Role of the Interpreter

Considerations when working with sign language interpreters:

  • Interpreters remain neutral at all times. Interpreters cannot offer advice or personal opinions. All information that is interpreted is kept strictly confidential by the interpreter.
  • Speak at a natural pace and directly to the Deaf person(s). Use first person with the Deaf person(s) such as “you”, “we”, etc. It is not necessary to say “tell him” or “tell her”.
  • Allow the interpreter to sit/stand beside the speaker. The Deaf person needs to see both the speaker and the interpreter. The Deaf person will be able to advise of the seating or standing arrangement that works best for him or her.
  • Most often the interpreter will work simultaneously (the interpreter listens to spoken English or watches ASL and produces an interpretation as the person speaks or signs). In these situations the interpreter requires time to process the information (known as “lag time”) before the interpretation begins. When the English or ASL stops, the interpreter will need a few seconds to complete the interpretation.
  • In some situations the interpreter may determine that consecutive interpreting is more appropriate to produce the equivalent message in the target language (the interpreter begins the interpretation only after the person has stopped speaking or signing). When consecutive interpreting is used, the interpreter will need extra time to complete the interpretation.
  • Where possible any background information or preparation materials should be given to the interpreter prior to the assignment (past meeting minutes, agenda, powerpoint presentation, key points of the speech, etc.). Interpreters will greatly benefit by reviewing the materials and having an opportunity to ask questions for clarification before the assignment begins.
  • The interpreter is bound by a code of ethics which states that everything heard or signed must be interpreted. Please do not say “Do not interpret this…” to the interpreter as they will not be able to follow the instruction. Any private conversations should be held outside the room. Also, if inappropriate language is used the interpreter will continue to sign/voice the message into the target language.
  • Interpreters can only interpret one message at a time. It is best to ensure that only one person speaks/signs at a time and not talk/sign over each other.
  • If a difficult or sensitive subject is being discussed please avoid saying “I wonder how the interpreter will sign that” as this draws undue attention to the interpreter and makes it difficult for the interpreter to perform their job efficiently.
  • If there are any questions or concerns about the interpreter’s role or the best way to facilitate communication, etc feel free to ask the interpreter, remembering to ask them at a time when they are not actually interpreting.