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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Advances in Teaching Sign Language Interpreters

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Teachers using existing process models to develop classroom exercises, and educators using theoretical insights and empirical findings to challenge traditional practices – it sounds as if the link between research and teaching were becoming closer, at least in the teaching of sign language interpreters. Indeed, it should be pointed out that the curricular sequence questioned by Cokely (i.e. from translation to consecutive and then to simultaneous interpreting as separate courses) is a legacy of the conference interpreting training paradigm, with which teachers of sign language interpreters interacted in the early 1980s (McIntire 1984; cf. also Plant-Moeller 1992). In translation studies, a curricular proposal to progress from (dialogue) interpreting as the basic form of mediated communication to specialized forms such as written translation and simultaneous interpreting was made in the early 1990s by translation theorist Hans Vermeer (1991). It will be interesting to see whether now conference interpreting educators will follow the lead of sign language interpreting trainers and revalue the role of dialogue interpreting in the curriculum. The work of David Sawyer (2004) is an important step.

Increased interaction and exchange across different paradigms and professional domains should thus add momentum to the development of interpreter education in general – which is why I gladly accepted the invitation to contribute a foreword to this book. A broader awareness of alternative models and approaches will facilitate informed choices, encouraging teachers of interpreting to see, or even do things differently, to try out novel ideas and even question established ones by undertaking research of their own.

By the same token, research should be aimed at questioning innovation as well as tradition. Trying out a new teaching practice is always worthwhile, but it should not remain without some form of validation. Experimentation to establish the comparative effectiveness of a particular teaching technique is often beyond reach, not so much because of the research skills required but because of such limitations as small groups of subjects, numerous proficiency-related variables, a lack of unequivocal measures of performance, and even ethical concerns. Under these circumstances, forms of action research involving multiple sources of evidence, and especially qualitative data, seem particularly appropriate.

The work shared by the contributors to this volume constitutes a generous offer to the broader community of interpreter educators. As I have been trying to suggest, though, the actual value of these innovative practices will depend – on their “uptake” by fellow teachers, their critical appraisal in the light of alternative conceptual frameworks, and their testing and validation by appropriate research. This will ensure that interpreter training comes ever closer to the standard of research-based teaching and that innovation on established practices will itself be questioned long before it turns into tradition.

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