It’s time we give sign language interpreters a break and give them the recognition and appreciation that they deserve.
Many people don’t realise that simultaneous interpreting (and by the way, that applies to oral language interpretation too), requires a high-level of focus, listening and concentration.
And most of us don’t see that.
So it’s no wonder that they can get physically, mentally and even emotionally fatigued too, yet that is rarely talked about and appreciated enough.
So let’s give them credit for what they do and appreciate it, and I’d like to start by sharing my thoughts below.
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Announcer: This is The Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people and from your host, Ahmed Khalifa.
Ahmed: I want to talk about the fact that we don’t give sign language interpreters enough credit, enough appreciation, for what they do. We need to give them a break.
We need to help them.
We need to appreciate them more and thank them for what they do because it’s so hard.
It’s such hard work to not only get to where they are, to get to the stage of interpreting professionally, but also doing the actual job itself where every second there is such high level of focus and concentration and interpretation and it’s so hard, so let’s give them credit for what they do.
I’ve talked about it in a number of time on concentration fatigue where deaf people can get exhausted because of the high level of concentration that is required if you want to pick up what the other person is saying vocally.
And that is something that I get every single day, because you focus so hard, you’re trying to absorb all information and you’re trying to really understand very hard what are they saying. I’ve talked about it in more detail, I’ve written a blog about it.
And it’s an important topic, because it’s not something that you can see. People think that doesn’t exist and it’s not really a medical diagnosis, as far as I am aware.
People don’t really take it seriously, but it does exist and people do suffer from it.
Getting ‘Interpreter Fatigue’
And I think another thing that we need to talk about for sign language interpreters there is an expression, a terminology, a glossary called interpreter fatigue, and this is so similar to concentration fatigue, but obviously for interpreter.
Because if you think about it the whole aspect of simultaneously interpreting a language into another language is very very hard work.
And by the way, I’m not just talking about sign language interpreter, even those who are professional interpreter in other languages, they also have to work very very hard to do what they do.
So if you imagine when you see on TV or on magazine pictures or whatever, you see a meeting in the UN, in the United Nations and generally you see dozens, hundreds of people from different countries all around the world and the main language tend to be English most of the time. But of course not every is fluent in that language.
So you do see in the background lots booths, lots of people inside with their headphones on, microphone and they’re the ones interpreting from English to whatever language they are professionally assigned for and that’s their job and it’s a very hard job as well.
It’s similar to sign language interpreter as well, not the same, but it’s the same thing where simultaneously interpreting requires so much brain power, you would would not believe.
Because for every single second of their job they actively listen and at a high level of listen as well, really focusing so hard to listen to what they are saying and almost immediately interpret that.
That is mentally exhausting, physically exhausting and even at time emotionally exhausting, depending on the topic as well.
And that’s something that I see a lot when I see interpreters signing at events, I admire what they do because they work very very hard.
Why you see more one interpreters at events?
First of all, all the studying to get the qualification to get to where they are and then stay on top of that as well, that requires a lot of effort. But, if you haven’t seen sign language interpreters at an event before, more often than not you will see two or more per event.
You don’t always just see just one at an event and sometimes because of budget or whatever it is, you tend to see one and that is really really hard for me to imagine because, the reason you have two or more.
Because then they can switch and take a break from each other, you know, they can help each other out for 10 minutes or whatever, one person does it and they switch to another, so that each can get a break mentally, and physically as well.
So if you can imagine one person doing that for continuously, I can’t even imagine how hard that must be if it’s just one person and maybe at an event like a conference and they have to interpret the whole thing that’s just so hard work.
Maybe it’s a bit different you are, for example, interpreting for a family to a doctor, it’s a different kind of challenge, because you do get emotionally charged and invested because it’s a very hard topic sometimes to talk about, it’s a different kind of challenge.
But if you think about it, if one person is interpreting for family and a doctor they maybe, only maybe it’s a bit easier because it’s doesn’t require hours and hours of interpretation at times.
The emotional difficulty that comes with interpreting
But that aside, it doesn’t really matter, it’s all about the job that they do is really really hard and just like I said, I talked about in a medical background or a business or in anything else, because it’s one thing to be interpreting and excelling at that job, but it’s another if they specialise in a specific topic.
So for example if that person is specifically focused on the medical industry and focusing for interpreting in that are, that is a whole different kind of challenge.
Because not only do you have to be very good at being able to express the diagnosis very well to the doctor and return that information to the patient, you have to be kind of, almost emotionally invested in it.
Because you want to be able to express the feeling of the patient, you want to be able to understand how to talk about the medical situations and something along that lin.
And it’s very very hard and on top of that they might even be really hard topics to talk about. If you think about for a situation where doctors and patients are having chats and it might turn into bad news, then an interpreter would have to deliver that and the way you do it, is hard as well.
I can’t really work out how they do it, because, here’s the thing, people always forget about, doctors and nurses are trained to deliver bad news to patients, but interpreters are not.
And that is why sometimes you do hear in a background, you don’t always see it in the news, but you do hear interpreters getting depressed or mentally challenged and really emotionally exhausted, because they have to deliver the news again and again and again.
And they’re not always necessarily trained for that and they might not even be prepared for that, they might just arrive and hear the news and they’re surprised themselves.
