Sign language interpreting

Last Updated May 16, 2016

Translators and interpreters dealing with languages such as English, French or German enjoy unflagging popularity. Those dealing with exotic languages, e.g. Chinese or Arabic have also an increasingly greater share in the market. What is more, the translation market is now extensive enough to be able to find, though with some difficulties, a translator of the Tamil language. There is, however, a language which in spite of not being so exotic, is often neglected as regards interpreting. This is a language which is not spoken (literally) by anyone.

Sign language interpreters do the same work as those dealing with spoken languages. While it is true that they are hardly ever employed in Poland by translation agencies, their work is by no means different from what other interpreters do, as both groups of interpreters act as intermediaries in interpersonal communication.

Let’s start from the very beginning: who can be a sign language interpreter and what requirements must be met to do this profession? Although this is not necessary, sign language interpreters often come from families or communities where there are deaf people. What is the fundamental requirement here is obviously perfect knowledge of sign language. Getting familiar with it since childhood definitely helps to master it as an adult by attending specific courses offered at some universities or centers providing assistance to the deaf and people with hearing impairment. Once you have completed such a course, you have to take an exam organized by the Polish Association of the Deaf – those who pass this exam become licensed sign language interpreters. It is also possible to become a certified sign language interpreter.

People doing this profession are often employed at the Polish Association for the Deaf, or in institutions which frequently use their services (e.g. television). Some of them work – which is very often the case on the translation market – as freelance interpreters. For a number of them this is an extra job done besides their regular work.

What qualifications should a sign language interpreter have? Besides excellent knowledge of both languages concerned and elementary knowledge of linguistics, psychology and sociology (these areas are extremely important in working with people with different degrees of disability), a sign language interpreter should first and foremost have the right personality traits – be patient, empathetic and trustworthy. What is of great importance in this profession is the right approach to the “customer” and treating them on equal footing with people with no disabilities. What is more, sign language interpreters must have a very good memory and express ideas clearly. They should also have some knowledge of the rights of people with disabilities – interpreters often accompany such people in offices helping them to obtain relevant certificates or disability benefits. We also have to bear in mind that everyday life situations – which are by no means a challenge for those without disabilities – may be very difficult to cope with for the deaf or people with hearing impairment. Interpreters accompanying them should understand their problems and be able to provide them with assistance which sometimes goes beyond interpreting only.

Interpreters enable communication between people. They initiate professional contacts on behalf of another person or act as intermediaries in everyday life situations. It is essential that sign language interpreters not only have the necessary professional qualifications, but are also mentally poised to provide assistance in any circumstances. This profession requires not only extensive knowledge, but also having very specific personality traits, thus definitely not everyone is able to do it.

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