What Happens In An Interpreter’s Mind?

Some people say interpreting is easy! You just listen to what is said in English and sign it in ASL. Or, watch ASL and voice it in English. Truth: No, Interpreting is NOT EASY! It takes great skill and wisdom.

New sign language interpreters sometimes become discouraged when they have a hard time communicating the message clearly. Experienced interpreters also face challenges. Interpreting is not as easy as it may seem.

An interpreter listens to the speaker to determine the core message, analyzes the message, compares that analysis and message with what was heard to determine if it was understood correctly, decides how to best represent that message in the second language keeping in mind both language and cultural considerations, constructs the message in the second language, analyzes that composition for accuracy, reconstructs the message before presenting (if necessary), represents the message to the target audience, watches for feedback to determine accuracy and understanding, and determines if it is necessary to reconstruct and represent the message again now or “fix” the interpretation later. This is a continual process, so the interpreter must continue to listen to and analyze the speaker’s ongoing message. As soon as one part of the message is delivered, the interpreter must be ready to deliver the next part. WOW! No wonder it is recommended that interpreters only interpret for 20 minutes at a time! (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, etc.)

Summary: Listen for meaning – Decide sign language needed – Consider the people in front of you – Watch for understanding – “Fix” interpreting problems – Repeat the process without missing any information.

Interpreters must consider and be part of two worlds which are very different. They balance between the Deaf and Hearing ways. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). That may explain why interpreters’ minds are often confused (just kidding).

Take a moment to thank an interpreter for fulfilling his role in ministry. Idea: maybe your church would consider having an interpreter appreciation day. (Article adapted from the Colonomos model.)

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