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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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From the start, the teachers were presented with a number of pedagogical challenges. The first was linguistic—they had unconsciously assumed a level of English fluency and literacy for the group that many of the students struggled to meet. The classes and handouts were presented in English, and the textbook was in written English, from a non-Fiji perspective, so the information was not optimally accessible.

Another challenge was their perceived credibility as teachers and practitioners. Spencer is a qualified and experienced interpreter, but had not trained interpreters before; Nelson has experience teaching Auslan but is not a trained interpreter. In addition, one legacy of colonization in Fiji is that local people can be sensitive to being told what to do or what is right by kaivalagis. Both teachers noticed that the high school interpreters, who had been required to attend the training, seemed particularly resistant to their teaching approach and ideas.

Nelson and Spencer initially chose a lecture format as the main delivery style, with the intention of getting as much information across to the students as possible in a short period of time. They planned to present theoretical ideas first, as a foundation for the later, intensive practical stage taught by the more experienced practitioners. In the context of an educational culture that does not encourage students to ask questions of their teachers, the noninteractive teacher-centered format limited class participation and learning, with only the most experienced and assertive students asking questions. In response to what they realized was a restrictive learning environment, Nelson and Spencer subsequently expanded the range of class activities, with more group work and practical tasks, prior to the intensive phase.

The 6-Day Intensive

Goswell and Napier were accorded much respect as overseas visitors. FAD had highlighted the importance of the opportunity for the students, and as two of the authors of the textbook, they had immediate cachet. This meant that expectations were high, and so were their responsibilities. It was their task to make the theory of the preceding coursework “real.” In the limited timeframe of 6 days, they needed to engage with the group immediately and to gauge what teaching/learning strategies were working best. As Garrison and Archer (2000), Winston (2005), and others suggest, they used an interactive, student-centered collaborative teaching style to draw students into discussion and to create an environment safe enough for the students to take risks.

After an updated needs analysis with the group, the topics delivered were a mix of language-focused content and behavior-based concepts. Initially, the teachers aimed to increase the students’ metalinguistic awareness of two of their interpreting languages—FJSL and English—and to introduce feedback techniques. The concepts of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, the role and ethics of an interpreter, and team interpreting strategies were introduced by using role-plays. The intensive training was aimed at consolidating and building on the earlier class material, by working experientially: from practice back to theory. Many of the teaching strategies were part of any interpreter trainer’s repertoire and included:

  • Expanding the students’ analytical frameworks so that they were better able to see and describe features of the languages they were working between (FJSL in particular), and the roles they were implicitly taking on.
  • Frequent analysis of students’ interpretations, modeled by the teachers and then practiced with peers. This was initially done live in small groups and then later on video. The aim was to develop feedback skills that were specific as well as constructive (a technique they needed to develop early so that it could be sustained beyond the course).
  • A staged approach to contributing to the class discussion, and interpreting in front of peers—the students initially worked in pairs, then in small groups, and finally in large groups in order to develop confidence and mutual trust.
  • Role-plays using a range of prominent local deaf people, so that students were practicing with the clients they would eventually work with. These deaf guest teachers were also filmed, to create sample monologic texts as resources for later FJSL analysis, and as source texts for interpreter practice. Indirectly this also had the benefit of exposing some of the Deaf community leaders to concepts and strategies that the students were learning.
  • Overtly modeling interpreting behaviors—often demonstrating inappropriate practice in contrast to best-practice techniques.
  • Showing video examples of competent signed language interpreters working in other places in the world—to broadly contextualize the Fiji interpreters’ work. This revealed linguistic similarities across signed languages and dilemmas that all interpreters face.
Goswell and Napier also faced pedagogical challenges, usually involving cultural sensitivities. Conscious of their capacity as kaivalagis to inadvertently introduce more “foreign” signs, they tried as far as possible to use FJSL signs in their teaching and encouraged FJSL corrections from the other teachers and the students. The teachers also needed to be
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