Sign Negotiation

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Sign negotiation is what sign language interpreters and consumers do when neither knows an ASL sign for the concept in question.

Among seasoned practitioners and consumers, there are generally agreed upon, accepted, and acceptable ways to negotiate signs.

Negotiated signs are created ad hoc: When the occasion is done, so is the made-up sign - no matter how wonderful it may have been. (smile) The consumer and the interpreter did not spontaneously augment American Sign Language. No. Like home signs, your ad hoc sign hasn’t been imbued with a rightful and lasting place in American Sign Language lexicon either.


Yahoo’s reference dictionary online (retrieved 20090717) defines negotiation as “the successful act of negotiating.” We hate that, don’t you? So, we look to negotiate and it says: “To confer with another or others in order to come to terms or reach an agreement.” There it is.

As an aside for readers who are thinking of another oft-used meaning, we do not use the word as: “To transfer title to or ownership of … ” No, siree. No one here suggests any transferring of any ownership. To the contrary.

On second look at our definition, we notice that confer and agreement stand out. What is the take-away for us? One take-away is this: Proclamation (announce officially … declare) is not close, in behavior or outcome, to negotiation. (If you find yourself in a mental rendition of the “yeah-but” dance, please feel free to jump ahead to In Practice, below.)

If, right about now, you would wager that we’d follow with something about deference and authority


Deference to Authority

… you would win. (smile)

Most interpreters are not native signers. This puts us fairly behind the eight ball if we do anything - or look like we are doing anything or like we’re thinking of doing something - that smacks of presenting interpreters as ASL authorities. HA. We can just fold that idea up and put it into your interpreter tote. And, when we arrive home, we toss it where it belongs.

What makes native users authorities? They are authorities because they own it; it is theirs. Native users get to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not because the language belongs to them. It is really that simple. When we as interpreters keep to our place; fulfill our duty and role, we are professional and appropriate. When we proclaim rather than negotiate, we are interlopers.

Who’s Right?

Because we are human, it is easy for us to get all caught up in the question of who’s right, or wrong. Making right-or-wrong judgments wastes precious energy and takes us completely off course. When we say authority (back to Yahoo, again), we mean “an accepted source of expert information or advice.” Moot is the question of whether a person is or is not correct. When faced with authority, which is not in our hands (at it were), we have simply to defer to it. Trust us here: There is splendor in surrender. (smile)


Protologisms and Neologisms

A protologism (pro TAH’ low jizm) is a suggestion of a word, a just-thought-up and brand-spanking-newly created idea of a word. Maybe one, or three, or twenty-seven people in close association know the protologism and use it within the group, but the word has not progressed much beyond that.

A neologism (nee AH’ low jizm) is a newly coined word that may be in the process of entering a lexicon, or its place may have been recently established.

Examples of protologisms that survived long enough and came into such wide usage as to become neologisms include: wannabe; googling; homophobia; plus-size; and chortle (Lewis Carol has been called “the king of protologisms”).

You can see, from this flirtation with linguistics, how much time it must endure and how many people must use it, before a negotiated sign might hope to become a neologism.


In Theory

Practitioners would never accept an assignment for which they are not qualified, and they always do their homework - they prepare:

* subject word lists, and ASL and English dictionaries, are consulted;

* information about likely or known participants (audience/presenters) is obtained;

* informants (hearing and deaf associates, mentors, experienced interpreters, et al) are tapped;

* citation forms are at the fore; initialized signs are at the rear;

* languages are stripped and concepts embraced;

* rules of grammar (a noun is a noun; a verb, a verb) and syntax are recalled;

* likely regional, generational, contextual and other variations are anticipated;

* descriptor signs and classifiers are queued;

* skills in use of non-manual markers, space, and movement are refreshed; and

* we are poised to negotiate ad hoc signs.


During the assignment, the occasion arises:

we fingerspell the English word;

* request or offer an ad hoc sign;

* a deaf consumer says no and offers the ASL sign or a preferred ad hoc; and

* all parties agree.

The ad hoc sign has been negotiated and is in play. A very nice job, done by all.


In Practice

In practice, practitioners must do what they, as professionals, are expected to do; yet, the deaf consumer may not be prepared to negotiate a sign, or may not be interested in doing so, or for whatever reason may not be up to the task. Perhaps there is more than one deaf consumer involved, and they disagree. Now what?

Here’s what we have learned through experience and from mentors, and teachers:

* In the case of consumers’ disagreement among themselves, the answer is simply to resist the impulse to wrest authority from folks who rightfully have it and are using it. We wait until they decide and then we comply.

* In the case of the potential partner in negotiation who doesn’t: We tried. We did what we were supposed to have done. When a consumer does not exercise authority that is theirs, the interpreter gets to use it - on an ad hoc basis.


NOTE: If a consumer does not act on authority because s/he has not been previously informed and empowered, we will look for [and might create] an opportunity to appropriately facilitate that process.

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Practice: Expressive (Part 1)


TerpTopics, LLC

Visit the PRACTICE PAGES at TerpTopics.com.

… makes perfect. (smile)

A new - and very nervous - sign language interpreter candidate was preparing to sit for a state-level screening. Naturally, she requested tips and advice from seasoned interpreters, teachers, and friends. There was one interpreter, in particular, from whom she especially wanted ideas. This interpreter had recently received the state-level qualification for which she was about to sit.

“An Hour Each Day”

When she approached the interpreter, he replied, “Honestly? I think if I had to name one thing that helped the most to raise my prosody to the level required by the state, it would have to be the hour-a-day I ‘terped the TV. I did that on each of the 21 days before the assessment. I really think that’s what did it.”

Well, our interpreter candidate may have been new and nervous, but she was not stupid. So, she followed the advice of her mentor. And, she received the state qualification that she was hoping for.

How Did She Do It?

After receiving the generous and heart-felt advice of her collegue, the state-level candidate turned on the television, and “went to work.” But, after a few days, the “tinny” sound of the TV began to annoy her. Having tired of the television, she decided to search the Internet for FREE audio books and podcasts. To her delight, this was exactly what the doctor ordered! The quality of the recordings was very good, and offered the added advantage of enabling her to catch-up on some of the reading she hadn’t previously found the time for.

Looking For Receptive Practice?

We will tackle receptive practice resources, tips, and ideas, in a future TerpTopics blog entry. Until then, we hope you will find something useful at the RECEPTIVE PRACTICE page on TerpTopics.com.

FREE Audio Books & Podcasts

If, like our now-state-qualified interpreter, you, too, are interested in finding FREE audio books and podcasts, here is a list of THIRTY sites to check (enjoy!):

Books & Headphones

01. PodioBooks.com
02. AudioBooks.net
03. Overdrive.com
04. FreeMP3AudioBooks.com
05. Google.com (directory)
06. YakiToMe.com (converts text to speech!)
07. AudioEdition.org
08. ChristianAudio.com
09. AudioBookTreasury.com
10. eJunto.com
11. AudioBooksForFree.com
12. LiteralSystems.org
13. LibriVox.org
14. RightAudioBooks.com
15. BooksAlley.com
16. OpenCulture.com
17. RadioLab.org
18. FreeClassicAudioBooks.com
19. LearnOutLoud.com
20. EPNWeb.org
21. MetaFilter.com (educational podcasts)
22. NRP.org (podcast directory)
23. Yahoo.com (podcast directory)
24. PodcastDirectory.com
25. Digg.com (podcasts)
26. BooksShouldBeFree.com
27. Free-Books.org
28. Talking-Book-Store.com
29. Lit2Go
30. WiredForBooks.org

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Dynamic Equivalence

TerpTopics, LLC



An interpreter can translate, transliterate, or interpret a source message and yet fail to render accessible a dynamically equivalent experience.  Attaining dynamic equivalence includes source message interpretation - and so much more.

A dynamically equivalent rendition may or may not bring source language words/signs or phrases into the interpreted message (it might if source language terminology or phrasing is relevant).  But, word/sign or phrase specificity is only one of many elements that combine for dynamic equivalence.

So, if dynamic equivalence is not simply language or word/sign choice, then what is it?  Well, it is pretty much - everything else.  It was told to us in much the same way as Eugene Nida, a linguist and the developer of dynamic equivalence Bible translation theory, presented it in his Toward a Science of Translating (1964; italics ours):

Dynamic equivalence occurs when a speaker’s effect on an audience is the same among [a] audience members who understand the speaker’s language and [b] those who receive the message through interpretation.

We asked some teachers and mentors what all of that meant.  It seemed vague, or complex, or nebulous to us (sort of like nailing Jell-O to a wall).  We thought we had simply to be fluent in at least two languages and cultures, and then interpret and mediate them.  After all, if a speaker says “The rent is due tomorrow before noon,” and we convey the fact, and mediate any cultural differences, and so on, then we had done our job.  

“Oh, no” some said.  “You also have to interpret the sounds in the room, and outdoors, too.  And, if there are any sidebar chats, you have to interpret those.  And, when people enter and leave, you have to convey that information.  There’s a whole lot more to being a practitioner than just rendering the message.”  Ho, boy.  Where to begin to slice THIS pie? 


We learn better and more easily (more lastingly, too) when we can attach new information to something we already know.  So, we decided to take a look at how hearing plays into our experience, and what we might look to an interpreter to do that would make the experience essentially like that, should the need arise.

We decided for no particular reason to put ourselves in a conference setting (it could be any setting, we pulled a platform setting out of a hat).  We walked ourselves through an event, focusing our attention on information that arrived by way of our sense of hearing.  We analyzed what typically happens and what we typically do with information heard.

It went something like this:

We have decided to attend a panel discussion at a local auditorium.  A favorite author will be among panel members.  The discussion will focus on a subject in which we are especially interested.  We will go with a friend, who shares our enthusiasm for the writer and the topic.  Seats are unassigned so we arrive early and are thrilled to score front-and-center seats.

a.  As we enter the auditorium, we are surprised that it is so quiet; you could hear a pin drop, even though there are a few hundred people already seated;

b.  A few minutes after we settle in, a gentleman (somewhere around the 47th row) sneezes;

c.  We hear a toddler (immediately behind us!) begin to screech and flail about (apparently, the child wants down and this conflicts with the guardian’s wishes);

d.  Someone in the direction of the lobby (not within the auditorium) screams or swoons or something, so we turn to see several people quickly exit the auditorium (apparently in response to what we all had just heard);

e.  Someone (unseen) addresses the auditorium via loud-speaker to say that there is a car improperly parked at the rear entrance, describes the vehicle, and requests that the owner move it;

f.  Again, an announcement: The start of today’s program is delayed by about 15 minutes, and there is an explanation as to why;

g.  At last, the program is underway.  During introductions of panel participants, someone from the audience hollers: “My sister adores your books!”  In response, several audience members snicker, and one says, “I’m his sister, and it’s true!”  More laughter;

h.  Up in the balcony, off to the right, someone coughs;

i.  During intermission, several people, apparently staff, are approaching some audience members to say that, contrary to what it says in the program guide, there will be a brief question/answer period at the end.  The staff seem to be approaching people at random, inviting them to quickly jot a question or remark for submission to panel members;

j.  As the program resumes, our companion is late in returning to his seat, so misses the answer to a question he had, which he had mentioned during the intermission;

k.  Just as the program is about to end, one of the panel members covers her microphone and says something we couldn’t quite make out to the panel member seated to her right;

l.  The program is scheduled to end and closing remarks are being made, questions (previously submitted) are being addressed, and we hear many audience members beginning to speak softly with one another (apparently discussing whether to leave or where the car is parked, things like that).  This is a change; previously the audience had been especially quiet and attentive;

m.  A few minutes later, we hear what sounds like many people beginning to leave - before the program is over.  Now we are starting to think about the long wait to get out of the parking garage, but decide to stay anyway;

n.  Just when the panelists are closing the program, a loud jet zooms overhead and we miss what was probably three or four full sentences.  From the back of the auditorium, someone shouts, “What did you say?” and we give an exaggerated nod (to indicate to the panel that we also missed what was said);

o.  During the applause at the end, we hear clear exuberance coming from the balcony; we turn to see several audience members standing in ovation; and

p.  We decide to remain seated; but, then we hear the audience become especially raucous.  When we look, we see that nearly everyone is rising; or …

q.  We begin applauding with gusto but immediately notice that applause from the rest of the auditorium is surprisingly weak, unenthusiastic, and brief.  We tone ours down a bit.


For us, this exercise clarified that relevance informs dynamic equivalence.  How relevant to us, as audience members, was each piece of information (a through q)?  

After we thought about things in this way, we realized that hearing folks already know what is required for dynamic equivalence; we just hadn’t known what interpreters call it.  We already knew what a typical audience member would deem important and relevant because we have been there; done that (many times, and will again).

As interpreters, do we interpret the message?  Of course!  But, more than that, we interpret relevant information - not simply the facts; but, the information that supplies the effect, too.

To a typical audience member, would someone’s coughing in a balcony be relevant?  No, probably not.  In the role of interpreter, would we make sure to include it in the interpretation?  Probably not.  As a typical audience member, would we want to know that a toddler was flailing about just behind our head?  You bet!  The fact of a flailing tot at the back of someone’s head is relevant information, and is interpreted.

As interpreters we ask ourselves: What information is relevant?  What is not?  Why, or why not?  To facilitate dynamic equivalence, interpreters do more than interpret a message; we interpret what we see or hear that is relevant … to the situation and communication goals, to a consumer, and to our practice.


There are many good resources for interpreters.  We found a great deal of good, reliable, and clear information about dynamic equivalence in these books - and we continue to consult them again and again:


Decontructing The Myth Of Neutrality From Topic Boundaries To Omission Introducting Interpreting Studies
Sign Language Interpreting: Deconstructing the Myth of Neutrality From Topic Boundaries to Omission: New Research on Interpretation Introducing Interpreting Studies


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Filed under: ASL, Linguistics — Tags: , , , , , , — TerpTopics @ 3:11 PM

TerpTopics, LLC

Visit Classifiers at TerpTopics.com.

Open To Interpretation

All too often, otherwise intelligent learners of American Sign Language (ASL) are completely flummoxed by the idea (never mind the use) of linguistic classifiers. Why? Because many otherwise experienced and well intended signers themselves feel somewhat hazy on the topic, so tend to cast about for a way to introduce it that is succinct and clear. Such discomfort is perfectly understandable. After all, the typical signer is no more a linguist than is the typical user of any other language or mode. Still, there may be a great deal at stake: For some learners, grasping ASL classifier construction and use can feel like such a steep hurdle that it becomes a point at which they decide to altogether abandon the endeavor. Everyone hates it when that happens; but, the question concerns how to avoid it: How to make smoother the way so that greater numbers of newcomers become oldtimers. One method is to use as a foundation something familiar to learners, and build upward from there.

Classifier Nouns

An example of a noun classifier in English is the word cattle. Assuming you are a native user of English, you immediately understand the word to mean a herd or group or category of any number of oxen, steers, cows, or bulls - and that it can be metaphorically laded. Classifier nouns (like cattle) are certainly handy little linguistic items so we use them all the time; but, what makes them classifier nouns and not some other linguistic thing?

Classifier nouns are used in place of, and refer to, a noun or noun class, whose meaning is agreed upon and contextually clear.

Back to our word cattle: You and a friend are enjoying a casual lunch in the park. You both spot six or seven executive-types. The execs are moving briskly along and with apparent purpose, even urgency. Each is about the same age as the next and is wearing a business suit that looks very much like that of the others. They are all quite seriously achatter; something must be afoot. Your friend catches your eye and says simply, “Cattle,” then continues eating.

Classifier nouns depend for meaning upon agreement and context. Once you and your discourse companions agree upon what the word or sign represents and use it within a shared context, you are off to the races.

ASL Classifier Nouns

Building upward from what we already know about classifier nouns, we can comfortably introduce an ASL example. “Signers can use CL:V(claw) in place of, and to refer to, an animal or class of animals, whose meaning has been established and is contextually clear …” and so on.

Classifier Types

A quick Internet search for types of ASL classifiers yields a stupefying array of opinions. We came upon one source claiming sixteen types, and became afraid.

In the 1991 edition of their book American Sign Language: A Teacher’s Resource Text On Grammar And Culture, we find Charlotte Lee Baker-Shenk and Dennis Cokely’s two types of ASL classifiers to be quite satisfactory: There are classifier nouns, which not only represent the noun but can also convey relative location and movement, and “size-and-shape-specifiers” (SASS) (Chapter 10, p. 287). It needn’t be made more complex than that.


Learning a second language is wonderfully instructive. Through the experience, we learn a great deal about our native system of communication, and, from time to time, enjoy those delightful moments of “AH-HA!” And, on reflection, we find that we knew already how to use linguistic classifiers; now we know what they are called.

What do our readers think? Is the idea of linguistic classifiers difficult to grasp? to teach? Are we off-base? Share your thoughts.

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Demand-Control Schema

TerpTopics, LLC

Visit Demand-Control at TerpTopics.com.

Occupational Effectiveness

Way back in 1979, an American academician named Robert Karasek was studying and theorizing about the implications of occupational stress and its impact on employee health.

Some years later, a Swedish academician named Torres Theorell pulled a chair up to the table of job-related stressor studies and joined Karasek there.

Demand Control Theory (D-C)

Together, Karasek and Theorell developed the Demand-Control (D-C) theory. Using it, they demonstrated a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the skills, knowledge, abilities, and competencies each of us brings to work coupled with the resources and tools made available once we arrived, and the amount of occupational stress we experience. 

Using the model of D-C Theory, Karasek and Theorell were able to clarify for workers and management exactly what had been the spurs under the saddle: Chronic workforce health problems were caused or predisposed by the interactive dynamic between occupational demands and the preparedness, readiness, and abilities of employees, including environmental factors such as adequate and appropriate materials, equipment, chairs, and so on, which they termed controls.

They had found a gap between (a) the kinds of occupational demands faced by workers, and (b) the availability of effective controls [resources] workers could use to manage them. (A mismatch that could make Jon and Kate’s Summer of Oh-Nine seem like a stroll in the Occupational Park.) Good stuff, no about it. Always good to get a handle on short-comings and nuisance-factors. Gives you the ammo needed to fight the good fight, fix it all up, unlearn what’s not working and learn what to do differently or better. Phew! 

The end of this part of Karasek and Theorell’s story sets the stage for new players - 2001 was just eleven short years away.

Demand-Control Schema (DC-S)

In the decade following the publication of Karasek and Theorell’s D-C theory, another team were developing their take on it.  By 2001, Robyn Dean and Robert Pollard had applied Demand-Control theory to the work of sign language interpreters. 

Dean and Pollard used their findings, not to simply bring a customized approach to understanding and mitigating the effects of stressors endemic to our practice - all good stuff, mind you; but, on a roll, to fundamentally shift the paradigm within which new interpreters are prepared. 

In their Demand Control Schema (DC-S), Dean and Pollard find four discrete kinds of demands that come to bear on the interpreter at work. 

These four demand categories are: 

1. Environmental; 

2. Interpersonal; 

3. Paralinguistic; and 

4. Intrapersonal. 

Environmental Demands 

Environmental challenges are those related to setting.  Examples include: the required lexicon; the weather or temperature; the configuration and availability of necessary things; the tasks and job descriptions of consumers and others within the sphere of influence. 

Interpersonal Demands 

Interpersonal challenges include: personalities; understandings and misunderstandings, preconceived notions; and idiosyncrasies of those interacting with communication stakeholders. 

Paralinguistic Demands 

The prefix para- means alongside or beyond. Paralinguistic challenges include the stuff that accompanies or surpasses mere vocabulary or syntax; but, can make or break the communication.  For example: Is it clear? Is there an accent or dialect that impedes it? Do the stakeholders understand the subject, are they communicating concepts effectively? Is the discourse coherent? Are there “lazy communicators” involved, or is everyone equally concerned with communication success? 

Intrapersonal Demands 

Intra- means within. These challenges are the emotional, psychological, and physiological experiences of the interpreter: Too hot? Hungry? Sleepy? Angry? Pleased? Frustrated? Unwell? Confident?  Confused?


The controls an interpreter will use to satisfy workplace demands might include: skill; knowledge; ability; competence; decision-making experience; and any other available resources.

Did the interpreter adequately prepare?  Does the interpreter have emergency plans at the ready, for use as needed?  Is the interpreter making effective communication choices? Making sound cultural mediation decisions? Adept at managing fatigue, hunger, boredom, joy, excitement?

Critical Points 

Dean and Pollard have identified three critical points at which the interpreter is called upon to make key control decisions. 

The three critical points in time are: 

1. