Are two heads better than one?

Pub quizLooking at the certificate recently hung on my wall – telling me I’m a fully qualified BSL / English interpreter – a sense of relief waved over me.  I realised that I had no more exams, essays or assessments like I did when I was training at university. Great! However, it’s not the end of the road for me as a student of interpreting, British Sign Language (BSL) or even the English language.  My journey to improve my skill set as an interpreter and provide the standard of interpreting my clients expect from me continues.

One of the regulatory bodies –NRCPD (have a look at my ‘Registration’ page for more info https://chhinterpreting.com/regsitration-new/) states that to be a registered interpreter and to meet the requirements to work safely and competently, interpreters need to undertake a specific number of hours of Continued Professional Development (CPD) every year. Refusal or the inability to do this can mean an interpreter being taken off the register. But, should we be doing more as interpreters to maintain our competency? There is a feeling amongst some interpreters that CPD could be, for some, something they have to do, i.e. attend what is required of them such as training events/conferences/meetings, and then sign a bit of paper to prove they were present, but perhaps not really having much motivation in learning or being involved. Some interpreters question whether such actions proves competency? (I don’t have a specific opinion on this, but there has been a big debate by the interpreting community already on online forums).

I recently attended a round table event where most if not all of the interpreters present strongly felt that the BSL/English interpreting profession needs to become a more reflective one. That is, reflective in regards to being more open about the way we do things in an assignment. Although our ability to sign and to produce a coherent voice over are some of the factors to be reflective upon, it was agreed that it is important to take a more holistic approach about an assignment, rather than focussing solely on the signs that were used. For example, looking at things that could have affected the interpreting process, such as – was it difficult to hear the speaker because of background noise? Or, was it just really hot in the room? (Looking at Dean and Pollard Demand-Control theory for guidance http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/1.short ).  One way considered to start encouraging interpreters to be more reflective about their work is having time after the assignment for debriefing. This could either be factored into the job’s allocated time, or it could start to become the norm that after most assignments there will be some debriefing time with your co-worker. In due course, could this become a cultural shift of becoming a more reflective practice?

Of course, I am aware this concept of becoming more reflective is nothing new. Interpreters (including myself) are already doing this in different ways. That could be with a co-worker after some assignments, with a mentor, or through supervision.  Also, it may be that you feel that you already are reflective without anyone else’s perspective and – as someone has already said on the forum ENEWSLI – are we not the best judge of whether our performance as an interpreter is improving? But maybe two heads are better than one?

The main reason, personally, of wanting to become more reflective is to show improvement. When I say ‘show’ I don’t mean proving to other people, but to have the confidence in myself to know that I am on the right track. Another suggestion on how to do this is having a sort of M.O.T for interpreters every 5 years.  This could be paying another interpreter to come and assess you as you work on a particular assignment and give feedback afterwards. I am doing something similar at the moment but instead I am filming myself and then reviewing this with my mentor. Another suggestion was that an interpreter wanting a M.O.T may wish to film themselves and then show it to a group of peers for discussion (although most people didn’t like the idea of lots of people analysing and reviewing their work).  An article from Street Leverage states “All practice professionals need a safe place that allows them to honestly analyse, understand and critique their work.”  (http://www.streetleverage.com/2015/03/horizontal-violence-can-sign-language-interpreters-break-the-cycle/ )

Something that also came up at the round table discussion was the importance that debriefing can be rather different from feedback. For example, debriefing isn’t coming out of the assignment and asking the question “So, how do you think I did???” It is something to talk through with a mentor or supervisor/supervision group. Giving feedback doesn’t come easy to people. I go to a mentor who has been trained how to give constructive feedback, rather than subjective impression (too nice because they are afraid to say anything negative, or too critical which could have detrimental effect on the person receiving the feedback). Furthermore, we are at an assignment to interpret, not of course to take up our head-space with reviewing and analysing another person’s work. So, being reflective is hard work.  As noted above – debriefing is looking at an assignment as a whole.

So, whilst in no way am I dismissing the value of CPD – on the contrary – I think any training / conferences/ forums / or similar you attend, you can’t help but learn and take things in (unless perhaps you shut your eyes and put your fingers in your ears). This can also be another way to reflect on what you are doing, particularly when you attend training. But I am asking, is CPD enough for my continued advancement as an interpreter? And I think having more opportunities to be reflective would benefit me personally and, I believe, the profession as a whole.  After all, the whole point of becoming a reflective practitioner is to ensure the interpreting assignment for the client (deaf or hearing) matches their needs and they receive the service I have so confidently said I can provide on my website!

