Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spotted! The Missing Link (in Voice to Sign Instruction)

More on Interpreter Training

First you learn ASL*

Then you learn to interpret from Spoken English to ASL.**

*Okay, not totally learn it but you have the basic vocabulary down and you have a sense of the grammatical features.

**Yeah, you've worked some on consecutive Voice to Sign and you might have English Intrusions, but I know how to sign while someone is talking.

When you complete your course of study, maybe you are out there waiting to get certified or maybe you know somebody who knew somebody or you know somebody who doesn't know anything about ASL and you got a job. Working or waiting, you know that something is missing, that what you do doesn't look like what experienced and skilled interpreters do---not even the "newbie" version of it.

I've seen many ITP graduates go through the after-graduation slump and ask themselves questions like....Where did things go wrong? Did I choose the right profession? What happens now ?

To me, the fact that the overwhelming majority asks themselves these questions, means that there IS something missing, and that ITP graduates KNOW it.

And I believe I've come up with that "missing in action" might be.

Remember when you and I were acquiring our first language? Do you remember how we refine our skills?

It was "interlocutor feedback" or "backchannel feedback" or people saying "Wait...WHAT are you trying to say? Can you explain that again?"

Remember when we tried to tell our mothers what happened on the bus and how we lost our left glove?

Me: So, this guy moved over and then she says "no" and I went, like....that's my seat and he goes, yesterday we changed.

Mom: Wait....what? Who's "she"

Me: Oh, the bus driver. So anyway the bus driver is all like NO and the other girl is just sitting there, then...

Mom: What does this have to do with losing your science book?

Me: I'm just explaining what happened in the morning.

Mom: THIS morning?

Me: No this is before that!

And so this goes on until I explain it clearly or my mother goes and gets a headache powder.

Slowly but surely, I learn to organize my thoughts and express myself better and write book reports and essays. In other words, I learn how I can explain things so that people can understand what I am talking about.

This part of language acquisition is crucial. And it is exactly what is missing from Your Average ITP.

After a student gets a rudimentary grasp on the language, there has to be a period of time where he or she should be working on Explaining, Not Interpreting.

So, what would this look like in a classroom?

Perhaps, Lucy, the eager ITP student, would listen that famous "Highly Effective Habits" tape.

And then Lucy would attempt to explain the habits "as she understood them." From this an instructor would be able to give feedback (not necessarily about every nuance of ASL grammar) but taking a holistic approach-- Overall does this student make sense and she get across the message?

The goal should be (before even beginning to interpret) for an interpreting student to be able to visualize & conceptualize material outside of his or her own experience and relate it to an ASL user.

This would give Lucy a sense of confidence and competence that her cognitive and linguistic abilities were effectively delivering a message.

Basically, Lucy, you've got some explaining to do!

My concern is that too much emphasis is put onto "can the student get out the signs fast enough" and not enough emphasis on "can the student get the message across."

My advice to those out there who are mentoring new interpreters:

Stop having them interpret. Give them things to explain. Engage them in a debate. Challenge them to USE the language.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Learning Sign-to-Voice Interpreting: MIND THE GAP!

Here's three steps to becoming an awesome sign-to-voice interpreter:

1. Always look at the deaf person
2. Understand everything he or she signs
3. Say it in perfect English.

That's it. Now go out and conquer the world.

But wait, there must be more to it than that!

In the typical sign to voice class. all too often the student is asked to do step 3, before he or she can even follow step #1.

And step one in more sophisticated terms is to have the visual acuity/tracking skills to be able to take in all of the information that is on the surface and embedded in a signed narrative. In short, the average beginning student cannot even SEE the signs.

Scene from an actual class

Me (the teacher): Notice how the deaf signer's head goes slightly back and the eye gaze changes, that indicates a relative clause, so you know that's not a new idea, but an expansion on the topic.

Ted (the student): What? Where? The eyes changed? I didn't see it.

Me: Let's look again.

Ted: (puzzled expression)

: Again?

Ted: Ohhhh, now I see it.

Before students are asked to voice or even UNDERSTAND the signed message, they have to be trained TO SEE, TO NOTICE, TO PROCESS the visual information.

This is a big gap in how voicing is generally taught. Perhaps it is more than a gap....perhaps it is a sinkhole. A very significant bottomless sinkhole--because believe me, once you miss that aspect of your skill acquisition, I promise you will spend years trying to catch up,

In my opinion, the way most ITP teach voicing is "FIRE, AIM, READY"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Celebration of Mediocrity, Part 2

Spoken language interpreters would so much rather work from their second language to their first. It makes perfect sense.

Sign language interpreters rarely want to work from sign to voice. That also makes perfect sense, in a non-sensical way. From my perspective, when you stand in front of an audience of one and you are signing away who knows if you are making full sentences or even delivering the message. Perhaps the deaf consumer does, but how often does a deaf consumer actually go up to an interpreter and say "Hmmm, I understood about half of what you signed."

But if you are's hard to cover up those awkward silent moments or those sentences that just trail off.

To be an interpreter, you should be a fairly balanced bilingual. At any rate, you shouldn't feel like you can go out there and sign your heart out knowing that if the deaf person really wanted to express himself that you'd be flummoxed.

Also, don't show up at assignments, look at me and breathe a sigh of relief-- Oh great you are here, YOU can voice! I'm pretty sure we are getting the same hourly rate.

As far as I am concerned you are only as good as your weakest skill.

I'm not putting down those interpreters who are still striving for greatness. Whether or not they reach greatness isn't even the point. It's about the drive and the knowledge that there is still more to achieve.

It's okay to have more to learn. It's just not okay to believe you've "arrived" before you actually have.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Interpreting Today -- The Celebration of Mediocrity

In any field or profession, there will always be those who excel beyond the expected, out-perform the crowd.

Not everyone has to be a superstar; it is also okay to be qualified, skilled, able, competent and clear.

What is see in the intpreting world right now though, is an abundance of "GOOD-ENOUGH."

There's so much of that around, that I believe more people have forgotten what minimum competency looks like.

When a good interpreter comes to an assignment and actually signs something approximating ASL, she is seen as "crackerjack."

Mediocre then looks pretty good.

And the field celebrates those who are barely qualified.

They scream, "We are NATIONALLY CERTIFIED!" Nationally certified equals approved by an organization as having the basic skills necessary to work professionally, not that you are GOOD, COMPETENT or ABLE in any one situation.

I'm tired of us celebrating mediocracy.

People should feel a certain professional pressure to rise up. Instead by being given prime assignments and not having to get consumer feedback and not being monitored by interpreter provider agencies and being assigned to assignments by people unqualified to judge...we continue the lowering of the bar.

Interpreters HEAL THYSELVES.

Get a grip on your skill level and stop feeling entitled to take assignments just because you are offered them.