Saturday, 12 October 2013

interpreter’s performance in live television interpreting: quality, visibility and exposure

interpreter’s performance in live television interpreting:
quality, visibility and exposure

Live television interpreting has increased in recent years and is commonly seen as one of the most difficult and stressing forms of interpreting. However, both the actual difficulty and stress involved highly depend on the physical and technical conditions the interpreter has to face in every particular situation. The main goal of the article is to examine the salient variables: visibility and exposure since they will determine the quality standards achievable in each particular case, and the quality of the interpreter’s performance and awareness of all actors involved in the process shall be raised with regard to their relevance.

Looking back in history we trace the origins of television interpreting to the early 1990s. Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation KBC was the first to have sign language interpreters for various programs including – Joy Bringers, Parliamentary Live Broadcasts, Kiswahili Kitukuzwe and other UNDP sponsored talk shows such as Agenda Kenya which have been shown on various networks. KTN at this time brought the program News in Sign Language which had a news wrap up and a segment on learning sign language. All these initiatives were earlier preparations for things to come.

Two decades later a lot has changed, Kenyan Sign Language has been entrenched in the Constitution of Kenya, many Deaf Kenyans through social media and travels are in contact with each other and with other Deaf citizens across the globe. Earlier attempts by the Persons With Disabilities Act 2003/5 never gave solution to the issues of inclusion and integration. This Act is currently being amended and will soon be tabled in parliament for a clearer more decisive actionable items. With these changes a few things remain unchanged and we will visit those late in this article. The push for access to news and information within the Deaf community in Kenya has over the years taken various forms and shapes.

KBC the national broadcaster has been largely looked at as the pioneer to language access for the marginalized and the unreached populations. The vernacular stations or services have been loved and associated with it. Sign language has been a frontier KBC has not shied away from. It has continually brought the language to Kenyans albeit the slow and uncoordinated effort to reach the Deaf in Kenya. With these developments several precedence have been made by the newscasters without consultations with the Deaf communities. The caption or small box is one such issue, the second being the in-coordinate recruitment of interpreters and lack of involvement of key sign language users or professionals.

In February 2013 all media stations in Kenya come together, to for the first time bring all presidential aspirants on one platform and engage them in a dialogue. Prior to this event, the Kenya National Association of the Deaf – KNAD wrote several letters to the Ministry of Information, the media houses and to the Media Council urging them to consider honoring the provisions the Constitution of Kenya, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2003/5 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Kenya ratified in 2005. The Ministry of Information's permanent secretary then Dr. Bitange Ndemo agreed to meet with the Deaf leaders from KNAD, though these meetings yielded very little since the media house owners didn't have a legal framework to force them into a binding agreement to offer accessibility to the Deaf either by interpreters or captioning. This lead the Deaf community holding a protest march early February 2013 just before the Presidential Debate. This protest marched to three main buildings – the Ministry of Information, KTN and the Nation Media offices. Prior to this the Nation Media Group were taken to court by CRADLE challenging their refusal to make their programs accessible to persons who are Deaf. The Nation Media Group has since appealed the decision – it is still pending in court. It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.

As we talk about the behind the scenes of what has been happening in the last couple of months. We have had a rise and rise of demand for television stations to appeal to audiences. The programming has seen several changes and additions. Since I am no media analyst I will stick to my area of expertise and talk about the sign language on television. Firstly, we look at KBC and the parliamentary interpretations service. When it began it had one 'Interpreter' signing for a whole day – Wednesday thru Friday. The 'interpreter' then didn't think about his service, quality or other customer service. The 'interpreter' due to exhaustion would end up in a incoherent spur of gestures, unclear signs and even often into explanations of what was going on rather than interpreting.

KNAD collected comments, recommendations and suggestions from the Deaf community in Kenya. They then wrote letters of complaints to KBC, Parliament and Ministry of Information. What followed was a series of meetings that lead to having at least three or four interpreters working with clear terms of reference and accountability. The situation there has been somewhat better – not perfect but the engagement has been fruitful – many Deaf Kenyans are able to enjoy access to parliamentary debates. The not so perfect issues with KBC has been the question the principle on which KBC believes that parliamentary proceedings are important to be interpreted while other news items do not deserve the same service – KNAD has been in discussions with KBC over this and maybe now that KTN began news interpretation it might be the next in line.

UNDP's Agenda Kenya has had a share of criticism on its use of interpreters. Their main issues have been use of interpreters who do not know, do not care to learn the sign language and the ability to use it in various settings/fields. The issues here were mainly clarity and ethical consideration on issues of dress, language and level of discourse. When approached, they quickly rectified the situation by calling on the Deaf to verify and help the interpreter become more clearer and able to deliver interpretation that was of professional standard. 

It would be disastrous not to mention the issues surrounding the presidential debate interpretation. Just after the protest by the Deaf on Nairobi streets (See more here) the Deaf and Interpreters who participated learnt that there was a group of interpreters who had privately negotiated to interpret the debate with the media houses, using personal contacts they had secured the deal while not involving the prime clients to be served the Deaf. However the debate went on, the media houses never settled the issue not remunerated the interpreters that replaced their counterparts. The Standard Media Group was the custodian of the FORD Foundation fund for the presidential debate. They gave several promises to KNAD and the interpreters up to date there has not been a conclusion to the matter.

My two cents to KTN and Standard Media Group
First and foremost the initiative is commendable, it is a second time KTN has initiated an inclusive approach to its news programming. Signed News in the 1990s was a breath of fresh air for the Deaf community, in those days they had to wait for parliamentary debates and Joy Bringers on KBC to enjoy news in native Kenyan Sign Language. The past week has been a welcome relief, with news in Kenyan Sign Language at prime time; however there has been several issues come up over the week. According to both researchers and interpreters, interpreting for live TV broadcasts is almost unanimously regarded as more stressful than other forms of interpreting (Strolz 1997; Kurz 2002), the main reason being that interpreting for a mass audience entails a much bigger exposure in case of failure than the one felt in conventional conference settings.

This article will mention the issues and offer some steps to get us to the full accessibility cliché.

  1. Now to the issue of KTN initiative, first the inner politics is that the interpreters stole the idea from some Deaf young people who wanted to approach the media houses including KTN. This is an ethical issue, it reflects on the conduct of the individual and taints the interpreters in and within the Deaf community. Interpreters are neutral non biase professional who serve as facilitators of communication between the hearing (speaking) and the Deaf. Interpreters do not work for, on behalf of the Deaf community, they work along side, with the Deaf – not helping or speaking for but as professionals. Be that as it may, the initiative is a bold step towards accessibility.
  2. Selection and use of interpreters – it is a myth that there are few interpreters, qualified and ready to work on television. (here is a list of 100) There are interpreters all over Kenya, however they were trained, qualified – the key is to use the Deaf Kenyans themselves to validate, clarify and know who is best suited to interpret on television. There exists standards and criteria to select and eliminate those who can and can not offer the best services. The basic criteria would be judging individuals against Code of Ethics – this would eliminate at least half, then professional experience like number of hours worked under similar experiences, borrowing from other interpreters of Spanish or French and use those standards in the absence of signed language standards. (read how to work with interpreters)
  3. The small box has reduced considerably in one week it has moved from a 6X6 to a mere 2X3 inches. If yu were to sit and look at that small box for an hour, your eyes will pain and you will be having a pounding headache. It is not standard to have the box that small – the argument as it has been over time even during the presidential debate was all for aesthetic reasons – too crowded, distraction or unclean just the graphics and producers not understanding the nature and characteristics of signed languages and the usage.
  4. Continuation from the point above Signed Languages have a visual nature, it is often misunderstood that the Deaf are fully satisfied by seeing the hands only. The following are some features that make sign language different from the other languages.
  • Facial Expression – frowns, lifted eye brows, puffed cheeks or slight grin or smile among other facial expressions are part of signed languages. They complete the sentences or add meaning to expressions. With a squeezed image on a caption or box all these attributes are lost. In turn you have a block of a human figure moving their hands yet their face is dark or hidden with lots and lots of meaningful expressions that the viewer is denied.
  • Placement – the upper torso of the human form is the story board of any sign language user. It is the area where people, events and things are placed for sequence and easy locating or moving as the story unfolds. With a squeezed signing area it is difficult to place items of news in a logical and sequential order.
  • Shoulder shifts – these are movements to differentiate speakers especially when you have multiple individuals talking or debating. Again with a squeezed screen space it is impossible to enjoy the flexibility and dynamism that signed languages have to offer.
  • Movement – similar to placement, this feature of signed languages enable the users of signed languages the opportunity to showcase a story line and progression in a space that enable clarity.
  • Handforms and Shapes – the foundation of all signed languages is the existence of forms and shapes these carry meaning much like the words that we speak. Proper lighting and color blend of background, clothes of the interpreters enable the viewers users of signed languages see the words and enjoy the news interpreted.

