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Taking Ownership: Defining Our Work As Sign Language Interpreters

Taking Ownership: Defining Our Work As Sign Language Interpreters

As sign language interpreters, we understand the importance of accurately communicating concepts in our choice of words and signs. It’s time to start applying that knowledge to the way we talk about our own work.

Semantics Matter: Using Precise Language

In the field of sign language interpreting, there recently has been a shift toward doing what Napier, McGee, and Goswell (2010) have suggested – naming the actual languages involved in the interpretation. This means that the term “voicing” should not be used as it does not appropriately state what we do when we render a signed utterance into a spoken one. We interpret from ASL into English. Kelly (2004) stated that the term “voicing” is “merely a vocalization of the signs used, not a true interpretation” (p. 1). I have thought about this shift of terminology and it is befitting to better describe what we do as sign language interpreters. That trend can be seen in Interpreting Programs where classes that were once called “Sign to Voice” or “Voice to Sign” have now been renamed “ASL to English” or “English to ASL”.

[Click to view post in ASL]

If you think about it, sign language interpreters are not avatars; we do not have a script that we read off of like voice actors, we do not say exactly what the Deaf consumers with whom we work sign, we interpret. This means that we take into account the pragmatic information about the assignment, the background knowledge, culture, educational level, body language, facial expressions and what is being signed. From all of that, we then interpret what is being said, selecting words that reflect the Deaf consumer’s purpose and are idiomatic to the situation. The goal of a good ASL to English interpretation is to make it sound as natural as possible and to ensure our word choices flow with the communication context taking place.

Culturally Accurate Language Use

Somewhere along the way, sign language interpreters started to use the term “voicing” and this morphed into more than just meaning to interpret from ASL to English; now it is being used to as a synonym for talking (using audible speech) in the interpreting community. This is not how the majority of hearing culture speaks. How often have you heard someone who is not associated with the field of interpreting say, “Is it okay if we voice?” Normally, in hearing culture one may ask, “Is it okay if we talk?” It seems we forget how to speak like those outside of our field.

Sign language interpreters should be considering the hearing consumer as much as they consider the Deaf consumer. The interpretation should be such that neither of the consumers have to re-interpret what was said to make sense. Sign language interpreters should speak in idiomatic terms that sound natural to English speakers. In the hearing world the term “voice” is not typically used as a verb. It is not used to mean “speaking.” As professionals who are supposed to be bilingual and bicultural, we need to know how to make the message sound idiomatic for all parties involved. Kelly (2012) noted that the message needs to “sound or look as normal as possible to the consumers involved in the interaction” (p. 7).

At a Video Relay Service Interpreter Institute (VRSII) Interpreter Educator Symposium, Sharon Neumann Solow made a good point about the term “voicing,” explaining that to many outside of the sign language interpreting field, that term means to have an opinion included. We hear people say, “I want to voice my opinion about. . . . ” As sign language interpreters, we learn that we are not to interject our opinions into our work. When we state “I will be interpreting all communication from ASL to English and from English to ASL,” this clearly defines what we do as interpreters.

At a presentation I attended at Gallaudet, Dirksen Bauman said that he did not know he was “hearing” until he was close to twenty years old (I cannot recall the exact age he gave). For those of us who were not born into the Deaf community, we did not know the term “hearing” before we entered this field . Members of American majority culture do not use that term in their vocabulary. Carla Mathers has noted in her legal trainings that the word “hearing” should not be used when interpreting into English as it holds a completely different meaning in the courts. Again, it is important we are using terms that are used in the communities in which we work. By doing so, we are ensuring the Deaf person sounds natural and the hearing consumers do not have to reinterpret what was just said because they are not familiar with the terms used by the interpreting community.

Differences or Disservices?

If we are not using terms that are used by the hearing majority when we interpret into English, are we truly matching the speaker in a way that can be clearly understood by all? Are we doing a disservice to the Deaf consumers by making them sound “different”? If we are, are we truly bilingual? Are we truly interacting and collaborating with others in words and phrases that clearly explain the work we do?  I know that I personally can think of a few times when I used a term such as “voicing” or “hearing” and the hearing consumer asked me about it. Those terms are not native sounding in English to those outside of our field. This does a disservice to the participants. Terms are used that are unfamiliar to the hearing clients which often reflect negatively on the Deaf consumers.

