Dr. Laura Maddux, PhD ’15, a freelance interpreter, and Dr. Brenda Nicodemus, associate professor in the Department of Interpretation, co-authored an article titled “The Committee in My Head: Examining Self-Talk of American Sign Language-English Interpreters,” which is due for publication in the journal, Translation and Interpreting Studies, in July, 2016 (For more information, click here).

The article is the culmination of research by Maddux and Nicodemus that took place from the fall of 2012 to the summer of 2013. The survey-based study confirms the existence of self-talk within the interpreting profession, describes the phenomenon, and calls for an increased awareness of it to benefit both working interpreters and interpreter education programs.

“This study examines how signed language interpreters experience self-talk in their work,” said Maddux, the lead author. “The results reveal the frequency and quality of self-talk in interpreters and the impact it has on their job performance.”

Self-talk, comments that people make to themselves, gained interest in the 1980s as researchers recognized that athletic performance could be improved by directing its use. Since then, self-talk has been studied in a variety of disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, language learning, and education, as well as being commercialized in pop psychology books as a strategy for self-improvement.
Though anecdotal narratives indicated that self-talk is commonly experienced during ASL-English interpreting, academic research in regards to this field was not known to exist. Maddux and Nicodemus addressed this in their study, where 445 of the 471 ASL-English interpreters who participated confirmed experiencing work-related self-talk. Some interpreters even reported having nicknames for their self-talk such as “My Cheerleader,” “The Judge,” and “The Committee in My Head.”

Beyond proving the existence of self-talk in the interpreting profession, Maddux and Nicodemus provide a rich description of the experience by asking the participants 35 questions aligned with six characteristics. Among other discoveries, they were surprised to find that many interpreters use negative self-talk as a motivational tool.

Maddux and Nicodemus suggest that if training about self-talk has been shown to be beneficial in advancing mental and physical performance and enhancing psychological well-being, then it could potentially benefit interpreters who often find themselves in demanding mental, physical, and emotional contexts.

“If interpreters become more aware of how they’re talking to themselves in their work, they may be able to harness these thought patterns to be more relaxed, focus their attention, and ultimately, to create better interpretations,” said Maddux.

This research is beneficial not only to the field of interpreting but to all of academia. “Generating new knowledge is what higher education is all about, and Gallaudet is no exception,” said Nicodemus. “We are trying to improve the world one study at a time.”

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