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.


Carley said...

it's 'splaining dear.

Faith Georgia said...

Luuuuucy! You got some 'splainin' to do! (Better now?)

Claire R. said...

Faith you really nailed it! They should all do exactly what you say - explain. Learn to explain. Learn to get the point and the details and remember them. Then learn to say them using different (better, more specific, more register-fitting vocabulary). You are totally correct.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.