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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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All of the teachers involved in the training program made concerted efforts to create resources for the group while they were in Fiji and to send further materials once they had returned home. However, it became clear that the main imperative was to support the interpreters as a functional group, with access to further development opportunities in the longer term. This initially requires local leadership with continued outside support.

Inise Tawaketini, one of the students from the course (and an author of this chapter), worked with Spencer before she returned to New Zealand in 2007, delivering a 2-week interpreter training course tailored for the interpreters working in the high schools. She has now taken on the role of local trainer for further skills development of the Fiji group. As a result of the continued contact between Fiji and Australian interpreters, Tawaketini was one of two representatives from Fiji sponsored to present at the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association (ASLIA) national conference in Sydney in 2007. The Fiji interpreter group has now also been connected with the Australasia/Oceania region of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI). It is hoped that the group’s leadership and contacts will enable continued development of interpreter training and practice in Fiji.


For better or worse, four decades of kaivalagi influence have made a significant impact on the development of Fiji Sign Language, the formation of the Deaf community, and the work of FJSL interpreters. As a result, deaf people in Fiji, and the interpreters working with them, are dealing with a still-evolving local signed language, in the context of a range of local and imported spoken languages.

Only since 2004 have Fiji deaf people had the opportunity to visit other countries, to acquire skills for themselves, and to bring these insights and capacity back to their community. The group of FJSL interpreters is also only just starting to develop their skills base from within: the only approach that is sustainable in the longer term.

In the meantime, the lessons learned from the recent experience of the Australian and New Zealand interpreter trainers are worth documenting and building upon. There are many developments in sign language interpreter practice internationally, which are worth sharing. As long as cultural differences are respected and accommodated, there is still value in bringing appropriate outside expertise to developing countries like Fiji, if it is requested.

“Isa Lei” was sung to the kaivalagis in sad farewell at the end of the 2006 intensive training course, at a significant time in the short history of the Deaf community in Fiji. Alongside that initial disappointment there is also hope that the momentum generated by the course, and the contacts that have been established in its aftermath, can feed into and encourage further growth and empowerment for deaf people in Fiji and the interpreters who work with them.

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