Interpreting Emotionally Charged Messages

The RID Code of Professional Conduct states that interpreters should “Render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated…” (2.3). Content is the message – the words, the ideas, what is understood to be the message. Spirit is the way the message is communicated. Spirit involves emotion and attitude. The speaker’s tone, inflections, pace, volume, mannerisms, posture, and many other methods reveal the spirit with which something is said. Sometimes what is not said is as important as what is said. In that case, it becomes part of the spirit of the message.

What is the best way for the sign language interpreter to communicate the spirit of the message? Allow the spirit of the message to affect you personally. That is, “own the message. One way to do this is to think of yourself (interpreter) as an actor. Actors must convince the audience they really believe the words they say. They must “get into” their character. In a sense, the interpreter must become personally involved in communicating the message. Do not confuse this method of communication with the role of an interpreter.

Don’t – Look at the speaker – Show concern about (your) bad interpretation – Use a blank face (or minimal expression, unless it matches the emotional content) – Stop until the speaker is finished – Allow personal mannerisms to distract from the message – Allow the personal message to interfere with professional conduct – Allow this method to negatively affect your interpreting.

Do – Practice by listening to, “feeling” and “acting out” the message – Make the message believable – Use accurate facial expression – Match the speaker’s Volume, Timing, Pace, Tone, Attitude, etc. – Listen for “hidden” messages – Attend SWM’s ASL Institute for more information on this and other topics. (See Ad.)


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