What Makes Us Tick? Sign Language Interpreters, Values & Motivation

Knowledge of personal beliefs and value systems enhance a sign language interpreter’s professional practice. Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback posits articulating our “why” may positively impact job satisfaction and longevity in the field.

What Makes Us Tick? Sign Language Interpreters, Values & Motivation

I embarked on this research as a student in Western Oregon University’s MA in Interpreting Studies with a belief that our motivations will influence every part of our professional practice. Literature confirms that values are the foundation for any decision making process, whether a person is consciously aware of this or not (Amentrano, 2014; Brown, 2002; Rokeach 1970, 1974). As sign language interpreters, our responsibility is to start identifying and articulating the values that are expressed through our choices.

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Values have been discussed by many in the field of sign language interpreting (Bienvenu, 1987; Cokely, 2000; Dean & Pollard, 2013), including here on Street Leverage (Meckler, 2014). My research attempted to take what we know about values and collect information via an online survey from a large sample of sign language interpreters and interpreting students about their own personally held value systems to see what kind of patterns and trends emerged.  

Values That Motivate

The survey included the Portrait Values Questions (PVQ), an instrument used to collect data that was designed by Dr. Schwartz, a researcher and teacher in the field of Psychology (Schwartz, 1994, 2012, Schwartz et al., 2001, Schwartz et al., 2012). The survey also included questions about demographics and one open-ended question. I received 298 completed responses from interpreters and interpreting students all over the United States. A large portion of the research results centered on the responses to the open-ended question; respondents were asked to briefly describe their reasons for becoming an interpreter.

My findings showed that most respondents described reasons for entering the field that were not congruent with the value system expressed in their PVQ results (Ramirez-Loudenback, 2015). One recurrent example of this incongruity was a response that described a pleasure derived from using American Sign Language. A common example of this was “I fell in love with the language”. Most respondents that had a response similar to this example had results from their PVQ that did not match the values expressed with this idea of loving a language.

Much work has been done in the area of occupational fit and values (Amentrano, 2014; Brown, 2002; Watt & Richardson, 2007). This literature shows that values are an important part of choosing an occupation. One question that emerged from my research was about the consequence of having reasons for choosing to become a sign language interpreter that are not in-line with an individual’s personal value system (prioritization of essential values). I believe that we should be encouraging all emerging interpreters to consider how their values are being expressed in the choice to pursue this profession. This will lead pre-professionals to consider if interpreting will provide a career in which they can have the longevity and satisfaction that comes with an occupation that is congruent with their value system.

StreetLeverage - Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

Values That Divide & Unite

My research also indicated a variation in value systems from respondents who did not identify as “White/Caucasian” compared to those that did identify as “White/Caucasian”. It is natural for individuals from distinct cultures to prioritize values differently. In fact, one of the reasons Schwartz developed this theory and model was to examine values across cultures (1994; Schwartz et al., 2001). The proportion of respondents (11%) who identified with an ethnic group other than “White/Caucasian” (89%) matches fairly closely with RID’s membership data, which was 87.7% (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 2014, p. 58). Within the small number of respondents who did identify as “Asian/Asian-American” or “Latino/Hispanic,” a stark contrast in the prioritization of values with the overall group emerged. Those that identified as “Latino/Hispanic” or “Asian/Asian American” ranked conformity the highest of all ten value types. Conformity includes the values of “Politeness, obedience, self-discipline, honoring parents and elders” (Bardi & Schwartz, 2003, p. 1208). The mean for the overall sample, of 298 participants, ranked conformity 5th out of the ten value types. I believe this leads us to some important questions as a professional community of sign language interpreters and interpreter educators regarding recruitment and retention of interpreters from diverse cultures. What is the experience of being raised with and having a value system that often seems to contrast or even conflict with the majority of your peers/colleagues? How does the majority’s value system create barriers for others to be heard and understood?

Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback

Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback

Through my study of this topic and my own experience with Supervision Sessions as a Supervision Leader for Western Oregon University’s Professional Supervision of Interpreting Practice (PSIP) program, I have noticed that most ethical conflicts can be reframed through the lens of values (Cokely, 2000; Dean & Pollard, 2013; Glover, Bumpus, Logan, & Ciesla, 1997; Karacaer, Gohar, Aygun, & Sayin, 2009; Meckler, 2014). Most dilemmas can be rephrased by asking: How are the values I am prioritizing conflict with my team/consumer/setting in this moment? Using Schwartz’ Motivational Values Theory and Model we could teach interpreting students and emerging professionals to view professional ethics in a way that is less deontological (right vs. wrong) by framing them in terms of competing values. This could improve professional discourse and lead to deeper reflective practice. When we have the language to articulate those conflicting values, I believe we can engage in a more productive conversation about how to navigate a conflict, one that honors the integrity of all involved.

Start Early for Positive Outcomes

Beginning this self-assessment of personal value systems early in an interpreter’s career may lead to richer dialogue about the impact of those values on ethical decision making. Values not only have profound impact on the choice to become a sign language interpreter, but also the choices in which settings to work, which consumers we feel we ‘match’, and the ethical standards we practice every day.

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Questions to Consider:

  1. What motivated you to become an interpreter?
  2. What values do you see represented in your response to question 1?
  3. Which values do you hold dear that have the greatest impact on your work?
  4. Identify a time in your professional history when you thought a colleague was acting unethically. How can you reframe their choices and your own choices in terms of values that were being prioritized and conflicted?


Amentrano, I. R. (2014). Teaching ethical decision making: Helping students reconcile personal and professional values. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92,154 161. doi: 10.1002/j 1556-6676.2014.00143.x

Bardi, A., & Schwartz, S. H. (2003). Values and behavior: Strength and structure of relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(10), 1207-1220.  doi: 10.1177/0146167203254602

Brown, D. (2002). The role of work and cultural values in occupational choice, satisfaction, and success: A theoretical statement. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(1), 48-56. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6678.2002.tb00165.x

Bienvenu, M. J. (1987, April). The third culture: Working together (M. L. McIntire, Trans.). Address delivered to the Sign Language Interpreters of California. Retrieved from http://www.stringham.net/doug/uvuasl/3330/ 3330_bienvenu_thirdculture.pdf

Cokely, D. (2000). Exploring ethics: A case for revising the code of ethics. Journal of Interpretation 10(1), 25-57.

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2013) The demand control schema: Interpreting as a practice profession. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

Glover, S. H., Bumpus, M. A., Logan, J. E., & Ciesla, J. R. (1997). Re-examining the influence of individual values on ethical decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(12/13), 1319-1329. doi: 10.1023/A:1005758402861

Karacaer, S., Gohar, R., Aygun, M., & Sayin, C. (2009). Effects of personal values on auditor’s ethical decisions: A comparison of Pakistani and Turkish professional auditors. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(53), 53-64. doi: 10.1007/s10551-0091012-4

Meckler, A. (2014, June 17). Beyond Ethics: Rules Versus Values for Sign Language Interpreters. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/06/beyond-ethics-rules-versus-values-for-sign-language-interpreters/

Ramirez-Loudenback, A. (2015). Are we here for the same reason? Exploring the motivational values that shape the professional decision making of signed language interpreters. (unpublished Master’s thesis). Western Oregon University. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/25

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (2014). The Views. Winter, 2014. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3DKvZMflFLda0pDVkZqZDRqYUk/view?usp=sharing.

Rokeach, M. (1970). Beliefs, attitudes and values: A theory of organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rokeach, M. (1979). Understanding human values individual and societal. New York, NY: The Free Press.  85

Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50(4), 19-45.

Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An overview of Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Reading in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). doi:  10.9707/2307-0919.1116

Schwartz, S. H., Melech, G., Lehmann, A., Burgess, S., Harris, M., & Owens, V. (2001). Extending the cross-cultural validity of the theory of basic human values with a different method of measurement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(5), 519-542.

Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., Vecchione, M., Davidov, E., Fisher, R., Beierlein, C., Konty, M. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(4), 663-588.  doi: 10.1037/a0029393

Watt, H. M., & Richardson, P. W. (2007). Motivational factors influencing teaching as a career choice: Development and validation of the FIT-Choice Scale. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 167-202. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.75.3.167-20