Interview with a sign language interpreter

Sign language is present in different areas of society, both in the public and private sectors. However, its presence is still far from what is desired and puts its recipients, in this case people with hearing impairments, in a situation of inequality. Today we talk to Triana, sign language interpreter (SLI), who talks to us about the reality of interpreting services of this type and the challenges for the future.

-Do you think that, in many cases, sign language interpretation is a step towards equal communication opportunities for people with a hearing impairment?

-Not just in many, but in all. A person with a hearing impairment is always at a disadvantage, as he or she loses a lot of information throughout his or her life. It is through interpretation that these people can have full access and equal opportunities to be informed, to be able to exercise their rights or not and, in short, not to be socially marginalised.

– What are the main difficulties you encounter when providing an interpreting service?

– Depending on the interpreting situation, there may be many examples. Sometimes, the listener to be interpreted does not make it easy for the interpreter to work, either by constantly addressing the interpreter, hindering his or her work, or questioning the interpreter’s truthfulness. I have experienced some very unpleasant cases in my profession, caused by a lack of knowledge of the person I am working with. For example, and for the sake of information, never say to an SLI “don’t interpret this for them”, as our job is precisely to provide the hearing-impaired person with all the information they cannot access on their own.

It is also common that for the interpretation of acts, the SLI is not informed beforehand about the subject to be dealt with, leaving the professional in a situation of uncertainty, therefore facing a live person with no prior preparation, which makes the work very difficult.

When it comes to positioning ourselves, we also tend to have problems, as the language we interpret into is viso-gestural, and we therefore need to be in a place with good visibility to get the message across and for it to be received, as well as having a good sound system to be able to pick it up before interpreting it.

-What is the role of the location of the interpreter and receivers and what is most important?

-When two hearing people communicate, all they need is proximity to hear each other and a noise-free environment. When this is the case with a deaf person, they need to have a “noise-free” field of vision. This means good lighting and no obstructions to the ILS. In particular, in the case of interpreting, the SLI also needs to hear clearly the message to be delivered, otherwise no interpretation is possible.

-Apart from knowledge of the language, what skills do you think are essential to be a good sign language interpreter?

-A good general knowledge makes the job much easier, not to say that I consider it essential. There can be all kinds of situations to interpret, and we ILS are not experts in everything. However, having knowledge of what we are working on helps to make the message more intelligible and, in the event of not having heard something correctly, logic will always come into play if we know what the issue is about. In a way, a practising LSI is lucky to be able to expand his knowledge easily, because wherever he interprets, he always learns.

-In the case of Spanish, what are the distinguishing features of sign language interpreting? Are there many differences with other languages, or are the patterns the same?

-Spanish, like other sign languages, is characterised by the culture and idiosyncrasy of those who use it. As in the case of oral languages, they are defined by the way they are used, and some signs fall into disuse and neologisms emerge. However, it is true that they have a similarity between them: the grammatical structure. While the Spanish oral language uses the order Subject-verb-object (yo bebo agua), in sign language the order would be as follows: Subject-object-verb (yo agua beber). And always using verbs in the infinitive, because to conjugate, other signs are used before the verb, e.g., “yo comí” – “yo pasado comer”.

-Do you think the need for this kind of interpretation is sufficiently considered?

-Not at all. People with a hearing impairment are constantly marginalised in terms of information. Whether on tv, at rallies, town halls, courts, work meetings, school meetings… In other words, in any communication situation. To solve this problem, the government and local councils should promote the role of the ILS, not only for political rallies, but also so that people with hearing impairments can have this service available in bureaucratic acts, in education, on tv, etc. Currently, LSI in education work half of the teaching hours with hearing impaired students, which puts them at a serious disadvantage compared to their hearing colleagues, who have access to full classes.