British Sign Language (BSL) / English Interpreters – what do they do??

531991_10151604872070097_50078918_nTo some of you reading this, it may seem that this question is pointless because the role of a BSL / English interpreter is obvious. However, considering I have had many people asking me this very question, I thought it was worth spending some time answering it!

I understand some people having misconstrued ideas of what the role of an interpreter is. It may be that these people have never met or worked with a person who is deaf until now and that is why they have hired me but still may be unsure of what I am there to do. I remember being at a wedding once and I met someone I used to know as a child. They asked me what I did as a job to which I replied I was an interpreter. When they asked me what language, I replied “British Sign Language.” They then said “Oh, I thought you meant an interpreter for a ‘real’ language.” Before we go any further, let’s be clear, British Sign Language is very much a ‘real’ language and was recognised in its own right in 2003 by the British government.  In fact according to the BDA, it is used by 156,000 people in the UK and many hearing people also use BSL which makes it more common than Welsh and Gaelic (http://www.bda.org.uk/What_We_Do/BSL_-_British_Sign_Language)

To put it simply, my role as a BSL / English interpreter is to facilitate communication between two people. The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) defines a BSL/English interpreter as ‘…Someone who is (at least) bilingual but also has the ability and training to be able to work between two languages and facilitate communication between people’ https://www.asli.org.uk/career_path/interpreters_asli . When I interpret from spoken English to BSL, it is not a case of replacing the English word with a sign. Instead, BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax. That means that whether I am listening to the spoken English and interpreting it into BSL, or I am watching the deaf person sign and interpreting into spoken English (a voice-over) then I must be mindful to reflect accurately the information and ideas, cultural context and intention of the signer/speaker.  It is important I take into consideration both cultures of hearing people and the deaf community. There may be differences that without mediation, could lead to misunderstandings.

A further question that I expect we all get asked a lot when you first meet someone, regardless of whether you are an interpreter or not is ‘So what do you do for a job?’ When I reply ‘A British Sign Language / English interpreter’ I know some people aren’t too sure what that means. That is, they understand I am an interpreter for a person who is deaf to communicate effectively with a person who is hearing (and of course, don’t forget, I also interpret for the person who is hearing and cannot sign with a person who is deaf and uses BSL). However, I can tell by their facial expressions that they aren’t sure when I am required in everyday life. The first question (‘What do you do for a living?’) is usually followed by the question ‘So where would you work?’ I work in all different domains within the community.   That could be for a GP or hospital appointment; a team meeting at work; a student at college (please have a look at my ‘My Services’ page for more information about what I can do), but essentially it is wherever or whenever a person who is deaf may need access in the community, e.g. the doctor, police, education, work, etc.

Therefore, I may interpret one-way (e.g. from spoken English into BSL for presentations and lectures) and/or two-way (e.g. during meetings, discussions, forums). I usually interpret simultaneously, i.e. at the same time as the language is spoken or signed, but I can occasionally interpret consecutively, i.e. I will interpret information in chunks.

In one of my previous blogs ‘Registered Interpreters what’s all the fuss about?’ (https://chhinterpreting.com/2015/03/01/registered-interpreters-whats-all-the-fuss-about/)  I explained that a registered interpreter will adhere to the code of conduct. This specific blog elaborates as to what the code of conduct means for interpreters who are registered. However, one thing to touch on here is that as an interpreter I remain impartial and does not act as an advocate for clients. I remember receiving some good advice that when I arrive at an assignment it is important I try not to say something like “Hello, I am here to interpret for Joe Blogs (whether Joe Blogs is hearing or deaf) because instantly it would appear that I have been booked for only that particular person. Instead, I try to say something like “Hello, I am here to interpret the meeting” (or whatever I have been booked for). Hopefully, that helps to imply I am impartial for both the hearing and deaf person present. What’s more, a recent article from Jen Dodds http://limpingchicken.com/2015/04/01/jen-dodds-why-hearing-people-need-interpreters-too/ explains that BSL/English interpreters are not just there for deaf people, but hearing people need them too.

Finally, although we are there to facilitate communication, however if you are communicating without using an interpreter then we won’t force our interpreting upon you! 🙂

(P.S. if you are wondering how the picture relates to this post – Happy Easter!)

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