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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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International Perspectives on Sign Language Interpreter Education

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The 2006 Interpreter Training Course
A Case Study

The first sign language interpreter training course in Fiji ran for approximately 6 months. Classes were held once a week for 2 hours from March to August 2006. Nelson and Spencer were the principal teachers for the weekly classes, with a guest lecture from Hayley Best, a visiting New Zealand interpreter. Toward the end of the course, Della Goswell and Jemina Napier, interpreter trainers from Australia, taught a 6-day intensive component. The course had two assessments, and the graduation was held in September. Of the 25 students who enrolled, 17 graduated.

Most of the funding for the training came from AusAID (the Australian government’s international development agency) and NZAID (New Zealand’s international aid and development agency). This funding enabled the students to attend without cost.

Needs Analysis

As with any first-time course, it was important to determine the needs of the group as a starting point. For a program taught by kaivalagis, it was even more critical to try and frame the content and process of teaching to the local context: linguistically, culturally, and politically. Nelson, living and working in Fiji for a year prior to the start of the course, had time to observe the situation in Fiji with regard to interpreter competencies and practice. She liaised with Goswell and Napier on the needs analysis, to ensure that the intensive stage of the course would also be tailored to meet the needs of the Fiji context.

The initiative for the course came from FAD, rather than from interpreters themselves; FAD felt that the interpreters needed more skills development. This externally driven approach to training can produce a defensive response, so Nelson took time to talk with the interpreters and get them onboard, to ensure that the training was something they wanted to do. The majority agreed and expressed interest, however, there was some resistance from the interpreters working at the high school, who were compelled to attend as part of their employment contracts. The class demographic profile was as follows:

  • The gender balance was 22 females and 3 males—a typical ratio for sign language interpreters in many countries.
  • The majority of students had Fijian as their 1st language, with English as a second language, and FJSL as their 3rd language. Some of the students also spoke Hindi and Tuvaluan.
  • None of the students were native signers (i.e., children of deaf adults), which is unusual for the first cohort of sign language interpreters compared with other more developed countries. This probably reflects the relatively recent emergence of the Deaf community and FJSL, and consequently limited opportunities for signing deaf adults to have partnered and reared children by this time.
  • Most students had graduated from high school.
  • Most students were working full time as teachers at either Hilton Special School or Gospel School for the Deaf.
  • Only 10 students had regular interpreting experience to draw on, although most of the other students had some voluntary interpreting work experience in a school or church context.
The first challenge was to find appropriate teaching resources. Nothing specifically Fiji-oriented has been created, so Nelson initially sourced curriculum material from the U.S., drawing on: Sign Language Interpreting: A Basic Resource Book (Solow, 2000), Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters (Mindess, 2004), and Reading Between the Signs Workbook: A Cultural Guide for Sign Language Students and Interpreters (Mindess, 2004). Soon after the course started, another, more locally relevant, interpreting text became available: Sign Language Interpreting: Theory and Practice in Australia and New Zealand (Napier, McKee, & Goswell, 2006). This was provided to all students as a textbook.

The Weekly Classes

Nelson and Spencer conducted the course predominantly in English with some FJSL instruction. They focused on topics that Nelson had seen as gaps in the current knowledge base, so the course content included:

  • Deaf culture—a new concept to the students (and the Deaf community)— and the students’ role in mediating between cultures
  • Basic FJSL linguistics—its legitimacy as a language still being a novel idea
  • The use of FJSL versus ASE in interpreting
  • Church interpreting and the translation of religious songs (as a key context for the Deaf community and the interpreters in Fiji).

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