It’s hard to deliver this news to the patient, so if you imagine that, no wonder I hear stories about mental health issues for interpreters in various environments.
But in this case if I talk about the medical area, of course it’s tough for them, of course it’s really emotionally hard for them to deal with when you are connected with the patient, maybe build a relationship with them and you deliver the news to them, of course it’s hard.
So we have to appreciate that level of, that’s not just a professional job, that’s something that they’re doing for a personal person’s life, where this is they’re whole life they have to live with, this is not a professional business environment, where they have to maybe interpret a document and pass it on to another person.
That’s kind of different when they’re talking about someones health, someones life, that’s hard.
How we can make their jobs easier?
And even though I don’t depend on sign language interpreters well, at this time anyway I don’t need them, but I sometimes use them to pick up a few words here and there, who knows what might happen in the future.
I still want to appreciate what they do, because I’m in the phase of learning sign language and it requires a long of time and investment and resources and energy to be able to do it from zero to being a professional.
And I have a lot of admiration for that and again, anyone who is interpreting another language, it’s very admirable that they do that as a job and you can’t really criticise them for doing that because it’s really really hard.
So, I appreciate that, I want people to know that this is a tough job, we should appreciate them, we should thank them, we should really really thank them for what they do.
Because they are making a huge difference in whatever environment they’re in, whatever industry you’re in, whatever event that they happen to interpret or situation, they’re making a big difference.
So I also want to share that information to anyone who’s thinking about hiring sign language interpreters, or they’re doing it already for an event, for anything like that.
The thing you want to think about, just to make their job easier, and at the end of the day, if their job is easier and it’s helping them, then they’ll be able to deliver the service at a better quality for you.
So everybody wins, if you can help them as well.
1. Meet up with them ahead of time
If possible, ideally you want to meet them ahead of time, before that particular even is happening, get to know them, understand how they work, understand what do they need on that day, organise a schedule to help them to work out when they need to take breaks.
Because even if it’s either one or two or more interpreters, they still need breaks, just like anyone, we all need breaks.
So, work with them, meet with them ahead of time and help each other out. It’s easily done by just doing that before the actual event start.
2. Provide documents, resources & info to help them
If you have any document, resources, information that you can provide for them, like website or brochures or anything that contains information about the topic of your industry, your event, if you have them give them that information as well.
That will help them to get them up to speed about what kind of languages they should use and how to interpret certain words and maybe jargon in the industry that they have to think about and be aware of as well. Again, that just makes them mentally ready to interpret for you.
So if you have any resources at all give them as much as you can and they will be able to use that way ahead of time and they’ll be able to be better prepared when they arrive at your event.
3. Agree on break allocations
Just like when you have attendees at your conference, for example and they’re are breaks regularly, same thing with interpreters, allocate them breaks, give them breaks and yes, I would recommend to have two or more, minimum two, I think most agencies will say you need two or more.
Even if you have two or more and they give each other breaks, they still need complete separate breaks from the event from the speaker talking. Just like you do for your own attendees as well.
So be aware of that, allocate breaks and talk to them about when they can do that, when is the best time for them to do that, when do they need it, all of these things.
So, that’s why again you should talk to them ahead of time to better prepare your event.
4. Be aware when interprets switches on-stage
If you think about it, when you have obviously, two or more interpreters, then they’ll be switching, be aware when that happens.
Because let’s just say you are switching from one speaker to another and in that moment the interpreters are switching, then you need to be aware of that because someone might start speaking before the interpreter is ready to be on stage and start the interpretation.
So be aware when that change happens, because you don’t want them to catch up really really quickly, again, requires a lot of energy and resources so just be aware when the changes are happening, sometimes just a few second to get them ready again. Sometimes a bit longer, but again, be aware of that.
5. Notify speakers about their talking speed
Another thing to be aware of is the speed and pace of when a person is speaking on stage or any other situation and of course if you speak very very fast then the interpreter will be working overtime to catch up with them.
And again, it’s not good for anyone, is it? If you speak too fast for anyone, you speak to fast for the audience, no body wins, it’s just really really hard to catch up.
So, it might be worth just notifying the speaker that there are sign language interpreters and they are there to help them, as well as you and to help everyone and the audience who requires them, the people who require the interpreters, it will help them as well.
So make sure you notify the speaker that this is happening and you don’t want to go too fast or don’t want to just go at a pace where there are no full stop at all. Just take it easy, take it easy, is what I’m saying.
But also be aware of that situation as well.
So if we round it up, basically, I just want to say, first of all, thank you to all interpreters out there, even though I don’t really need it right now, and I don’t depend on it 100% like other people.
First of all, I needed to learn sign language, but also I massively appreciate what you do and the effort that you put in as well. And it’s just admirable, really its admirable so, let’s give them break, let’s appreciate what they do, let’s also remember to thank them for what they do.
It’s still a hard job at the end of the day. And hopefully everyone will be happy with that, because like I said, if the interpreters are happy, then your audience are happy and then whoever you’re speaking with, if you need it, is happy. Everyone wins in that circle.
So, I hope that makes sense. Let me know what you think, just leave a comment below.
If you’re an interpreter, do you agree with what I’m saying and if you shared more stories, I’d love to hear that as well, but let me know what you think.
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In the mean time I hope to speak to you again soon.
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