your stance, support your statements with facts; do not include your feelings or opinions. When backed by facts, your arguments seem more credible and professional. 

Lastly, but most importantly, try to understand your client’s perspective. When you genuinely try to understand your client and their reasoning, you might be able to find a solution that suits you both. To gain clarity, you can ask questions with the intention of understanding them. 


ASL interpreters deal with many challenging situations, which they must know how to counter. Generally speaking, developing your emotional intelligence, detaching yourself, and maintaining professionalism can be effective while dealing with difficult situations. 

If you are an ASL professional dedicated to growing and want to join an agency that respects your skills and expertise, look no further. Unspoken Language Services is hiring American Sign Language interpreters who are committed to providing the highest quality of service to their clients. To know more, enquire today. 

Thumbnail Photo Credit to: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko