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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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careful in their use of the words “Fiji” and “Fijian”—Fijian refers to the indigenous people of Fiji only and does not include the Indo-Fijians. The sign language has therefore been called Fiji Sign Language, rather than Fijian Sign Language, as an inclusive acknowledgement of its use by the wide range of deaf people living in Fiji.

In some of the devised role-plays, Goswell and Napier acted as hearing professionals, but their characterization was based on Australian norms, and the students sometimes became confused. After feedback and modeling from the students, the role-plays were adapted to be more realistic of Fiji discourse patterns, and therefore more effective. For example, in Fiji, doctors do not typically explain a diagnosis of an illness; rather, they ask questions of the patient and then hand over a written prescription. In Australia, as in many other Western countries, patients expect an explanation of what is wrong with them and why any medication is being prescribed. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask questions of the doctor.

Further role-play scenarios needed to be devised around school and church settings once it became clear that these were the contexts most familiar to the group, and the most common venues for their interpreting work. The teachers also needed to ensure that their language use in the role-plays and the classroom was moderate; Fiji society is very conservative, and colorful language is not acceptable in public, even in jest. (Australian culture, for instance, is more accepting of the use of certain swear words in public and formal domains.)

It was easy to assume that current models of interpreting appropriate to the Deaf communities in developed countries would automatically apply in Fiji. Despite legislative human rights entitlements, deaf people have had little access to education or interpreters, and still look to hearing people for guidance and answers when dealing with the wider community, so the “helper” paradigm often makes more sense than a bilingual-bicultural mediator. Students were encouraged to think about which model could be used and when, given their specific cultural circumstances, and to be aware of the limitations of the helper framework rather than dismissing it all together (Solow, 2000).

Collaborative problem-solving of cross-cultural issues as they arose was an empowering process for the students, and a learning opportunity for the teachers. The students responded very well to the intensive training, gaining confidence and insights into their interpreting practice day by day. Their acquired knowledge needed to be shared with the Deaf community— a key stakeholder in the provision and outcomes of the training. To this end, a workshop was held during the intensive course, aimed at demonstrating some of the ideas and skills being taught, and gauging community response, with the interpreter/deaf client relationship as the main theme.

Deaf Community Workshop

Approximately 40 deaf people attended the workshop, mostly from Suva, but encouragingly also from outlying areas; some had traveled overnight to get there. Goswell and Napier facilitated the workshop using their basic FJSL with lots of gesture and mime. It was framed as a series of wrongway/ right-way vignettes, with local Deaf community leaders (many of whom had been involved in the earlier role-plays), interpreting students, and the teachers—all acting out scenarios. The actors first demonstrated overtly inappropriate interpreter (or deaf client) behaviors, and the audience was asked to comment on what was wrong and what alternatives there might be. The actors then presented the co-created improved version. After the scenarios, a question-and-answer session was opened up. The format of the workshop was accessible and entertaining, and the issues generated lots of discussion among the Deaf community members. They were able to meet and evaluate the interpreter trainers and their ideas.

One best-practice concept that did not meet with unanimous approval was the suggestion that interpreters (and deaf presenters) wear plain contrasting clothing to highlight their signing, especially in large public forums. Many of the deaf men wear bula shirts, which have large colorful floral designs, and saw no reason to discontinue that proud cultural tradition; the Deaf community was left to continue that discussion.

Training Outcomes

Feedback from the students at the end of the course was overwhelmingly positive; each of them was enthusiastic about the experience, and was able to pinpoint skills and knowledge that they had acquired. Some of the interpreters in the group already had innate competencies in-line with the standards of professional interpreters in Australia and New Zealand, and they gained more confidence along with more skills. As trainers, it was rewarding to see such growth and awareness in such a short time, however, therein lies the danger: how to sustain the momentum once the training has ceased and the trainers have gone? As an attempt to address this issue, the final topic in the intensive course was entitled: Where to from here?

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