Thursday, 3 May 2012

How to Work Effectively with an Interpreter

an article I wrote for KSLIA in 2006


How to Work Effectively with an Interpreter

The People with Disabilities ACT 2003 requires that all organizations, service providers, companies or institutions, both private and public adapt the environment to provide reasonable accommodations as well as provide resources (such as interpreters, note takers, assistive devices, etc) so that the establishments and presentations are completely accessible.

Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters Association (KSLIA) in its continuing effort to provide information, support and equal access to the Kenyan Deaf community has listed, circulated a Code of Ethics - standard practices, and a Registry of Interpreters in Kenya in order to assist you in your communication needs. This information should prove helpful to both the hearing and Deaf/Hard of Hearing who may be using an interpreter (s) for the various Interpretation needs.

Because the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community is varied in the methods of communication, a vast majority of Deaf Kenyans uses Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), some use lip reading, or various combinations of communication options. The method of communication has nothing to do with the Deaf person’s intelligence.


The basic purpose of the interpreter is to facilitate understanding in communication between people who are speaking and/or signing different languages.

1. Facilitation = implies that the interpreter may have an active, rather than passive, role to play.
2. Understanding = implies that the goal of the interpreter goes beyond simply repeating words to being reasonably sure that the message was understood.
3. Communication = is important because the interpreter cannot facilitate understanding on all levels but rather must focus on an understanding of what was said.
4. Speaking = Refers to the fact that interpreters deal with spoken language; those who render written messages from one language to another are called translators

In this process communication barriers are bound to affect communication between the parties. Some of these are: -

1.   Linguistic barriers: differences in spoken or signed languages
2.   Conceptual Barriers: some lawyers, doctors, therapists, professionals in varied fields use very complex language which might be understood by someone with an advance education but no by someone with limited formal education.
3.   Cultural barriers: differences in culture that lead to dissimilar expectations of behavior that affect both the meaning of the communication, quality of care, and level of interaction.

To work effectively with Interpreters here are some tips: -

1.   A professional Sign Language interpreter is provided to you to facilitate communication between you and the Deaf person(s). This means the interpreter is not there to answer personal questions, but will interpret everything you say to the Deaf person(s) and everything the Deaf person (s) says to you, the hearing person (s).

2.   Everything that is interpreted is kept strictly confidential by the interpreter and will not be discussed with any unrelated parties. (Exhaustive explanations available in the KSLIA Code of ethics document)

3.   In order to assist the interpreter to do their work with the most efficiency and accuracy, any materials, speeches, lesson plans, textbooks, etc. should be supplied to interpreter prior to the assignment.

4.   Because of the mental and physical demands of Sign language interpreting, the presenter/speaker should be cognizant that the interpreter may need rest periods. For assignments over two hours long, two interpreters (or more depending on nature of situation) will be assigned to team interpret. Each interpreter will still remain present to provide support to the other even when in the “off” position.

5.   While on assignment, interpreters will not participate, make comments, add or edit anything that is being presented by either party. If you wish to have further information about the interpreting process, profession and other related matters, the interpreter may agree to meet/present at convenient time when not on assignment.

6.   Questions about the Kenyan Deaf community are best directed to primarily the Deaf person(s); the professional interpreter may be able to also assist with additional information.

7.   In order to maximize the communication process, the seating arrangement should be such that the Deaf person(s) can see both the instructor/presenter and interpreter in the same sight line. This is generally, but not always, at the front of the room, with the interpreter seated or standing by the instructor/presenter. Other arrangements, such as circle or semicircle may be appropriate in certain group settings. In all situations, the Deaf person(s) should be consulted.

8.   It is important for the benefit of all that one person speak at a time, and that, due to the natural momentary delay in the interpreting process, that a few seconds are given in order for the deaf person to “catch up” and participate in answering, asking questions, etc.

9.   Due to the visual nature of the language, lighting should be sufficient at all times, including partial lighting during video or other visual presentations where the lights are generally completely off.

10. Always speak, ask questions, and maintain eye contact with the Deaf person(s), not the interpreter. Speak at a normal pace. If there is any problem with the speed or in understanding some particular segment or terminology, the interpreter or the Deaf person(s) will let you know.

11. Please do not walk or stand in front of the interpreter and the Deaf client (s). If it is the tendency of the presenter/instructor to move around the room and/or refer to posted/written material, the interpreter may need to be seated or position at a visible place.

This list is not an exhaustive list and is intended to give a guideline and examples of some of the most common situations experienced while in an Interpreting situation. If you have any questions or if we can be of further assistance, please feel free to call us at any time.

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