Team Interpreting in Church

Team Interpreting in Church

What is wrong with these interpreter statements? One interpreter says, “I will interpret the songs.” Another says, “I will interpret the preaching.” Another, “I will interpret the special music.” The problem is the little word “I.” Interpreters can function better as a team. So, how does team interpreting work?
In many professional settings, team interpreters determine how long they will interpret before switching interpreters. For example, one starts interpreting a class. After 20 minutes, the partner takes over. After another 20 minutes, they switch back. This keeps the interpreter’s mind fresh and helps avoid physical injuries (carpel-tunnel syndrome, etc).

Church interpreters often switch at logical transition times during a church service. However, they can still function as a team for the overall church service. The “off-duty” partner should still be aware of the “on-duty” interpreter’s needs. If the interpreter misunderstands what was said, the partner can discretely “feed” information using sign language. An alert partner can also feed visual information that is not present in the auditory message. For example, the speaker may be pointing to something specific or using mime or gestures that would be better for the Deaf person to see firsthand.

The “off-duty” partner is often responsible to initiate the switch by taking a position behind the interpreter. When ready, the partner taps the interpreter on the shoulder. The interpreter finishes the point, stops interpreting and sits down. There should be no loss in the message during the process.

The team should agree on methods and timing in advance. Try interpreting as a team. The word “we” is better than “I.

Interpreting is Mental

Interpreting is Mental

Often, after an especially fast or difficult sermon, someone asks the ASL interpreter, “Are your hands tired?” My answer is almost always the same, “No, but my brain is exhausted.” ASL interpreting involves communication between two different languages (in America, ASL and English) and between two different types of languages (visual and spoken). God made our brains to be able to adapt to new situations. Can you “interpret” and understand this message? Have fun!

7H15 M3554G3 (THIS MESSAGE)53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! 1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD, BU7 N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3, Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.B3 PROUD! – 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15.

I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! (Source unknown.)

Also, ASL fingerspelling can be more easily understood by reading the first and last letters, looking at the length of the word, and considering the context in which it was spelled.

If you understood the two paragraphs above, maybe you are a better interpreter than you thought! Even though signing skills are important, interpreting happens mostly in the brain!

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Voice? or No Voice?

Question: Should a hearing person using ASL also use his voice to communicate at the same time? Consider several things in making the decision. Sign language by its very nature is a visual language. It has its own grammar, including its own sentence structure and word meanings. ASL grammar uses facial expression, hand movement, and use of the space to accurately create meaning. Even ASL mouth movements are different than English words. For example, signing the word “success” often uses the mouth movement of “pah,” which makes it impossible to both sign and pronounce the word at the same time. (Try saying “success” and “pah” at the same time!)

Because of the many differences between SPOKEN English and SIGNED ASL, it is impossible to consistently create grammatically correct English and ASL at the same time. Simultaneous Communication (SimCom) is somewhat of a compromise of both languages. SimCom speakers must be aware of its weakness or they will miscommunicate in both.

Some hearing ASL signers wrongly think that their ASL improves when they do not use their voice. But, to be clear in ASL, the message must be planned, and practiced in ASL. Using ASL clearly (without voice) also demonstrates a respect for Deaf culture. It is very difficult for hearing people to ignore what they hear. But, when communicating in ASL, it is culturally appropriate to disregard audio signals, such as noises and voices. It is rude to abruptly switch from ASL to a spoken language. Instead, it is more polite to ask to be “excused” from one conversation before entering another. Hearing people may never become “deaf,” but they can use common sense and respect deaf culture when communicating with Deaf people in ASL. The answer is, “It depends.” Let common sense prevail.

Interpreter, What Do You Look Like?

Interpreter, What Do You Look Like?

This article is NOT about clothing or the way an interpreter stands or conducts him/herself in front of others, although it is important to consider all of these when signing for a group. Interpreters must consider the use of their eyes in interpreted communication. Some signers (Deaf or hearing) never look at anyone while signing to them. It is almost as if no person is watching! But the eyes are a very important part of ASL communication. Here are some important considerations….

Look at your “audience” when you sign. Someone told a young preacher, “If the crowd makes you nervous, just look above their heads when you preach. They will never know the difference.” But the truth is, people can see where your eyes are focused. It is natural and accepted to look at the people to whom you are signing. Caution do not pick one person as your “target,” but look at all Deaf people present.

