The Challenges of Interpreting on a Field Trip

So, you may have seen a booking request for a field trip and wondered what exactly would happen, what would be expected of you and whether this is for you. So, I took the opportunity to write this blog for you all based on my recent experience interpreting on a field trip abroad. I hope you find it interesting and offers some useful tips and things to consider!

Why have an interpreter on a field trip

Firstly to discuss whether there is a need to have an interpreter on the trip in the first place. Well, we would argue yes, it is! Communication is something that happens throughout every moment of every day. For a student on a field trip – there will be information throughout the whole experience; logistical details about flight times, arrangements for the group, briefings regarding the trip and guided tours as a minimum – and ALL of this information needs to be communicated. Without access to this information, students cannot have an equal experience with their hearing peers.

Many lecturers will want their students to use the information that they have gained on a field trip to benefit their study, use it in their coursework and further their understanding of their chosen subject. With little or no access to this knowledge, the opportunity to learn is lost.

The learning is important, of course – but this is also a fantastic opportunity for a deaf students to get to know their peers on a more social level. This is equally as important, as it allows the student to form bonds with their peers, offering a network for support and learning as well as giving them a chance to integrate with their hearing peers.

This is also a great opportunity to positively impact the lecturers as they can see what opportunities the student would have missed had an interpreter not been on the trip. This makes a huge statement about access and can have a lasting effect and understanding of a deaf person’s needs.


What prep do you need?

Get as much prep as possible!

Do your prep for each day so that you know what is happening and what may happen, as this satisfies your internal flow of wanting to know what is going to happen, and then you can continue with the job at hand.

Also, prep people about your needs. If you have any health problems or specific needs, whether dietary or otherwise, do tell the group leaders, as they will know what they need to do to best support you.

Ensure that you swap numbers with the Deaf person and the group leaders – that should help you get lost or need to contact them to find out information – you can do this easily.

Get a clear idea from the Deaf person about what they are going to get involved in and what they are not interested in doing – as there may be things happening that you do not need to be involved in.

Travel arrangements

I have always found it helpful to be entirely clear on the arrangements before you go, as it makes for a straightforward trip!

Transport: check that all arranged transport has considered you an addition.

Tickets and entrances: check what will happen regarding entrances to Museums or any day trips – will these be covered directly by the organisers, or will you pay for these and claim them back?

On arrival at the airport, you will no doubt meet with the group – students and group leaders. Once the group has been organised – this is a great opportunity to ask the group leaders what the plans are for the trip, and you can ask any questions you have.

What to pack

A notebook: as no doubt, you will want to make some notes and write down your expenses daily as you are going (you will need to check whether the client has a fixed subsistence rate that you need to work within)
You could even use your notebook to reflect on your trip as I have done here!

A bottle of water and snacks: anyone that knows me well – knows that I will always have food and drink in my bag in case of emergencies, but I would suggest that on a field trip – this is a necessity. If it is a full day on the itinerary – there may not be the chance for snack stops, and if you are walking and interpreting all day, you will need it!

Walking shoes/comfy shoes: this is a must for any trip, even if it’s a pretty standard lecture-base itinerary; there may still be an ad hoc museum visit or a walking tour.

Dictionary, guide book and map: worth having to help you along with the language and useful to have if you get lost!

Other tips

Grab toilet breaks whenever you can – as you work around someone else’s plans.

Your experience and photos of the place that you are visiting become secondary to that of the deaf person and the group, so if you do get any free time – use it to explore if you are not using it to rest!

Trips can be all-encompassing – so if there is a time when you’re not “on duty”, – mentally switch off of work mode to allow yourself time to recuperate.

Get to know the group leaders as well, as you will spend a lot of time together.

Determine the arrangements for the evenings; will you be needed by the deaf person, will you spend the time relaxing, or would you prefer to spend that time with the group leaders?

Understand that you are often walking into an already established group of people – so find the balance between respecting that discussions in free time may revolve around their joint knowledge: respect this and remember you are still an interpreter who is following a Code of Conduct.

How to agree on fees

Having a clear idea of the agenda for the trip will make it much easier for you to give an accurate quote to the client. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation whereby you’ve suggested a fee to the client that is either too high and the hours quoted are not needed – or you have quoted too low and are not remunerating yourself for all your hard work. I have found that a daily fee with an hourly fee after that works well. You will also need to consider whether you will be working in the evenings as well – as you may need to consider an out-of-hours rate for the evening hours if you feel that is necessary. Take a look at the agenda and decide what you will do regarding charging for downtime. On this particular trip, on Friday – we had around 5-6 hours to ourselves, time for resting, shopping etc. (I took the shopping option – only to get some pressies for the kids, of course 😉 – so I decided that I would not charge for this time as it was nice to have that time to myself.

What is your impact on the trip?

Things to consider:
How is my being here affecting, changing and influencing the group?
Is that too much of an impact?
If so, how can this be reduced in the next half of the day/the following day? Don’t dominate the group! When spending a week with a small group of people during the day and evening, you get to know people well quickly. If you are a social person, it is vital that you are always considering the boundaries between work and social.Be clear in your head that a joke/funny story you may want to share with a group leader is a perfectly fine thing to do in the evening when having a beer – but not in the middle of the time that you are “on duty”.

Don’t be too helpful. On walking around the city one of the days – the lecturer found himself looking for road names, and I was pointing out some of the signs, just trying to help. It became clear very quickly that he did not want any help finding the particular road that he was looking for – he was perfectly happy looking on his own.

As humans, we cannot stop but try and help another person if we think we can. It happens, and it’s fine – we think, feel and care.

I am not suggesting that you should therefore be afraid to help or join in conversations, but it is worth keeping a constant self-check so that you are always considering your behaviours and their impact.


Enjoy! This is an experience, so enjoy it, savour it, and learn from it! Opportunities like this do not come up all of the time.