We are active participants in the interpretation.  As Robert Lee stated in his StreetLeverage article, “Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters”, “by not utilizing the cultural and linguistic identities we have to communicate between the Deaf and Hearing parties more naturally, we end up creating more problems.”

Over the past few years, the trend of accurately naming our work – interpreting from ASL to English – has been increasing as we work to elevate our profession. It seems that, at times, we ignore the needs of the hearing consumers and focus solely on the needs of Deaf consumers. Both are equally important and deserve messages that are delivered in ways  that are readily understood. All parties deserve an interpretation that is conveyed in a natural way.

Application

To raise the status of our profession, we should challenge each other to speak in terms that precisely state what we do. Change does not come quickly or, at times, easily. The challenge is for all of us to start owning our work and stating what we do: we interpret into English. This can be accomplished in many simple ways. When you see the sign “VOICE”, interpret it as “speaking in English” or “spoken English” or “interpreting into English” (depending on the context). When you see the sign “VOICE-OFF”, interpret it as “there will be no speaking English” or “there will be no talking” or “do not use spoken English”. The same can be said with the sign HEARING: this can be interpreted as “people who can hear”. Teachers who work in interpreting programs should encourage students to start speaking in terms that are readily understood by the hearing populations with whom they will work. Talking to other colleagues in the profession about the work and looking at it from a more objective point of view will help all of us improve our skills. The change starts with you. We interpret from ASL into English.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What resistance may there be to stating what we do?
  2. Are you willing to change how you speak?
  3. What positive impacts can you see happening based on this slight shift in how we own our work?
  4. What other terms do we (interpreters and the Deaf community) use that could be stated more clearly?

Related Posts

Sign Language Interpreters’ Attire Leaves a First Lasting Impression by Jackie Emmart, Matt Etemad-Gilbertson, Kristy Moroney,  Lena Dumont, SooJin Chu, Laura O’Callahan, and Will English.

Do Sign Langauge Interpreter Accents Compromise Comprehension? by Carol Padden

Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for Cultural Competence by Marlene Elliott

References:

Kelly, J. E. (2004). ASL-to-English interpretation: Say it like they mean it. Alexandria, VA: RID Press.

Kelly, J. E. (2012), Interactive Interpreting: Let’s Talk. Alexandria, VA: RID Press.

Napier J., McKee, R., & Goswell, D. (2010). Sign language interpreting: Theory & practice in Australia & New Zealand. Sydney: Federation Press.

Bienvenu, MJ (2014). Bilingualism are sign language interpreters bilinguals? http://www.streetleverage.com/2015/05/bilingualism-are-sign-language-interpreters-bilinguals/

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Expanding the Definition of “Sign Language Interpreter Educator”

Expand the Definition of Sign Language Interpreter Educator

What makes a Sign Language Interpreter Educator? Jessica Bentley-Sassaman shares why this title belongs not only to instructors at the front of the classroom, but to those who guide and mentor interpreters throughout their education and career.

Traditionally, when people think of a sign language interpreter educator, they think of a person who formally teaches in an Interpreting Program at a college or university. It is true that instructors and professors who work at colleges and universities are interpreter educators, however there are so many more who guide new interpreters and interpreting students on their way to becoming a proficient interpreter. The definition of a sign language interpreter educator encompasses so many more people than only those who formally teach.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Sign language interpreters do not learn how to interpret by only attending classes at their local Interpreting Program. They also need to participate in a variety of activities that will engage them and provide opportunities for growth as a language user and as a sign language interpreter. These activities also prepare them for their careers.

These activities include but are not limited to:

  • interactions with the Deaf community outside of classes to become proficient in ASL
  • observations of working interpreters
  • mentoring with interpreter mentors
  • working as teams/colleagues with mentors after graduation

Brian Morrison said it aptly in his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, “Interpreter education programs have a finite amount of time. We know that they aren’t able to teach everything we would like students to know before they enter the field” (Street Leverage, 2013). Interpreter educators are not the only people who are doing the educating of new interpreters.

