What Makes a Good Church Interpreter?

Naturally, the first priority is that deaf people understand what is being said by the hearing speaker or person. If they do not understand, then the message has not been interpreted. Someone must help the two worlds meet. The hearing and deaf world cannot understand each other without an interpreter. Here are 20 helpful guidelines for a good interpreter:

  1. Interpret to the level of communication of the people so that all can understand. Remember, deaf people are individuals. Each one has a different language ability, educational level, personality and background. A good interpreter will do all he/she can to convey the spoken message to the deaf.
  2. Be loyal to the speaker, conveying the intent, ideas, mood, and spirit of the speaker.
  3. Sign clearly and simply. Use signs and gestures that give the true meaning the thoughts expressed.
  4. Spell as little as possible. Use another word that can be easily signed and not lose its meaning.
  5. Sign complete thoughts from beginning to end. In writing, a sentence needs to be complete but in Sign language the thought needs to be finished. What is he saying? Why?
  6. You need to have knowledge of the Bible to be a good interpreter for a preacher. If you do not understand what “Grace” means, then how can you sign it or explain it?
  7. It is best for adults to interpret Bible messages. Teenagers usually do not have the experience, wisdom or knowledge to interpret for deaf adults.
  8. A new interpreter needs to go ahead and try. Do not wait until you are an expert or you will never sign. The best way to learn is to “do it.” Some effort is better than no effort at all.
  9. There should be a definite difference in interpreting preaching, music and announcements. Music should flow gracefully but announcements are not to be graceful or exciting. They are boring for the hearing. They can also be boring for deaf. Interpreting messages should involve the mood, emotion, and intent of the speaker. This should be seen on your face and in your signs.
  10. A good interpreter becomes a “non” person. Deaf should not see the interpreter but the speaker. Example: The speaker says, “When I was a little boy.” The woman interpreter should sign, “When I was little boy,” not, “When he was little boy.” She becomes the speaker in the eyes of the deaf. She bows her head and closes her eyes when he does. She becomes the same as the person who relays telephone calls for the deaf. The interpreter should only be as a relay for the speaker.
  11. When interpreting, use body language but do not distract from the speaker.
  12. Interpret complete thoughts, not bits and pieces of words. Keep your head concentrated on the speaker and your hands faithful to the deaf people.
  13. Be careful about clothing, jewelry, grooming and bad habits of movement that may distract. Sometimes an interpreter may rock back and forth or just stand still and immobile.
  14. Use mouth expressions and gestures with your signs.
  15. Sign with a pleasant smile. A smile can be understood in any language.
  16. A good interpreter should also be a good public-relations person. He/she must please the deaf people, voice interpret for them, report to the pastor, keep their family together, and continue to be a friend with hearing people. It requires much wisdom and common sense to be a good interpreter.
  17.  Never be satisfied with your level of signing. Always learn and improve. Seek better ways to improve and become more efficient in the ministry. Deaf people will always be your best judge and teacher. Live with them, love them and learn to think deaf.
  18. Attend seminars, read books and manuals, study ASL dictionaries, and talk to deaf people. Strive to improve, and the deaf people will love you for it.
  19. Stay in love with the deaf people. They can see on your face if you really love them. Keep your burden and heart for them. Remember, a little love will cover a multitude of signs.
  20. A good interpreter will interpret for “Him.” You become God’s voice to the deaf people. When you are discouraged or feel like quitting, keep going and never quit. Do it for “Him.
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