Final-year BSL students at the Scottish Parliament

Reflections from a teacher

by Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor in Sign Language Studies

It is not every day you get to bring your classroom to the real world.  So often we try to bring the real world to the classroom and it just never replicates real life!  Recently we listened and practised interpreting a graduation speech given by Steve Jobs to a group of university graduates. Although it was an inspiring speech, can you imagine the energy at the ceremony on the day?  Imagine the excited students, the proud parents and teachers.  Imagine how that energy can influence the overall interpretation. Imagine seeing the actual graduate in the audience.  I believe that the simple fact of knowing the interpretation is real, that it matters to someone, makes an incredible difference in an interpreter’s performance. However, we only have so much time to prepare our students to become interpreters, ultimately leaving much of our work to occur artificially in the classroom.  So when opportunities present themselves to have our students safely work in real settings, we as educators must do what we can to grab those opportunities and provide them to our students.

I know that for our students, week 1 of year 4 may seem a bit too soon to have the complete real life interpreting experience! Yet could it have been more perfect timing that the final stage of the BSL (Scotland) Bill was being debated in the Scottish Parliament on the same day of our first Advanced Interpreting class?  I call that a unique opportunity. With many thanks to Ruth Connelly at Scottish Parliament and our own Fanny Chouc  in LINCS, our students were given the opportunity to be part of one of the most historical days for Scotland’s Deaf Community. We hosted our class in the real world (we hosted our class at the Scottish Parliament!)

Heriot-Watt students were dressed for success when they signed in with security as ‘real’ interpreters, received official Parliament contractor badges, made their way up to the interpreting booths (where so many professional interpreters have worked before) and practised interpreting a session in Parliament (and again.. not just any session but the BSL Bill (Scotland) session). So if you were at Parliament on 17 September 2015 and happened to lookup at the booths to see several bodies signing and began to wonder, “Who are they?” “What are they doing up there?”- I am here to tell you they were Heriot-Watt students busy at work observing the professional interpreters, practising their own interpretations, reflecting on the formal register of the environment and realizing just how difficult interpreting is. One phrase that seemed to be said over and over again after Parliament was, “Wow, the bar has really been set high”.

Sure, I could have played Mark Griffins speech in support of the bill in our classroom, but the energy wouldn’t have been the same, it wouldn’t have been real. We wouldn’t have dressed a bit sharper, we wouldn’t have signed in with security, and we definitely wouldn’t have felt the energy and excitement from the Deaf community. So although our students were still only practising it was so much more real than it ever could have been in a classroom.  And on that note, my heart felt thanks goes out to the Deaf community, working interpreters, and Scottish Parliament staff, who have played a real role in preparing the next generation of Sign Language interpreters.

Reflections from a student

by Marie Elliot, 4th Year LINCS Student (BSL)

If you were anywhere near the bottom of the Royal Mile on September 17th, you may have felt a tremor emanating from the Scottish Parliament Buildings.

And if you have read the previous post from Professor Graham Turner, then you’ll already know the reason why!

On that afternoon, the final Stage 3 reading of the British Sign language (Scotland) Bill took place. The Bill was passed unanimously and the long-awaited decision to give BSL legal recognition was made. This is a historic event in Deaf history, and the result of years of hard work and campaigning by many individuals and organisations. I would like to comment on the personal impact of being present and witnessing that amazing afternoon.

We 4th-years from the Heriot-Watt BSL/English Interpreting course were not only provided with tickets to join the audience, but were given the unique opportunity to view the proceedings from the interpreter booths. As interpreting students, it was valuable experience to see the processes at work, the high standard of interpreting required, and real-life applications of what we had learnt in theory.

There was a real air of excitement and expectation while everyone waited for other business to be concluded in the chamber, before the BSL (Scotland) Bill was reached in the agenda. So many interested parties were represented in the audience: organisation staff; Deaf and Deaf/blind individuals; People with Hearing dogs; interpreters and others with connections to the Deaf community. There were numerous interpreters, using BSL, Manual interpreting, relay interpreting, and all interpreting in their own style, giving us so many opportunities to observe how different interpreters work, the choices they make, and how they work together with other interpreters. As students in our final year, hoping to join the interpreting profession, it was an invaluable experience. There was so much going on that we could learn from, that we had to focus intensely, as we tried to take it all in.

When it came to the moment of announcing the result of the vote, we were not alone in holding our breath. It seemed that everyone in the audience was doing the same, and I’m sure there were countless others watching online who were also leaning forward with bated breath. The actual announcement produced an incredible moment, with cheers, smiles and waves of delight from the audience, and not a few tears of relief and joy. It was a privilege to join the audience in the foyer, where strangers were hugging each other in delight. After such a long history of oppression and exclusion, everyone was talking hopefully after future change, and increased opportunities for future generations of Deaf children.

Scotland has led the way, and Terry Riley of the British Deaf Association (BDA) expressed it perfectly, when he told me he hoped this event would have the effect of ripples growing into a tsunami, spreading their impact on national and international Deaf communities.

This really was an unforgettable event, and we are all very grateful to the staff at the Scottish Parliament and Heriot-Watt staff, who co-operated in allowing us to be so involved in this historic decision. Parliament staff made us very welcome, and we were impressed to see so many staff using some level of signing. This would have been appreciated by BSL-using visitors, as being respectful to them, and also to the importance attached by the Deaf community to this event.

The day was finished in the most marvellous way, celebrating in a nearby pub. Every single person in the room was able to use some level of signing. It was incredible to look around and see a room packed with people all using the language the Deaf community has fought so hard for, and knowing that language had just been shown respect by the Scottish Parliament. We are grateful to have been allowed to join in this unique moment, so thanks are due to the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) who arranged the after-party, for allowing us to slip in and be a part of it, even though we were technically gate-crashing!

Hopefully there will be many more reasons in the future to celebrate with the Deaf community, after this ground-breaking Scottish Parliament decision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s