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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Innovative Practices for Teaching Sign Language Interpreters

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Arjona was one of the first educators to base a program on the notion that “the translation [or interpreting] process is considered as taking place within a situational/cultural context that is, in itself, an integral part of the process and that must be considered in order to bridge, in a meaningful manner, the gap that separates both sender and receptor audiences. This transfer must encompass the unique linguistic, paralinguistic, and logic systems for interpersonal communication of both sender and receptor audiences” (1978, 36). Hers was the first program to consider the basic problems of communication, understanding, misunderstanding, and nonunderstanding. At the 1982 Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), Arjona urged a task analysis of the interpreter’s performance in order to build a curriculum that taught the task in a sequential and developmental order. At the next CIT conference, a task analysis was distributed, and attendees contributed to a lengthy list of various cognitive and personal tasks required to interpret (McIntire 1984). The major components were based on cognitive processes for which spoken language interpreter-training programs had developed exercises. Although programs were influenced to begin using some of these teaching strategies, such as shadowing, paraphrasing, dual- tasking, and ways to increase lag time, these strategies emerged from programs that trained conference interpreters and thus reemphasized a textual view of a speaker’s production and the interpreted rendition.

As the decade progressed, educators turned to issues of power and identity, issues of teamwork, and specific interpreting types, such as educational and legal interpreting. In an age when the rights of minorities and issues of language oppression were of central concern, the bilingual, bicultural label came into widespread use. The problem with such a label, however, is that it never dispels the assumed model of interpreting and continues to focus on two independent, yet related, texts. This persistent model of a single speaker and an interpreter who conveys the content message has several inherent problems:

  1. The focus is on the relaying of the message as the sole purpose of the interpreter and the participant who produces the message;
  2. Talk as a way of doing something (such as informing, explaining, or complaining) is overlooked;
  3. This approach cannot account for other conversation-related activities that are not a part of either text.

Thus the bilingual, bicultural label did not take us away from a basic conceptual notion of interpreting as relaying text that can then be judged as correct, appropriate, and equivalent. For example, in a 1998 issue of Views, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf newsletter, Hoza (an interpreter educator) posed the dilemma of a doctor, during a medical examination, asking the interpreter a direct question that was not about the medical interview itself or the patient but rather a conversational query about how the interpreter had learned sign language. Hoza suggested that when an interpreter is asked such direct questions by a participant, the issue is an ethical one having to do with where an interpreter’s loyalties lie. Although teachers would agree that interpreting students need to know how to resolve ethical dilemmas, the difficulty posed here is actually an ordinary conversational occurrence common in medical interviews even when no interpreter is present. In medical exams, when a patient is otherwise occupied (dressing or having a temperature taken), a doctor may turn to other people in the room and make “small talk.” Common sense suggests that this occurs naturally, and research on interpreters in such settings suggests that, rather than a protracted relay between participants, a brief response from an interpreter actually minimizes the interpreter’s participation in a situation in which the focus should remain on the primary participants (Metzger 1995). Although Hoza’s discussion noted the situational context in which the question was asked, the discussion that followed in no way accounted for ways in which people participate in medical interviews, nor did it query the intentions or expectations of any of the speakers in this event. Rather, the focus was on the question—the text—which demonstrates the underlying assumptions of interpreting as a textual problem without considering the reciprocal nature of conversation, the purpose of asking questions, and the expectations and performance of all the participants.


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