Communicating Through an Interpreter
Communicating with a Deaf person through the services of an interpreter is not an everyday occurrence for most people. Professional sign language interpreters are equipped with techniques to make the experience of working with interpreters a seamless and effective process. Using interpreters allows information to be communicated without errors or misunderstandings. Most people begin to feel comfortable communicating through an interpreter after only a few minutes. Learning how to make effective use of interpreting services is quite simple.
It is important to note that interpreters do not participate when they are working. Their role is to facilitate communication between the Deaf person and the person who does not know sign language. Direct your comments to the Deaf person and not the interpreter. Engaging the interpreter in conversation hampers the flow of communication and can cause confusion. Questions or comments may be discussed with the interpreter before or after the appointment or during breaks.
In directing comments or questions to the Deaf person be sure to avoid referring to him/her in the third person. For instance, there is no need to say “please ask him/her if they have had a chance to review the material I sent him/her.” Instead, ask the question directly: “have you had a chance to review the material I sent you?” Similarly, when the Deaf person is signing, although you will hear the voice of the interpreter, all of the comments and questions are coming directly from the Deaf person.
Occasionally, the interpreter may interrupt the speaker or signer to ask for clarification. If this happens, try to repeat or rephrase what you have said.
When speaking to a Deaf person, remember to look at him/her rather than at the interpreter. The Deaf person’s eye gaze may be on the interpreter because they are watching the interpreter in order to understand what you are saying. However, the Deaf person will also look at you to gauge mood, tone, etc. from facial expression and body language.
Remember interpreters are facilitating communication between two distinct languages and cultures. This process involves listening to the speaker, understanding the message, interpreting its meaning and then finally, reproducing that message in another language. Therefore, you should be aware that interpreters follow between 5-20 seconds behind the speaker.
If you are at all concerned about working with an interpreter, try to meet with the interpreter 5-10 minutes before the appointment to ask questions or seek clarification about the process.