Photo above: A picture recently taken at a pub quiz where two/lots of heads were definitely better than just one!

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!)

What’s your daily commute like?

It was only when I had a puncture last Sunday driving home from Bristol that it made me stop and think about how much I rely and use my car for my interpreting work. As you’ll see from my webpage ‘About’, I travel all over the South West – Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Somerset and Dorset. It can be lovely.  Just a couple of weeks ago I drove back from Cornwall with the sun out and hardly any traffic on the roads. I don’t see driving for my work as a chore, but it did make me think about staying safe and healthy when driving. Changing my mode of transport is almost impossible for the distances I need to travel. I couldn’t contemplate getting the train or bus.  That’s not only because of the time difference between these modes and the car but also because a lot of my destinations are not conveniently near a bus stop or train station. On the rare occasion I could, possibly, entertain the idea of travelling by bike, if I know I will be working in one place for the day or a few places in the Exeter area. This is an enjoyable prospect as I look out of my window on a nice, sunny, day, but I don’t think it would be fair to arrive at an assignment beetroot-red face and trying to compose myself whilst burning inside from the heat and wiping my brow from sweat!

Most interpreters living in the South West region will travel long distances by car due to the rurality and span of the region. Because of the national shortage of interpreters it’s not unusual for me to be in Exeter in the morning and Cornwall in the afternoon. Not only is it important for my wellbeing to make sure I have given myself plenty of time to get to my destination and planned my journey in advance, but also to ensure I am not exhausted by the trip which would affect my ability to interpret to the standard clients understandably expect. Having said this, I do seem to spend a lot of time in my car – not driving, but waiting for an acceptable time to go into the venue and introduce myself. Somehow I don’t think those who have booked me would welcome me arriving 45 minutes before the agreed time! This often happens because I have given myself far too much time to make a journey for fear of being late, only to find the roads were clear and I caught every green light on the road.

So, apart from cycling on the odd occasion, it seems driving wins for my commute! I am not alone in this prospect – the RAC claim that 7 out of 10 people in rural areas get to work by car than bus or train http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25175752. What’s more the average British commuting time is the highest in Europe http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-road-to-happiness-dont-catch-the-bus-to-work-9124322.html. One of the main things I consider when driving is fatigue. Fatigue is a factor in up to 10% of accidents – so it is important I don’t start a long journey if I am tired http://www.theaa.com/public_affairs/reports/tired-drivers.html. It is also those distances where I travel on dual carriageways (A30 Cornwall to Exeter) or motorways (M5 Exeter to Bristol) where I am most at risk as this type of driving is monotonous, with fewer interruptions and challenging scenarios to keep me alert and attentive http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/485-driver-tiredness. Also – a little fact for the day – our bodies have a natural dip in energy at the times 2pm to 4pm making us sleepy and less able to concentrate http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/485-driver-tiredness.

Sometimes I have finished an assignment and I can be in such a rush to get home. However, advice from other interpreters has been to have a short walk before I attempt a long journey home. I often do this when driving back from Plymouth, particularly driving on dark, rainy nights as the drive can become monotonous. One slight problem with this is I can be drawn into Drake Circus (the shopping centre in Plymouth) and end up exercising my debit card rather than my feet! I also try to leave plenty of time to get to an assignment. This is not only so that I can arrive at the venue in  plenty of time to meet with those I am going to be working with (co-workers, clients, etc) and set myself up looking at any prep that may have been provided, e.g. powerpoint slides, but it also has a massive effect on my levels of stress. When I feel I am short for time I can physically feel myself breathing more heavily as I feel out of control and more likely to drive dangerously in my attempt to get to the venue quicker. On longer journeys I also factor in breaks and even see it as a treat, e.g. I will treat myself to my favourite, soy, skinny, decaf late from Starbucks on one of the service stations on the A30. And, of course I keep my music fresh in my car so that I can have a good old sing along to myself and other drivers looking at me as if I am mouthing something to them (I currently have Taylor Swift in my CD player – don’t judge!).

Being alert and constantly being aware of what is going on around you whilst you are driving will obviously have a number of effects psychologically and physically (I know I slouch quite a bit whilst driving and I am in the same position sometimes for an hour and a half). Whatever job you may have (interpreter or not) I think it is worth remembering and doing things to ensure our health and wellbeing are affected by driving as little as possible. Happy driving!

