TerpTopics: ASK AN INTERPRETER:  Introduction to ASL and Sign Language Interpreting.
 

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Where Interpreters Go, Questions Abound

We try to answer some of the more general questions on here.  Elsewhere on TerpTopics.com, you will find Q&As more closely identified with (or suitable for) specific groups or settings.  These are listed at ASK A TERP under Topics   (in the margin to the left).  Additional information is available at the interpreter FAQ here.

 

1.  How did you learn sign language?  Is it hard to learn?  How long does it take?

Find answers to these and other basic questions on the TerpTopics FAQ page.

2.  Can the deaf consumer hear anything?

Questions of a personal nature are best addressed to the deaf consumer.

Even if the interpreter knows the answers to such questions (s/he may or may not), it is inappropriate, a breach of confidentiality, and would necessitate stepping out of role, for him/her to say.

If you asked the question within earshot of the deaf consumer, the interpreter signed what you said.  The deaf consumer may not respond because you were not speaking to him/her.

If you would like an answer to this or another personal question, speak directly to the deaf consumer.

3.  Why are you signing everything I say?  That question was for you, not for the deaf consumer.

While on duty, it is the interpreter's job to facilitate equal communication access.  With this in mind, when you speak within earshot of the deaf consumer, the interpreter will sign what you say.

Whether on duty or not, it is customary and common courtesy for hearing signers to sign what is said in the presence of deaf persons.

4.  This homeowners' meeting must be very dry for you to have to interpret - especially if you don't live in this neighborhood.  Are you bored?

It is not easy to be bored while working hard to facilitate equal access and dynamic equivalence.

Interpreters are just like everyone else, so it depends upon what is or isn't the interpreter's cup of tea.

Some of us become bored right along with everyone else in the room.  In other words, if others are bored, the interpreter might be feeling the same way.  On the other hand, if everyone seems to be having a wonderful time, the interpreter might also be having a wonderful time.  Either way, the interpreter (bored or captivated) is there to do a job.

If you notice that an interpreter is him- or herself a particularly animated person, but then becomes subdued with limited facial expression when interpreting for a specific speaker, this apparent change of personality is because the interpreter is reflecting the energy and enthusiasm of the speaker.  The interpreter is not presenting him- or herself; rather, s/he is presenting the speaker's affect and so on.  Conversely, if the interpreter is ordinarily understated him- or herself, and then seems to come alive when interpreting a particularly invigorating presentation, it is because s/he is conveying the high-energy or emphasis of the speaker or intensity of the topic.

5.  I am finding it very difficult to look at the deaf consumer because you're the one who's talking to me.  Surely, deaf people are used to that; s/he will understand if I don't look at him/her, won't s/he?

While it may be the interpreter's voice you hear, the deaf person is speaking to you, not the interpreter.

When working with an interpreter for the first time or two, we know it can be a little awkward to remember to look directly at the deaf person when speaking with him/her because hearing persons are in the habit of looking toward the source of a sound.  Please continue trying to maintain eye contact with the deaf speaker.  You will soon find that your awareness of who is speaking will come sharply into focus, and will feel like second-nature (we promise).

Most people, hearing or deaf, prefer to be addressed directly.

6.  Would the deaf consumer be more comfortable seated?  Maybe s/he would like something to drink.  Filling out these forms can take forever.

Much as we interpreters might wish it were so, we are not mind-readers.

Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person.

7.  What difference does it make where the deaf consumer sits?  Won't you just be interpreting everything anyway?

Support columns, glare, equipment, props, people, and more can obstruct the view, which will interfere with visual communication (equal information access).

Deaf persons often sit where they can best see the interpreter, the presenter, and the presenter's visual aids (maps, videos, etc.), as well as the other attendees (audience members, meeting participants, etc.)..

The only way to know for sure where a person would like to sit is to ask him/her.  We encourage you to ask the deaf consumer where s/he would prefer to be seated.

Keep in mind that a light source behind either the interpreter or the deaf consumer can create glare and make effective communication difficult, even impossible.

8.  We thought it would be better if you just stand right here, in front of the window; that way you won't be in the way.

Interpreters are very happy to work with you and the deaf consumer to determine the optimal location.  We do not wish to be in the way.  At the same time, we are there to facilitate communication for everyone in attendance.

  Oops!  Not in front of a window, lamp, projector, or other light source.  A light source behind either the interpreter or the deaf consumer can create glare and makes effective communication difficult, even impossible.

9.  It looks like we'll be needing you to stay another 30- or 45-minutes.

If the interpreter's schedule and the demands of the assignment permit, s/he may be available and able to stay.

