Processing Time: Take a Step Back

Interpreter, how long is the time between when you hear spoken words and when you sign them? One person said, “The interpreter at my church is very good. She signs every word the pastor says.” However, there is a difference between sign language interpreting and transliterating. Transliterating is basically signing “word for word” and keeping the message in English. In transliteration, not much needs to be changed. However, a good interpreter must reconstruct the message in the “target” language, sign language, which requires “taking a step back” or allowing time to think through how to express what is being said. Consider these ideas.

Good interpreters sign thoughts or concepts, not just words. English words express ideas in the English language, just as Spanish words express ideas in the Spanish language. It is possible to express the same concept in both languages, but each language may express the same concept in different ways. English and Spanish are both spoken languages. Sign language is a visual, not a spoken, language. Therefore, interpreting requires changing modes of communication.

Good interpreters visualize the message with their hands and body. Often when Deaf people communicate, they do not stand still, but move around and “act out” the story much more than hearing people. It is good to become familiar with the terms used to describe various parts of sign language grammar, but remember, sign language is visual. Simply put, it is better to “show it” than to “sign it.”

Good interpreters consider how their signs will be understood by the Deaf person to whom they are signing. This requires evaluating feedback and changing the method of signing to be more clear. It all takes time!

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