  1. Worldwide there have been researches done to ascertain the interpreter burn out rates. These studies have shown that it is good to have interpreter change over after a 20 minute duration. This change over gives the interpreters. The human brain loses concentration after 15-20 minutes, this is true with interpreters too. The interpretation process takes a lot in the mind and body of an interpreter as they process, take in and give information relayed to them in a second or third language. These breaks allow the interpreter to give their best, allowing them to give a better more accurate, culturally and linguistically correct interpretation of the information they are receiving. Interpreters worldwide work in pairs and as teams this is for the issues above and for health purposes.
  2. Quality control and assurance is a vital component. Most of the issues that come up about interpreters are issues of quality that could be addressed by training and capacity building. When a mechanism exists that offers checks and balances it develops the interpreter and increases their accuracy in service provision. A feedback platform would capture the same, but more importantly a way to deal with the feedback so that it is meaningful and beneficial first to the concerned interpreters and then to the Deaf community via a selected representation that has clear scope and engagement.
  3. Continuous growth and development of interpreters. If any professional stops learning, they stop growing and they die professionally. Seek to engage institutions that would build interpreters comprehension of English, Kiswahili and their working language Kenyan Sign Language.
  4. For greater integration and inclusion, a program by the Deaf for the Deaf would be a natural development as a follow up to the interpreted newscasts. This will empower the Deaf community especially young children learning sign language and also change the perception of the general public who view the Deaf as objects of initiatives rather than fellow human beings with gifts, skills and talents that can be shared.
Deaf consumers of interpreting services have become more informed and are demanding higher quality interpreting services that meet their individual needs. In considering the need for a new job profile, “media translators/interpreters”, Kurz (1990: 173) suggests, following Laine (1985: 212), that “the media require a new breed of interpreter: a hybrid – someone who is a successful translator, interpreter, and editor, all in one” and this profile should include “flexibility, speed, a wide general knowledge and a complete lack of fear or embarrassment”.

Word to my Fellow Interpreters on Television Interpreting
There are constant references to the problems faced by TV interpreters, regardless of the label employed by the scholar in question (problems,challenges, working conditions, drawbacks), and this generates a lengthy list of elements that should be taken into consideration by prospective interpreters before embarking themselves upon such a venture; to the point that, according to Mack (2001: 130), the job of TV interpreters is “extremely risky and stressful”. Firstly, those aspects where the interpreter may find at least some (even if slight) room to manoeuvre, that is, where different degrees of response will be seen depending on the interpreter’s ability to cope with such conditions. This still makes it possible to find professionals that are (again even if slightly) more suitable for the job.

Amongst these requirements we may find: maximum coordination when voicing or matching speech with culturally relevant and linguistically accurate signs; matching signing skills to those of TV professionals; meeting high expectations on the part of the viewers, who see interpretation as part of the product they are watching; having to cope with typical TV time management, since things happen at a very high speed; additional stress if failure, due to media exposure; interpreting late at night or on short notice, therefore, not having time to prepare the assignments; having to deal with a large number of topics, a variety of formats and structures, numerous participants and various viewpoints; not having time to get used to a particular accent or speaking style; having to meet different and high expectations from both the participants, the audience and the employers. The more reason to choose your assignments carefully and be ready to be criticized harshly at that.

óscar Jiménez Serrano Backstage conditions and interpreter’s performance ...University of Granada, Spain

AIIC (Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conferénce) (2004) “Media interpreting – A different sort of world”, Technical and Health Committee <>.

Amato A. (2002) “Interpreting legal discourse on TV: Clinton’s deposition with the Grand Jury”, in G. Garzone / P. Mead / M. Viezzi (eds) Perspectives on Interpreting, Bologna, CLUEB, 268-290.

Dal Fovo E. (2011) “Simultaneous interpretation on television – Coping with coherence. A corpus-based study on topical coherence in simultaneous interpretation on television: the question/answer group”. Second International Conference on Interpreting Quality, Almuñécar, Granada (Spain), March 24-26 2011, <>.

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