Expanding the Definition

Mentors

Perhaps you have thought, ‘I just mentor students, I am not an educator.’ Being “just” a mentor is educating interpreters. Mentors, whether Deaf or hearing, teach new sign language interpreters about language use, application of ethical decision making in the moment, on-site logistics, debriefing after an interpretation, providing immediate feedback, engaging in reflection, and assisting in application of new skills. Some mentors team up with working interpreters who are working towards certification, state licensure, or the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment. Even though that interpreter is not a student, he or she is still learning about a new skill and learning how to apply that new skill. I have worked with mentors several times in my career as an interpreter – as an intern on my practicum, when working towards earning my RID certification, years later as a certified interpreter when I was working on taking the Specialty Certificate: Legal. Even now, if a situation comes up and I need to bounce ideas off another, I call a more seasoned interpreter and pose my questions.  Mentors play a crucial role in the skill development of interpreters, no matter if the interpreter is novice or seasoned. Mentors are interpreter educators.

Some interpreting agencies have mentorship programs, whether formal or informal. These programs assist during the transitional period from graduation to certification or to working interpreter. By setting up these types of mentorships, these agencies provide opportunities for new sign language interpreters to work with seasoned interpreters. They have a vested interest in seeing the Deaf community receiving the quality services that they deserve. These agencies are interpreter educators.

Presenters

Workshop presenters are educators. The knowledge that presenters impart to interpreters helps mold them, sharpening their skill sets, teaching new information, new insights, and new ways of thinking. Sign language interpreters in all walks of life grow from the content taught during workshop trainings. Whether it is ground breaking information, or a new spin on an old theory, if you are a workshop presenter, you are an educator.

Deaf Community

Deaf community members who take new interpreters under their wing and help get them established in the Deaf community are interpreter educators. The amount of information/experience the Deaf community graciously gives to sign language interpreters is invaluable. Stacey Webb noted the importance the Deaf community has on the interpreting community in her article, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter. There is no way to fully express the debt and gratitude owed to the Deaf community for the valuable instruction. You are an educator.

Researchers

Researchers provide the theory, the reasons behind why we do what we do as professionals. Their contributions to the field of interpreting have expanded our horizons, have put a term to what it is we do, have validated that ASL is a language, helped interpreters understand the process of interpretation. Through articles, books, workshops, and courses taught, the cutting edge research expands sign language interpreters’ horizons. Researchers are educators.

It Takes More Than One

It takes more than just one teacher to produce a qualified sign language interpreter. For all those who are involved in teaching, guiding, mentoring, encouraging, and embracing interpreters; you are educators.

Improving the quality of interpreters is the core of who we are as a profession. Our united goal is to provide the Deaf community with the qualified, effective interpreting services, embracing the concept of a Deaf-heart (see Betty Colonomos’ article Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart) and giving back to the Deaf and interpreting communities for future generations. For everything you have done to assist a new interpreter, you are an interpreter educator and CIT is an organization for you.

Where Do Educators Find Support?

There has been a misconception that CIT is only for interpreter educators. This is not the case. The Conference of Interpreter Trainers was established in 1979. CIT’s mission statement starts out with our purpose, to “encourage the preparation of interpreters who can effectively negotiate interpreted interactions within the wider society in which Deaf people live” (CIT).

The CIT conference is a gathering of people like you, interpreter educators. The conference is a great time to network with other professionals. Learn about new teaching approaches, mentoring practices, standards in interpreter education, technology, and application of studies. This conference is a great place to learn more about being an interpreter educator and to get involved. CIT is for you!

My Personal Journey to CIT

I began teaching at an ITP in 2006. At that time I was unaware CIT existed. A fellow educator at another institution had talked to me about and encouraged me to join. He also encouraged me to get involved in a CIT committee. That advice lead me to joining and becoming involved in CIT. I attended my first CIT conference in 2010 and I enjoyed the intimacy of the conference. I was able to network with and get to know many other CIT members who were educators, presenters, and mentors. That networking has made me a better educator. Attending CIT conferences is like coming home to a community who has a vested interest in providing high quality interpreting services for the Deaf community.

In Conclusion

Everyone who has a hand in assisting interpreting students, new and working interpreters is an interpreter educator. Your role in that interpreter’s career is important.  By being involved with an interpreter student, new and working interpreters, and providing feedback, you are sustaining the field of interpreters, you are ensuring that the interpreters gain and have the necessary interpreting skills and understanding of what the Deaf community looks for in interpreters. As time goes on, those interpreters will look back and remember that someone else took an interest in assisting them. Those interpreters are the future and they will learn by example how to give back to the interpreting and Deaf community based on how you educate them. You are an interpreter educator.