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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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Acknowledging that interpreting is a discourse process in which interpreters are active participants who need to know about and understand interactional behavior as well as explicit ways in which languages and cultures use language changes our perception of what interpreters do. That is, interpreters make intentional, informed choices from a range of possibilities. This altered perspective on how interpreters actually accomplish their task will bring about a change in educational practice. It suggests that what is significant in the process of learning to interpret is understanding the nature of social situations, being conscious of discourse processes, and knowing and recognizing ways of using language. Because these processes and an interpreter’s role are ineluctably bound to language and patterns of discourse, discourse analysis offers not only a new research framework and a more accurate perception of a basic interpreted interaction but also a new understanding of the important aspects of teaching interpreting.

The Structure of This Book

As many curriculum specialists have noted, curriculum involves putting into practice a set of beliefs concerning how people learn, what they should be learning, and the contexts that will support that learning (Short and Burke 1991). The practices explained in this book come from a set of beliefs about the nature of interpreting, the sequence in which people learn to interpret, and what students should learn. Students in these programs study interpreting as a sociocultural-linguistic process that cannot be separated from either the language or its speakers.

As interpreters, researchers, and educators, the contributors to this volume each share one teaching practice that works in their classroom and is supported by current knowledge, research, and theory about how one learns to interpret. Each of their practices assumes that students learn to interpret effectively and fluently by becoming consciously aware of and in control of language processes. These practices are distinguished by the fact that they are drawn from research on language, learning, and interpreting. Successful teaching practices work for a reason, and making the connection to that reason is the basis of curriculum development.

In chapter 2 Winston and Monikowski explain discourse mapping, an application of discourse analysis that provides students with analytical experience so that their interpretations are effective. These interpretations are accurate in content, socially appropriate, and linguistically accurate. Discourse mapping is a strategy that teaches students to develop a mental picture of the meaning of a message. By doing so, students can reconstruct a similar map to produce an interpretation and can see the relationships of context, form, and content. Mapping is similar to techniques in reading and writing instruction and is referred to as concept mapping, mind mapping, or idea mapping. Discourse mapping also helps instructors choose more appropriate texts for students by highlighting the structure of themes within a text and the approach of the speaker.

In chapter 3 Pollitt explains the use of critical discourse analysis (CDA), a type of discourse analysis widely used in Europe. CDA sees discourse as ways in which speakers use language to portray their identities and alliances to the various cultures to which they belong. Because speakers use discourse to do things, critical discourse analysis allows researchers to pick apart what speakers say and reveal some of the influences and beliefs that shape their lives and the way they use language.

Metzger, in chapter 4, describes how to implement quality, interactive role-plays so that students learn strategies for switching back and forth rapidly between languages, for managing features of interaction (such as overlap), and for making relevant contributions to the interaction (such as indicating the source of an utterance). Her chapter includes how to prepare for role-plays, how to implement them, and how to give effective feedback.


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