Taking on the baton….

switzerLooking at some posts and newspaper articles that were published last Sunday for International Women’s day, I couldn’t help but feel how lucky I was that so many women had fought long and hard to achieve the benefits I probably take for granted every day. One post on facebook showed a picture of a woman (Kathrine Switzer) running the 1967 Boston marathon despite stewards trying to physically remove her off the road because she was not a man and Emmeline Pankhurst who was imprisoned many times for protesting to allow women to have a voice and a right to vote the same as a man.

I am also fortunate to work in a profession (British Sign Language / English Interpreting) where I have not personally, experienced sexism by male colleagues. In terms of unequal pay for a woman compared to a man in the same role, it would appear that because freelance interpreters decide their own fees based on the current market trends and what interpreting organisations such as Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) advise and usually based on what other interpreters are charging – regardless of sex, I don’t believe this is a current issue. Recently with the worrying situation over the proposed national framework http://limpingchicken.com/2014/12/09/national-framework-agreement/ male and female interpreters have stuck together to campaign and lobby for a fairer more just National Framework Agreement to benefit both BSL interpreters and deaf people.

So whilst it seems things are improving and appear to be much better compared to what it has been in the past, the UK is not perfect. Equality isn’t something I am interested in achieving only for women. For example, the recent quote from Mencap that  175 people with a learning disability were turned away from a polling station – because they had a learning disability https://twitter.com/mencap_charity , or that people with learning disabilities are less likely to receive an invitation to be screened for breast cancer (10%) despite a 90% take up rate for those that do (Health Care Commission 2005). Or, that considering there is such an emphasis on people being informed to make healthy choices, whilst hearing people are bombarded with advice, there is a lack of even basic health information in British Sign Language; and, that 8 in 10 people who are deaf want to communicate with their doctor using British Sign Language, but only 3 in 10 are given the chance http://www.signhealth.org.uk/health-information/sick-of-it-report/sick-of-it-in-english/

It might be easy for me or for us as a society to be complacent. I could have an attitude of apathy and make do with the status quo. However, just because I personally don’t experience inequality does not mean it is not happening around me. We need to hold onto these laws and rights that have been achieved by others and not take them for granted. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and whilst it would be nice to think we can all live in equality and harmony without employment laws, the Equality Act, etc. this is not the current situation. I only have to look at the shameful acts of some Chelsea football fans for pushing a man off a tube carriage because he was black and shouting racist chants to know that there is still a lot of work to be done in making this an equal society for all. We need to ensure that we consciously act to keep and improve the current standards that so many have fought hard and even lost their lives to achieve. Yes I believe I have it easier than my fellow sisters in the late 19th / early 20th Century but the baton has now been passed onto us to be proactive to ensure that those from all walks of life have a fairer society in which to live.

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/recuerdosdepandora/7060270605/in/photolist-

How to book an Interpreter….

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Taking for granted that everyone knows how to book a BSL / English interpreter is easily done. I work every day with those that book and work with interpreters (both hearing and deaf) so I risk the assumption that, of course, EVERYONE knows how to book one (or two, or however many you need). However, talking to those that do not work in the field of interpreting or connected to it in any way, this reminds me that it could be an unfamiliar and possibly, quite a daunting task. For those of you that often book interpreters then have a look below to see if there is anything that could make the process easier….

Whichever your preferred method of contact there is some essential information which the interpreter will need to know initially before a booking can be finalised….the date and time. This is important so that the interpreter can check their diary and get back to you ASAP. Not certain of the date and time? No problem, the important thing is that both you and the interpreter are flexible enough to determine a time and date that suits both of you. An interpreter may be able to hold a date that you have in mind with the agreement that you will get back to them with more finalised information.

So, if the time and date has been discussed, the interpreter will need to know the expected length of the booking. Working from English to BSL or BSL to English is a tiring task and usually after about 45 minutes of non-stop interpreting my brain is frazzled and I need a short break! If the length of the booking is longer than 45 minutes best practice dictates booking two interpreters. This means that they can both co-work together. Usually one interpreter will decide to work 15 to 20 minutes on their own and then swap with their co-worker and vice versa throughout the length of the assignment. There can be times when one interpreter could work solo for the entire day, but they would need lots of breaks to avoid interpreting overload! These breaks are not only for the interpreter to recharge but also to ensure the quality of interpreting is consistent. For an interpreter to say that they don’t need breaks means that the quality of either their English or BSL being produced will be poor. Thus, one of the main aims of having an interpreter, i.e. that communication is clear and accurate between both the hearing and deaf client(s), would not be achieved.

