How to Ensure Accurate Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation
Sign Language Interpretation is a much harder job than it might seem. Since interpreters have to convert what one party is saying in real-time and convey their message to the other party without disrupting the flow of conversation, they need to have an ample vocabulary in more than one language as well as a keen mind to recall words quickly. An interpreter gains these skills through years of experience and practice in the field.
Perhaps the most demanding of interpretation jobs is that of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. The act of recalling and signing words takes an extraordinarily heavy toll on the mind of the interpreter, which is why interpreters often take breaks between interpretation sessions. Otherwise, the quality of interpretation that they offer falls drastically.
If you require an interpreter for signing ASL to Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH) or mute people, don’t be surprised by the need for breaks or even the need to hire multiple interpreters to switch off during a longer session. Here, we’ve compiled a list of tips for you to ensure you have an accurate sign language interpretation session with an ASL interpreter every time.
Hire Interpreters from a Reputable Service
The first and most obvious step to take to ensure accuracy in an ASL interpretation is to hire proven interpreters from a reputable service. Before hiring any translation or interpretation agency, look at the reviews online left by previous clients. Additionally, look at their website to gauge their professionalism and priorities. A reputable service will employ an expansive team to cover various languages and industries. This allows them to offer their services to a host of different clients to the highest standard of accuracy.
Prepare for the Session Beforehand
If you need an on-site interpreter, let your choice of interpretation agency know in advance when you will need their services. Additionally, let them know what location and application you will need the interpreter for, as this allows them to select the best interpreter and make the relevant preparations before the appointed date.
Also, be sure to talk to the interpreter beforehand to let them know what to expect on the day of the assignment. If you’re going to make a speech or give a presentation, share a copy of your draft with your interpreter. This will allow them to prepare a more impactful interpretation.
Ensure Disturbance-free Environments and Stable Internet Connections
If you’re using video remote interpretation (VRI) services, make sure you’re in a quiet environment that is free from background noises. Excessive commotion in the background will hinder your interpretation session and will lead to miscommunication.
Also, be sure that you have a stable internet connection prior to calling the remote interpreter. Broadband connections are more reliable than mobile 4G or 5G. If you have the option, choose broadband to ensure a smooth and productive interpretation session.
Hire More Than One Interpreter for Long, Continuous Sessions
As we’ve mentioned, sign language interpretation is extremely taxing—both mentally and physically—for the interpreter. If you want a smooth and accurate interpretation session, keep it short or plan on taking substantial breaks in between.
On the other hand, if you know that the session is going to be lengthy, consider hiring more than one interpreter. Typically, two ASL interpreters would be enough for most meetings. The interpreters take turns of about 15 to 20 minutes, switching off between interpreting and breaks. With two competent and trained interpreters, you can have a long and uninterrupted conversation. You wouldn’t even notice them switching their roles mid-conversation.
We recommend that you hire at least two interpreters if you know that the session is going to last more than one hour.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Certified Interpreters
When working in specialized fields, such as healthcare or law, hiring a certified interpreter with subject matter knowledge is key. These individuals undergo years of experience and training in their respective fields in order to get their certifications. The additional years of training impart them with the knowledge of technical terms and industry-related procedures, uniquely qualifying them to interpret within these industries effectively.
If you believe you would benefit from an industry-certified interpreter, do not hesitate to ask for one (or two) from your interpretation agency.
Allow the Interpreter Time to Convey Your Message
When using an ASL interpreter, talk at your normal pace. However, if the interpreter asks you to slow down or speed up, listen to them and try not to feel irritated. Interpretation is a difficult job, and it takes time to convey your message to the other party in an effective way.
If you hire one interpreter for longer sessions, you will feel their productivity going down with time. This is when you should let them take a break, ensuring the accuracy of their interpretation.
Maintain Eye Contact With the DHH Person
When you are conversing with a deaf or hard of hearing person, it is extremely important to maintain eye contact with them throughout the conversation. This seems unnatural, even rude, to hearing people, but is actually a part of basic etiquette for the DHH community. If you don’t look at them when you talk to them, they wouldn’t know who you are talking to, as they cannot hear your words.
You might be tempted to turn to your interpreter to listen when they are conveying the DHH person’s message. However, try not to do this. Look at the DHH person instead, letting them know that you are still engaged in the conversation with them.
Don’t Talk Over Each Other
Cutting in, or talking over someone is sometimes acceptable when we are in a casual setting with friends. The same act can quickly become rude (and, in the case of an interpretation, detrimental) in a more formal environment. Doing this in an ASL interpretation session, in particular, is a cardinal sin if you want to get your message across because unlike audible speech, we can only see one instance of signing at a time.
In other words, Deaf or Hard of Hearing people can only understand the interpreter, and the interpreter can only sign one person’s dialogue at a time. When you cut in and interrupt someone’s speech, you are infringing on their right to know what is being said in the room they are in.