What that means to me: The Tireless and Tiresome Search for Meaning

Part II

Should empathic responses be an expected skill of the community interpreter?

As part of our development as interpreting professionals, we should actively seek to develop empathy for people and in our practice, display empathy – even to ourselves. Our emotional reactions to the people we work with are best not repressed but considered as an opportunity to seek further meaning.  In the case from last week where patients appear to have an insufficient understanding and clinicians an insufficient amount of time, frustration is signalling a threat to our value and commitment to meaning and understanding.. However, an empathic response should not be confused for a passive one. It does not mean letting people “off the hook” for insufficient comprehension or insufficient attention when both of these contradict the over-arching values of the setting, as in a medical setting.

What that means to me:

In essence, all participants in the communication event (minority and majority cultures) are yielding or expected to yield to the values of the setting. Should interpreters do the same even when these setting-specific values conflict with our professional values? Might “do no harm” as is the case in medical settings be prioritized over neutrality or even fidelity? Perhaps interpreters working in community settings should redefine neutrality not as a passive stance but as an active commitment to the overarching values inherent in the setting.

What that means to me:

It means the tireless and likely tiresome commitment to a three-year PhD research thesis which considers whether the best ethical stance of a community interpreter is in direct alignment with the values of the setting, even when those values conflict with the values of the profession.

Robyn Dean

BSL Interpreting: A Profession with Potential

On Friday, we announced the beginning of undergraduate BSL courses here at Heriot-Watt. This is the first time that BSL has been taught at undergraduate level at a Translation and Interpreting school. To celebrate this breakthrough, here are three excellent reasons why BSL interpreting is a profession with potential.

1.    There is lots of work for signing professionals to do. While Scotland, for example, has a few dozen qualified sign language interpreters, a similar-sized country such as Finland has hundreds. Legislation UK-wide entitles Deaf people to interpreting provision, but these rights have yet to be met by an adequate supply of professionals. Could this be you?

2.    Working as a BSL/English interpreter, you are assured that no two days will ever be alike. “Every day is different and you never stop learning… I have also met some amazing people both colleagues and clients, and ended up interpreting for people in a variety of places: Parliament, Glastonbury and in a hospital interpreting for someone giving birth.” See this page for more details.

3.    BSL/English interpreting is widely admired as a well-established language profession. Other minority language groups often envy the organisation and professional structure available to interpreters in this field. Bodies such as NRCPD and SASLI work hard to ensure that BSL/English interpreters have clear standards, procedures and working conditions.

Exciting times are ahead for BSL in Scotland and across the UK – and for signers globally! From the prospect of new parliamentary activity in 2012 to raise the status of BSL, to developments in areas such as broadcasting and the arts, all the way to the rise of Deaf politicians like Ádám Kósa MEP, the national and international sign communities are looking forward to good times ahead. If not now, then when?

Go to http://bit.ly/HWLincsCourses for info on how to sign up.

LINCS Lines Up British Sign Language

From 2012, undergraduate students at Heriot-Watt will be presented with an opportunity never before available in the UK: to study British Sign Language (BSL) in a Department specialising in translation and interpreting. (Click here for details.)

Why might you find this exciting? Here are six good reasons.

1.    It’s cool to sign. Don’t believe me? Checkout the official video of Ed Sheeran’s recent track ‘You need me, I don’t need you’ . Nuff style for you?

2.    BSL will expand your mind. You think you know something about how languages work? Until you can sign, your knowledge is sadly limited. Dozens of fine studies now underpin this claim: if you want to read more, you could start with Oliver Sacks’ illuminating and readable Seeing Voices.

3.    The world creates enough barriers for Deaf people: you can be part of the solution. No-one even thought BSL was a language until the 1970s. Eminent linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas actually describes the oppression of sign languages as “genocide”. Imagine having your language dismissed every day as empty nonsense by 99% of the population; your signing hands tied to your school chair; your children denied the chance to be educated in a language they could understand. Join the 1%: it’s a matter of social justice.

4.    BSL is one of this country’s indigenous natural languages. No, it’s not ‘English-on-the-hands’ – it is oh so very different. Yes, it has a history across the centuries. No, it’s not artificial. Yes, there are different sign languages in different countries. No, you can’t write it down for everyday purposes – but it has its own heritage of signed literature. And yes, it’s alive and kicking: there are thousands and thousands of Deaf (and hearing) people who use it every day of their lives.

5.    Imagine a language that you get right inside. Until you learn it, it’s hard to describe the feeling: but when you use BSL, you don’t just speak the words – you embody them, you become them, you are them. Sign languages can say anything a spoken language can – from translations of Shakespeare to the speeches of Aung San Suu Kyi – and then some. After all, in which spoken language can you say two words at once? But signers can use their two hands to do just this…

6.    Signing travels better than speech. When FIFA wanted to give Deaf people around the world access to match reports, it was able to produce them in a way that reached out to fans of all nations. What’s going on there? Well, further research is needed – but it’s undeniable that Deaf people enjoy a clear advantage in international encounters.

So, take a good look at our range of courses here and see what sign language could do for you.

What that means to me: The Tireless and Tiresome Search for Meaning

Part I

This is a conservation area and so there’s no bins or double-glazing.”  This is just one of the many sentences spoken to me since moving to Edinburgh two months ago where I had no idea what the person meant.  And, mind you, English is my first language!

What that means to me:

I have been a community sign language interpreter in the US for over twenty-one years and here I am in my forties pursuing my PhD.  It is safe to suggest this reveals a tireless commitment to meaning and understanding (linguistic and existential) and yet, here in these instances, having to figure out what people mean is tiresome.  Out of the sheer need to conserve limited energy, meaning and understanding have not always been my top priorities. I have learned to “pick my battles” and ask for clarification only on important topics.

What that means to me:

As I result of this experience, I now need to remind myself that when Deaf people give what’s known in the Deaf Community as “the Deaf nod” or feign understanding (I’ve been told it’s similar for immigrants), it is likely not due to their lack of commitment. This (mis)perception was often a source of frustration for me as an interpreter especially working in medical settings when misunderstandings can be dangerous.

What that means to me:

How different we can be from the people with whom we share a language but not life’s experiences – not just those from the minority language/culture but even from the service providers in our community work.  My frustration with service providers in medical settings centres on what appears to be a lack of concern for patients.  Of course, this too is a misperception. Following a clinician around for a day can quickly change that.

Perceptions can lead to frustrations. Understanding can lead to empathy. I would suggest that the work of a frustrated interpreter will be compromised and that seeking empathy is not just an act of altruism, but a technique toward effectiveness.

To be continued…

Robyn Dean