What is a Sign Language Interpreter?
An interpreter is a specially trained professional whose job is to convey the messages of people who do not share the same language, culture, or mode of communication.
The purpose of providing an interpreter is to allow hearing, deaf and hard of hearing people equal access to information and interactions.
People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Communicate in a Variety of Ways:
- Many use some form of sign language, usually American Sign Language (ASL).
- Other modes of sign language may also be preferred (i.e. Signed English – a hybrid of ASL signs expressed in English grammatical order)
- Others may prefer to use their own voice and/or lip read
Q: Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?
A. No. Perhaps the biggest misconception of the general public is that anyone who has taken classes in American Sign Language or knows the manual alphabet, is qualified to be an interpreter. A signer is a person who can communicate conversationally with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. An interpreter is a person who is not only bilingual but has also received specialized training and credentials to develop the skills and expertise needed to mediate meanings across languages and cultures. The development of these skills requires years of training and practice.
To ensure the quality of interpreting services, an interpreter is a professional who has passed either a state or national level of certification. As such, he or she is bound by a strict Code of Professional Conduct as established by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.
Q: Are there different kinds of sign language interpreters?
A. Yes. People who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate in a variety of ways. Thus, there are distinct modes of interpreting that correspond to each.
- Interpreting in American Sign Language (ASL): ASL is a distinct language with its own grammar, syntax and cultural nuances. ASL is as different from English as Spanish. An ASL interpreter will sign, using ASL, what is spoken in English and voice into spoken English what is signed in ASL.
- Transliterating in Signed English: Interpreters transliterate when they combine signs and finger spelling to present a visual, manually-coded form of English following the grammatical structure of English. The interpreter will voice into spoken English what is signed in a visual form of English and voice into spoken English what is signed in Signed English.
- Oral Interpreting: Interpreters will show mouth movements of a spoken English message without using their voice. At times, they may mouth a word which is more “lipreadable”. They may also use their voice to clarify any spoken message of the person who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Q: What is the role of the interpreter?
Sign language interpreters are bound by a Professional Code of Conduct that has been established to protect the rights of all consumers of interpreting services: individuals who are hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing. This Code sets standards of professional behavior and practices for interpreters that ensure confidentiality, discretion and impartiality in conveying the messages of all consumers involved.
It is virtually impossible to be both an active participant in an interpreted interaction and a neutral communication bridge between the hearing, deaf and hard of hearing persons involved. For this reason, it is not within the realm of the interpreter’s role to advise, edit, advocate, teach, or participate while in the interpreting situation. The interpreter must faithfully transmit the spirit and content of any speaker or signer, leaving the right to control the communication interactions with the consumers: hearing, deaf or hard of hearing.
A primary tenet of the professional interpreter’s professional code is that all information conveyed during any interaction where the interpreter works is to remain strictly confidential. Revealing information outside the context of the interpreted situation remains the sole right of the consumers involved.
Because the ultimate goal of providing interpreter services is to provide equal access for all interactions between deaf and hearing persons, the interpreter is responsible for conveying all comments made by all consumers involved. This means that the interpreter will sign any comments voiced by hearing consumers and will voice any comments signed by deaf or hard of hearing consumers without exception.