If the interpreter is not physically or mentally able to maintain interpretation quality (due to exhaustion resulting from the demands of the assignment), then s/he is not qualified to do the job and will be unable to continue.

If the interpreter has a prior commitment, s/he will not be able to stay beyond the scheduled time for this assignment because of the previous obligation.

10.  Several of our customers are deaf, which is of course no problem.  But, we have a new deaf customer who has special personal care needs.  Do interpreters also perform personal aide duties?

Some interpreters are specially qualified to administer or assist with personal care.  Interpreting and provision of personal care services are different jobs with potentially mutually exclusive responsibilities.

If you are seeking an interpreter who is also qualified in personal care duties, be sure to specify your needs when making service arrangements.

Here's a resource that we think you will find useful.

11.  Can't you hurry this up?  I have someone else waiting.

We understand that first-time users of interpreting services may not have the experience that informs subsequent arrangements.  Unfortunately, interpreters are powerless to alter time. 

Consider rescheduling for a time that meets everyone's needs, or schedule a second meeting to continue today's session.

12.  Here's the form.  If you have any questions, you can ask the office assistant.  You were here last week, so you know the drill.  Just tell the deaf consumer how it all works.

Oops!  Interpreters are not qualified to step into your professional role.  We leave the responsibilities of your job to you.

We are qualified to interpret, and are happy to meet our professional responsibilities.

13.  Our business can't afford an interpreter for every appointment.  Tell the deaf consumer we'll just write notes next time.

Please speak directly with the deaf consumer, rather than with the interpreter.

Your business may or may not be subject to the ADA or other laws that establish and protect the rights of deaf and hard of hearing persons.

OBTAIN PROFESSIONAL ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY concerning if and how the ADA or other laws, statutes, ordinances, or customary procedure might apply to your business, legal responsibilities and any liabilities involved.

For a glance at some of the laws that may apply, click here.

Not every deaf person communicates effectively using written English.  Work together with your deaf consumer to agree upon what is a reasonable accommodation within the law.

14.  Turn down the music?  Why?  It's Mozart!  How can loud music make a deaf person uncomfortable when s/he can't even hear it?

Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.

It is not possible to know what sounds, pitch, or frequencies are heard by others unless we ask them or they tell us.

Sound vibrates (especially low-frequency sound waves) and impacts our bodies and the things around us.  Our chest, head, and stomach feel sound vibrations.  Our feet pick up vibrations through the floor, and our hands or arms feel it through tables, chairs, and so on.  These vibratory sensations can be distracting, even disturbing, to deaf, hard of hearing, or other persons especially sensitive to sound or sound vibrations.

15.  Does the deaf consumer have any questions?

Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.

16.  Do you read Braille, too?

Among people in general, some (including a few interpreters) understand Braille; however, most people (including most interpreters) do not.  Your interpreter probably does not understand Braille; but, might be one of the few.

Deafness and blindness are not the same thing.  Braille is used by blind persons.

17.  What's wrong with saying "deaf and dumb?"

This is an outdated label and is considered by many to be offensive.

It is not accurate to assume deaf people are unable to speak.  The voices of most deaf people work as well as those of most hearing people.

Unfortunately, some people misunderstand the meaning of the word dumb in this context, which can lead to the erroneous belief that to be deaf is to be unintelligent.  Interpreters will be among the first to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

18.  Why do deaf people jump when, for example, a chair falls over?  Do they hear it?

Some deaf people can hear sound within specific frequency or decibel ranges, which may explain why they, like hearing people, are startled by loud and sudden noise.

Because sound, especially strong and sudden sound, travels as waves through not only air but also through walls, windows, floors, tables, and chairs (among other things), a deaf person may startle at the sudden and strong vibration that manifests when sound is sudden and loud.

19.  Don't your hands get tired?

Yes, they do.  Interpreters' hands tire and are subject to repetitive motion injury, as are their wrists, elbows, shoulders, and other joints.

For more information, start with Interpreter Health.

20.  Why do you need a break?

Interpreting is intensive work that requires continual linguistic and cultural gymnastics (mental strain), as well as physical work (muscle and joint strain, and repetitive motion).

For more information, check out Interpreter Health; Repetitive Strain Injuries; and Hiring An Interpreter.

21.  Why do we need more than one interpreter?

More than one interpreter may be advised to accommodate an audience that could include consumers who do not all use the same signed language (i.e.: signed English and American Sign Language).