Prep would be grand, thanks. Sometimes, with a short booking, it may not be possible to provide prep (e.g. information that can help the interpreter have a better understanding or can research about the assignment, such as powerpoint slides, meeting minutes, etc). It is worth considering that, what might be pointless to you could be meaningful to the interpreter. For example, I interpret a lot of religious services and on many occasions the person preaching delivers their sermon ad-lib (that’s their style, fair enough!). However, when I ask them about their ‘scribbled notes’ as they like to call them, this is really handy because I then know the aim of their message/sermon and what they want their ‘take home message’ to be for those listening. If I know this then I can keep this in mind when interpreting. I can also research more around the topic and practice how I would interpret phrases and signs. Also, having this prep in advance is vital. Most of those who knew me when I was studying at Cardiff or when doing my Diploma at UCLAN knew that my brain sort of switched itself off after about 10.00pm, I was not one of those people that could work ‘through the night’ as some of my peers would say (you’ll be pleased to know I am an early-bird). That means, receiving prep late at night before the booking isn’t always helpful to me.  

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Please provide the address of where you would like the interpreter to go. Preferably the full address, but the name of the venue and the postcode is always important. Hopefully, most interpreters will not make the same mistake I have done in the past which is to rely solely on their satnav to direct them where to go. I now know to plan the route on google maps or on an equivalent tool. Living in Devon is great, but the satnav can get quite confused.

It is always good to know before you make a booking that of who will pay. There is a service provided by the government called Access to Work (A2W). This could help with funding to pay for an interpreter. The service is there for anyone whose health or disability affects the way they do their job. Have a look at this factsheet for more information about A2W: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307036/employer-guide-atw-dwpf03a.pdf

You are allowed to change your mind – this can happen, events, appointments, meetings (whatever you needed your interpreter for) can get cancelled. If you cancel me before 14 days of the booking then no charge is incurred whatsoever. Therefore, if you know you need to make a cancellation, best to do it ASAP.

Remember: By making contact with me does not mean you are obliged to book me as an interpreter. If you just want to know more information, discuss costs or have some questions, that isn’t a problem – always happy to help :).

So now you know what to do. If you want to make a booking for a BSL Interpreter or have some more questions then please do get in contact either by phone: 07791442625; Email: chall86@outlook.com or leave a reply here on my website; and, you can always contact me via twitter @CHHInterpreting

314319_10150355656624177_1104649493_n Welcome all to my first blog, ever! Although quite daunting it is also exciting at the same time to (hopefully!) reach out to those that want to know more about the BSL/English interpreting profession and deaf community by providing relevant news, information and blogs that’ll keep you coming back and looking for more…. I am Catherine Hannah Hall – hence the, ‘CHH’ Interpreting bit. Have a look at my picture to get a rough idea of what I look like but to be honest comparing that picture with my NRCPD photo ID badge….perhaps the camera does lie after all! CHH Interpreting is my business. I am a one-woman band, self employed and live in the centre of Exeter (Devon) but everyday I am used to and enjoy travelling all over the South West area. Although a Bristolian at heart I love living in Devon and getting out and about either on the beach or to the countryside. I have not always been a British Sign Language / English Interpreter. When I first graduated from Cardiff University I started my working life as a Transport Planner and worked for an international engineering company for 5 years. Whilst it was a good job and helped me gain valuable life experience, in the words of Bono, I felt like – “I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.” Being a keen runner I went to a running club in Bristol and met a deaf lady there. Thank you AWA – you know who you are :). I was unable to communicate with her very well, apart from the odd gesturing and smiles. This encounter encouraged me to learn BSL Level 1 and I was instantly intrigued by the language, how it differed from English and learning about deaf culture. From then I haven’t looked back and continued to do Levels 2 and 3 before completing a postgraduate Diploma at the University of Central Lancashire in BSL/English Interpreting and Translation. So, in a nutshell, that’s how I went from being a Transport Planner to a British Sign Language / English Interpreter. I have started blogging to provide more information and awareness about the BSL interpreting profession, what we do and the issues that we sometimes face. News and information about the deaf community will, of course, also be featuring within these blogs which I hope will be useful to know if you work, or know of, a deaf person, or just have a general interest in the deaf community and their language. Sign Language Interpreting is still a relatively new profession and therefore new challenges are inevitably on the horizon which I hope to share with you and offer my opinion and of course, welcome yours. At the end of every blog there will be a ‘Leave a reply’ box, so please do! Alternatively, have a look at my ‘Contact’ page to the left.

My first blog….