Is changing your career to become a British Sign Language Interpreter later in life a good idea?

We spoke to Debbie Watkins, one of our fabulous Interpreting Team, and asked her to give us FIVE reasons a ’40 something’ – and beyond! – can make an excellent BSL Interpreter.


First a brief background…

Debbie, now in her 50s (she proudly qualified when in her 40s) is one of our ‘go-to’ Interpreters to call on for any assignment.

We spoke to her to find out the reasons she believes it’s never too late to start a new career as an Interpreter and use your life skills to achieve real job satisfaction. She gave us these five reasons you may make a good Interpreter too…

1. Are you a great communicator?

In any job, communicating with others is essential. Usually you’ll know you’ve ‘cracked it’ when people start to tell you! For example they may say “You’re so easy to talk to” or “You’re such a good listener”.

But seemingly random comments like “Thanks for sending me the map through yesterday” and “Thanks for grabbing me a glass of water” start to sow the seeds that maybe you could embrace a career that uses your communication skills.

I can almost hear you saying why?!  But it’s quite simple. Communicating is more than listening and hearing. It’s about anticipating and it’s about seeing beyond the words spoken.

2. Have you learnt from others?

As you get older and turn grey (like me!) you realise that you’ve picked up lots of tips and advice along the way. And it would be all too easy to think that it’s the clever people who’ve taught you the most.

But I disagree.

The people who make those little, tiny mistakes, are often the ones who can offer the most valuable lessons in life. In my experience that’s certainly true. And it’s these useful ‘titbits’ we’re able to extract from somewhere in the back of our brains at the moment we need them most.

Experience also gives us a more dedicated and responsible attitude towards time-keeping, spelling and quality of work as well as being better prepared for all eventualities; and this gives you a sense of calmness that positively impacts on others.

2. We’ve learned the art of Face-to-face Communication

Another benefit of getting older is the years of experience you’ve gained that no classroom environment can teach.

But in particular, we ‘more mature’ workers can recall the days when communication wasn’t about emails, WhatsApp, texting or social media!

And I firmly believe this is why we generally have better, more advanced skills when it comes to how to treat people and how much we value the face-to-face interactions in life that are so necessary for a BSL Interpreter.

3. Chances are you know what you want!

As we get older we can readily identify what we do – and do not want – from life. Both personally and from our careers.

Older workers often have excellent leadership skills AND they know what they want, which can be a winning combination.

We’ve learnt about good examples of teamwork and how people can bring out the best in others.

Also, stability becomes more important to us and is usually something we’ve achieved later in life. So with that stability comes a propensity to face difficult situations more easily.

5. Do you have a good network of contacts?

Age brings with it good networks, both socially and in the workplace.

Because you’ve had the time (and the years!) to meet more people along the way; and the more people you know, the more contacts you have to make referrals to for particular areas of work.

So you find yourself consistently playing to people’s strengths. The more examples of best practice you’ve seen; and equally, the more mistakes you’ve seen; simply make you better at this game of communication.

As told to terptree by Debbie Watkins, British Sign Language Interpreter