American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language. ASL cannot be written as spoken languages. In school there are English classes for hearing people, but most Deaf people never take a class in how to properly use ASL. They learn ASL by watching others – signing right or wrong.
There is wide variety in the way Deaf people use language. One person may sign “perfect ASL,” while another’s signs may be difficult to understand. One Deaf person may rely totally on Sign Language to communicate, while another would prefer to see English words on the signer’s lips.
It is interesting to watch Deaf people “code switch.” They may use ASL with other Deaf people or with skilled ASL users. When hearing people or less skilled signers are present, they switch to simple signs or an English signing system. Actually, this is a positive habit. They adapt to the “hearing world,” help less-skilled signers, and make them feel more comfortable. But, when they code switch, hearing people often misunderstand the need for ASL signers. Truly, interpreters ARE needed!
Interpreting is the process of transferring a message from one language into another language. Interpreting is much more complicated than simply choosing a sign or a word. Interpreters must paraphrase, or change the FORM of the mesage, without changing the message. Example: (English) “For God so loved the world” (Becomes ASL) “Point what (eyebrow down)? (Eyebrows up, eyes gaze up right to Heaven) God (eyes gaze down to left) // World // He (point to God, eyes up) ‘I-love-you’ (sign from up-right to down-left, eyes follow sign) Much.” You must understand ASL to accurately sign this example. Deaf people can understand in a hearing church because of skilled interpreters. Yes… Interpreters ARE needed!