Sign Language interpreters

Growing recognition of Deaf people’s needs has led to a rapid increase in the demand for skilled and registered qualified Sign Language interpreters. The presence of an interpreter can make all the difference to proper access to services like legal representation, medical care and further and higher education. In addition an interpreter can assist communication between Deaf and hearing colleagues in the workplace. They also increase access to mainstream theatre, conferences and the news on television.

It’s important for people working as interpreters to be well-trained, qualified and registered, with a high level of skill in British Sign Language and a good understanding of the code of ethics which goes with acting as a conduit for the communication of others. At present the demand for their services outstrips the number of registered qualified interpreters and other communication support workers but with increasing number of hearing people keen to learn BSL this situation may improve in the future.

Signature and SASLI hold the register of qualified or trainee interpreters in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. When engaging an interpreter, it is important to check that they are registered qualified, as many people are working without the appropriate registration.

Additionally there are growing numbers of Deaf relay interpreters; a trained Deaf person relays information from a signed source to others who require additional communication support, for example partially sighted Deaf people.

Working with Sign Language interpreters

If you are communicating through a sign language interpreter there are some simple things you can do to make the conversation as natural as possible.

  • Speak as naturally and as normally as you can and remember that, for the moment, the interpreter is acting as the Deaf person’s voice

  • Sitting next to the interpreter and opposite the Deaf person is the most effective way to talk

  • It also helps to make sure you aren’t sitting with your back to a bright or busy background because that makes it harder for the Deaf person to see the signing clearly

  • Speak at your normal pace

  • Interpreters are experts at listening and signing at the same time. In the very unlikely chance that you do go too fast, or they don’t understand something, they will stop you and ask you to repeat

  • Often an interpreter won’t start signing what you are saying until you are well into your sentence because sign language has a different grammar to English and they need the gist of what you are saying before they can start

  • You should look at the Deaf person while you’re talking, because it’s them you are having the conversation with. It may feel strange at first, because they will be looking at the interpreter to see what you are saying. They will look at you when they are signing what it is that they want to say