Use your eyes for emphasis. The eyes can be used to emphasize a special point by looking at your signs or by looking at the imaginary scene you are drawing with your signs. Study and imitate the way Deaf people communicate with their eyes.

Use your eyes to show emotion. Emotion can be seen not only in your eyes, but also in your cheeks, mouth, forehead, and nose. Allow your face and eyes to become involved in the communication. Let your face become alive with meaning!

Use your eyes to communicate the message. When you use your eyes properly in sign language communication, the message of your signs can become more easily understood. Expression is vital to ASL. Do not be afraid of what hearing people will say. When you use your eyes and face as part of the message, you will be surprised at the good response!  Come to ASL Institute this summer! Click here to see the dates and register.

Finger Tips For Interpreters

Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism

(Part 2 – Recent Workshop at SWM ASL Institute)

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35

Most people seem more comfortable giving feedback to others than receiving it. However, properly giving feedback can be very difficult. Here are some helpful suggestions….

How to GIVE Constructive Criticism

1. Only give feedback when it is appreciated and accepted.

2. Honor the other’s experience and seniority. Use respect when “helping” a more experienced person. Use caution when critiquing someone who is very inexperienced. Wrong or poorly-timed words can hurt rather than help.

3. Allow others time to relax before you offer any comments. Commenting immediately is usually bad timing.

4. Arrange the method and time of feedback in advance, when possible. Avoiding surprises helps avoid misunderstanding.

5. Preface your remarks with a polite comment such as, “Are you open to suggestions at this time?”

6. Limit the number and duration of your comments. Offer more compliments than critiques. Most people can only work on one or two areas needing improvement at a time.

7. Share only your most significant comments. Never be trivial or nit-picky. Never use your comments to make you feel better, but always genuinely seek to help others.

8. Allow others to stop your comments at any time. Always only share appropriate amounts of critique.

9. Always use common sense. Listen to your heart when it tells you to wait or hold feedback. You will be glad you did!

More next issue: Practical suggestions
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Finger Tips For Interpreters

Giving and Receiving Constructive Criticism

(Recent Workshop at SWM ASL Institute)

Accepting constructive criticism, or feedback, can be one of the most difficult lessons interpreters must learn. Here are several helpful ways to make this process less painful and traumatic.

How to RECEIVE Constructive Criticism

1. Learn to identify constructive criticism. Sometimes you may think a person is trying to hurt you, but he may be simply trying to help in the best way he knows how. Realize that when someone gives you feedback, he probably did not mean it as a personal “attack” or offense.

2. Develop an attitude of excellence to continually improve your skill. Never be satisfied with “good enough,” but willingly accept feedback, even when it is hard to do so.

3. Pro-actively seek feedback. Ask friends, interpreters, and Deaf people for their suggestions and help. But also realize that when you ask, they will give it. Do not be offended, but realize that their comments can help make you better.

4. Immediately apply what you learn. Think about the suggestions and comments. Ask yourself, “How can I change for the next time?” Seek opportunities to try the new way or new information. For example, when you learn a new sign, use it several times the next week.

5. Forgive those who are ignorant of the proper way to share feedback. Sometimes seemingly harsh words are not intended that way. The person may just be trying to help. A good rule of thumb is, “Do not take offense when none is intended!” v More next time: How to wisely GIVE constructive criticism

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Fingertips For Interpreters – Directional Signing

Directional Signing

Good advice: When you put something somewhere, remember where you put it!

Computer Advice: When you put something into memory, remember where you put it!

Interpreter/Signer Advice: When you place a person in the signing space, remember where you put him.

Spoken languages do not need to use space. They use time, inflection, and other methods to make their point. However, sign language, because it is visual, uses placement, references, indexing, and other elements of space to make communication more clear.

In the religious setting, it is helpful for all interpreters to place certain people or places in the same locations. For example, when pointing to God the first time, if the signer points up to the right, then points up and to the left the second time, this actually shows two different individuals, which can be confusing. Standardizing locations can help Deaf congregations more clearly understand. Follow these recommendations:

God / Jesus / Heaven – Sign up and to the right. It is best not to place them too high, but at a 45-degree angle up and 45 degrees to the right of center. Always point or look at the same certain spot on the wall or ceiling.

Devil / Sin / Hell – Sign down and to the left. Again, it is best to use a 45-degree angle down and to the left. Choose a spot on the floor at which to look or point.

Jesus on Cross – Sign slightly up and to the right.


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Fingertips for Interpreters – Adjust Is a Must – Part 4

Interpreting situations can differ, even in the church setting.  Some interpreters interpret the same way all the time and never change.  However, the wise interpreter will notice when needs and situations change and will adjust his interpreting to match the need at the time.

Adjust to time when teaching a class – When other parts of the class time go too long, adjust your lesson to close at the right time. You may need to omit some parts of the lesson.  You may need to teach only part of the lesson and finish it later.

Adjust to situations around you – Be willing to make changes and adjustments so the message of the lesson becomes very strong. Rather than becoming strict and unbending, become flexible. Teach for understanding and to meet needs.  When the class understands you, you will be glad you made the change.

Adjust to the needs of the class – What happens if you prepared a lesson, but realize it is not appropriate for the class in front of you?  Adapt the lesson to the class.  You might even need to teach a different lesson.  Discern the needs of the class in front of you and adjust.  Make eye contact enough to see the needs of people.  Do not just teach a lesson, but teach to meet the needs of the class.

Adjust to a class which is not understanding your lesson – Determine when a class is not understanding your lesson.  Adjust to the student’s level.  If they are not understanding, you are not teaching.  Again, you may need to teach only a part of the lesson.  Change the lesson to make it more understandable.  Change your language level as necessary. Present the lesson differently than when teaching a hearing class.

  Adjust is a must for Interpreter

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Fingertips for Interpreters – Adjust Is a Must – Part 3

Interpreter: Adjust is a Must


Interpreting situations can differ, even in the church setting.  Some interpreters interpret the same way all the time and never change.  However, the wise interpreter will notice when needs and situations change and will adjust their interpreting to match the need at the time

Adjust to technology or lack of technology – When you cannot hear the speaker because of poor microphone placement or broken equipment, you may need to move to a different location.  The same may be true when a video presentation begins, but you are seated or standing in the wrong place to interpret it well.   You must also decide how much of a video to interpret.  Sometimes it is good to interpret all background noises.  Other times it may be best to interpret only the main spoken story.  Many factors influence these decisions.  The overall situation or speaker’s apparent goal will affect your decisions.  Be willing to adjust to meet the needs of different interpreting situations.  Be flexible and you will become more effective.

Adjust to either party changing attitude  – When either the Deaf person or hearing person begins to become angry, you must adjust your facial expression and body language to match what is being said and the way it is being said.

Adjust to accept criticism  – Sometimes a hearing speaker, Deaf person, or another interpreter may criticize your interpreting.  Learn to accept constructive criticism and change to improve.  

Someone once said, “I would rather change and succeed, than have my way and fail.”  Being flexible and willing to make positive changes in interpreting can make the difference between success and failure, understanding and miscommunication.  Interpreter, adjust and improve!

Fingertips for Interpreters – Adjust Is a Must – Part 2

 Adjust is a Must
— Continued from Last Issue —
Adjust to situations that do not fit with what you learned  –  Ethical decisions can be difficult.  First, ask yourself if you always interpret with good ethics.  Some situations are not addressed directly by the Code of Professional Conduct or a Code of Ethics.  How much flexibility do you have to make the message as clear as possible?  Should you just interpret and leave the decision-making to others involved?  What do you do if you are put in a situation where there is no win-win solution?  It is wise to think through many different situations ahead of time so difficult decisions can be made quickly and correctly.  Adjust based upon what you do know.

Adjust and be willing to let a more skilled interpreter do it. – No interpreter wears a big “S” on their chest as does Superman.  There may be times when you are not qualified to interpret in a situation.  Be willing to humbly and gracefully step aside.  Also, there are times when you observe another interpreter who is not doing a good job with communication.  What do you do?  Should you interrupt?  Should you wait until it is your turn?  Should you assist?  These questions need to be thought through before the interpreting situation starts.  All interpreters should understand that the ministry leader, senior interpreter or interpreter leader should have the right to make changes or substitutions at any time.  Some interpreters are qualified in some situations, but unqualified in others.  For example, one time a church interpreter was called upon to interpret a lesson on health by a visiting health professional.  Some interpreters would have felt very awkward interpreting the details about bodily functions and internal medicine.  Handle all situations properly and in a Christian manner.

Be willing to adjust to meet the needs of different interpreting situations.  Be flexible and you will become more effective.

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