ASL panelists help prepare students for certifying test

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The ASL department hosts former students on a panel to talk about their struggles with taking and failing the BEI Test of English Proficiency while trying to get certified as interpreters. Photo by Alison Graef

Tips on testing and performance anxiety could apply to any major.

By J. Carbajal

Seven panelists shared their insight on persisting after failing the milestone tests to become interpreters Feb. 17 in Nail Technical Center during the American Sign Language and interpreter training program’s spring panel “Persistence Pays Off.”

“We thought of the idea for this panel when we did a faculty and interpreter panel several years ago … one of the questions was ‘how many of you have failed a certification exam somewhere in your career?’ And every single person raised their hands and the audience sort of gasped … so we wanted to talk about people who had struggled with passing,” program Coordinator Tom Cox said.

Although the panel was in the evening after a school and work day, panelists were able to hold the attention of the 80-plus audience members through jokes and shared emotions.

During the panel there were two interpreters, who switched off periodically.

An audience member signed his questions to the panelists and had it interpreted for the room by the interpreters as well.

Although students studying to become interpreters take many tests, the one most often referred to during the panel was the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters interpreter performance test.

Interpreters must pass this exam to prove their proficiency in facilitating dialogue between ASL and English.

There are different levels of interpreting, each for a specific setting and requirements that match and a BEI test for each level.

According to the Texas Health and Human Services webpage, the rate of passing the BEI from the basic to the master test does not exceed 50 percent for any of the three tests.

The panelists present said they had retaken the test multiple times.

Interpreters must wait at least six months between each attempt.

“Each time was disappointing, but it lit a fire in me and I was like ‘I’m going to pass this stupid thing. I don’t care. I will take this thing a hundred times if I have to,’ because I had to, you have to in order to graduate from here,” said Anne Em, a graduate who works for Northside Independent School District.

Although “everyone’s experience is different,” Em said, the panelists had similarities in their stories, and from the sounds of commiseration from the audience, they also did.

Because those in the program are so close, there is a familial bond among them, and all the panelists had similar feelings of having let their instructors and the other faculty members down after not passing.

“I felt bad because I thought I let Tom down, and Lauri down, and Julie down. I thought I let all these professors down … I just felt I let everyone here down, more than my family,” said Michael Gonzalez, who is currently an interpreter for Northside Independent School District.

He referred to faculty members Cox, Lauri Metcalf and Julie Razuri.

The bond among the program members drove the “persisters” to keep going, but it was also a source of discouragement when they felt like they had let their professors or employers down.

Having a strong support system was also stressed.

“I can look in this room and see people who have supported me,” Em said.

She also talked about the importance of getting “the wrong people out of your head.”

Em said she had no trouble finding positive influences for her state of mind, but it was the negative people that psyched her out during her exams.

For any performance-based events that may cause stress, it is important to have the right mindset.

Em studied and practiced the difficult portions of her test, and then right before the testing day went over the material that was easier for her.

This kept her prepared, and waiting to go over the easier parts was like a small confidence booster right before she had to test.

Cat Corrales, an Alamo Colleges interpreter, researched tips to help with performance anxiety rather than testing anxiety when she realized that was her problem.

For any performers, ASL or not, Corrales recommends to “establish a pre-performance routine … that gets you prepared for the performance that you’re about to do,” to normalize what you’re about to do and to cut down on anxiety levels, and to “find yourself a pump-up song.”

“Establish a Plan B for if you don’t pass,” Corrales also said, such as a different study pattern, “to make sure that (you) pass the next time.”

Gonzalez also had tips on normalizing a big exam, “to make your (test) a part of your day,” and to work it into your daily routine.

“I think we all have a confident side to us and we have to bring that confident person out, and put the nervous person off to the side for a while.

“… You have that confident person inside of you, you’ve just got to bring it out there because when you’re not (confident) you feel it,” he said.

Amanda Mendez, an Alamo Colleges interpreter, “almost went back to her first major,” she said, but “this culture and the language is so beautiful.”

The panelists, and other ASL and interpreter faculty members, are passionate about their work and working with the deaf community.

“You don’t just show up to class and do whatever they have for you. You have to really engage with the deaf community and be involved,” said Rosa Lucio, academic unit assistant at this college.

“I can tell you right now that there’s going to be a lot of sacrifice of family, of friends, of your lover, of your life, of your work,” she said. “Everything is going to take a backseat.”

Other panelists present were Kelly Saito, an intern at this college, and Erin Zuniga, a graduate student.

For more information about the ASL and Interpreter Training program, call 486-1106.


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