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.
How did you learn sign language? Is it hard to learn? How long does
Find answers to these and other basic questions on the TerpTopics FAQ
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
either the interpreter or the deaf consumer can create glare and make effective
communication difficult, even impossible.
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
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.
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.
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.
a resource that we think you will find useful.
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
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,
are happy to meet our professional responsibilities.
Our business can't afford an interpreter for every appointment. Tell the
deaf consumer we'll just write notes
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
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.
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.
(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.
Does the deaf consumer have any questions?
Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.
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
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.
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.
Why do deaf people jump when, for example, a chair falls over? Do they
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
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.
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.
information, start with Interpreter
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).
information, check out Interpreter
Strain Injuries; and Hiring
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
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.
more information about interpreter teaming, see this RID
Standard Practice Paper.
So, the second interpreter is getting paid for sitting there half the time and
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.
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
Health and proper ergonomics are hard to
come by for a human wearing high-heels or who is otherwise off-balance or
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
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
Don't all deaf people everywhere understand sign language? It's universal,
No. American Sign Language is as different from Spanish Sign Language, as
spoken Italian is from spoken Norwegian; each is a separate and distinct
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)]
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
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.
I thought all deaf people could lip-read. Why are you here?
Why do I need to turn on captioning? Can't you just interpret the film?
Why do I need an interpreter? The film has captioning.
Why do interpreters sometimes look at their pagers during an assignment?
Can't they wait to get home before checking their email?
If the deaf consumer has a hearing aid or cochlear implant, why does
s/he need an interpreter?
This page has been visited
May 14, 2009.
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are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of
knowledge will take advantage of them.