If your audience is large and spread out, the hands of only one interpreter may not be clearly visible by all in attendance.  Positioning two or more interpreters throughout a room or to stage-right and stage-left will better support equal information access.

Interpreters are especially at risk of work-related injury.  For information about how interpreters are at risk, see the response to item number 20 (above).

To avoid injury and to maintain mental and visual acuity, lengthy, intense, or highly technical assignments require more than one interpreter.  Team members will rotate about every 20-minutes.

For more information about interpreter teaming, see this RID Standard Practice Paper.

22.  So, the second interpreter is getting paid for sitting there half the time and doing nothing?!

Interpreters working as a team take turns being "on," which means the previously on interpreter takes a seat out of the way and within easy view of the interpreter who has now assumed the primary interpreting role.

The second interpreter is physically resting and is relieved of the primary mental stress, but has eyes fixed upon his/her team member and is carefully following the discourse and interpretation process, ready to assist when called upon by the interpreter who is on.  

Some interpreters say that being on is in one sense easier than being off because of the emotional stress associated with the responsibility that goes with the secondary role.

23.  You would have thought that the interpreter for President Obama would have at least worn fancier high-heels, for goodness' sake.

Happily for us all, high-heels are no longer requisite to respectability and formality.

Health and proper ergonomics are hard to come by for a human wearing high-heels or who is otherwise off-balance or unnaturally positioned.

24.  Why do interpreters always wear white [or always wear black]?

To help postpone the inevitable eye-fatigue that comes from observing lengthy or frequent interpretations, interpreters wear plain-colored clothing that contrasts with their skin tone, providing a good background for clear visual communication.

In addition to wearing a skin-contrasting color, interpreters typically avoid vivid or neon shades, and stripes or other visually complex patterns or color combinations that could cause eye strain or visual distortions.

25.  If the interpreter is just going to say whatever we say, why does s/he want a copy of the text/presentation/play in advance?

Interpreted deliveries benefit from practice and preparation in the same way your delivery benefits from your knowing what you will say and how you will say it.

26.  Don't all deaf people everywhere understand sign language?  It's universal, right?

No.  American Sign Language is as different from Spanish Sign Language, as spoken Italian is from spoken Norwegian; each is a separate and distinct language.

27.  Isn't ASL just signed English?  They're really the same language, right?

No.  American Sign Language (ASL) is not signed English.  And, British Sign Language (BSL) is not signed English, either.  Australian Sign Language (Auslan) is not English, either.  ASL, BSL, Auslan, and English are separate languages.

While it may be possible to literally transcribe some Italian sentences into English (word-for-word), chances are good that if you speak English (not Italian), you will not be able to understand much of the result.  The same is true of ASL and English.  An interpreter may be able to transcribe some English sentences using signs (sign-for-word) but chances are good that if you use ASL (not English), you will not be able to understand much of the result.  [Of course, if you are bilingual, you might understand it as presented in either language, no matter how mangled it becomes in the translation.  (smile)]

28.  I don't understand why the hearing people in the room have to take turns talking.  Why can't you keep up?

It is not possible to say in one sentence what two people said at the same time.  We must first say what one of the people said, then say what the other person said ... that is if we clearly understood them (remember, they were both speaking at the same time).

To get a sense of the task faced daily by interpreters, try to repeat everything said by everyone in, say, the lunch room at work, or the check-out line at the grocery store, or by your family members around the supper table tonight.  Don't repeat aloud what everyone says, though, because people would surely begin to wonder about you.  Instead, quietly (mentally) repeat everything that everyone says.  Just try it for five or ten minutes ... okay, two minutes.  We think this experiment will clarify the importance of turn-taking during interpreted communication.

Just to make the above experiment a little more interesting, try mentally repeating what everyone is saying while simultaneously responding to questions put to you by someone in the room.  Yikes!  That's what interpreters must do when someone speaks directly to the interpreter.  If you're old enough (or have seen the re-runs), you'll remember the guy on the Ed Sullivan Show who used to do his best to keep all those plates spinning on skinny poles.  Come to think of it, he probably had the skills to become a dynamite interpreter.

29.  I thought all deaf people could lip-read.  Why are you here?

 

30.  Why do I need to turn on captioning?  Can't you just interpret the film?

 

31.  Why do I need an interpreter?  The film has captioning.

 

32.  Why do interpreters sometimes look at their pagers during an assignment?  Can't they wait to get home before checking their email?

 

33.  If the deaf consumer has a hearing aid or cochlear implant, why does s/he need an interpreter?

 

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This page was edited: 09/13/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since:
May 14, 2009.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2008; 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics™ is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.

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