Interpreter for the Deaf  What They Do

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dotInterpreting is the process of receiving a message in one language and transmitting an equal meaning into a second language. Interpreters for the deaf help hearing individuals communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing. They provide communication in both English and ASL (American sign language).

The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator -- to bridge the communication gap between two parties.

dotInterpreters are highly skilled professionals. They must be able to listen to another person's words, inflections and intent and -- at the same time --translate them into the visual language of signs. The interpreter must also understand the signs, inflections and intent of the deaf person, and simultaneously speak them in clear, appropriate English.

They must understand the cultures in which they work, and be able to apply that knowledge to promote effective communications.

dot"Interpreting involves competence in at least two languages; an understanding of the dynamics of human interaction in two quite different [methods]; an appreciation of social and cultural differences; the ability to concentrate and maintain one's attention; a good deal of tact, judgment, and stamina; and above all a sense of humor," says interpreter Monique Bozzer.

dotIn sign language interpreting, the mode for each language is different: one is visual (sight), the other audiological (sound).

dotInterpreting is relatively new, having been formally established in 1964. Since then, the profession has developed specific codes of proper behavior, sophisticated evaluation and certification systems, and advanced educational offerings.

dotIt may be necessary to call in a deaf interpreter for a variety of situations.

Some deaf or hard of hearing people who rely on speech or lip-reading may require the services of an interpreter who complements the verbally delivered message with signs.

dotTeam interpreting is required if the assignment is particularly long or technical. Platform interpreting is performed near the speaker on a platform or a stage, and in front of an audience. Such interpreters must use large, clear signs. In contrast, one-on-one interpreting is done face to face with the client.

dotInterpreters work in a variety of settings and situations -- private practice; on staff at an agency, institution or corporation; and in educational settings.

They work in settings as intimate as a private therapy session, or as public as a televised address at a national political convention.

dotInterpreters must possess certain talents. They need to have superior listening skills, clear mouth movement and a good imagination. The best interpreters are excellent mimics, with the ability to communicate effectively in verbal, written and manual communication forms. A shrug of the shoulders or a tilt of an eyebrow might be essential to impart to the client not only the message, but its nuances as well.

dotSign language interpretation also demands fortitude. The energy and concentration necessary to listen to a speaker and provide a simultaneous translation to the client are considerable.

dotThe majority of positions are in medium-to-large cities. The more mobile you are, the more likely you are to find an interpreting job.

Translators who are on salary usually work full time for 40 hours a week. If an interpreter is a freelancer, it can difficult to find a job that provides more than 30 hours a week.

At a Glance

Help hearing individuals communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing

  • You need superior listening and concentration skills
  • Sensitivity and empathy are essential
  • You could work in government, the educational system and in private organizations


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Interpreters and Translators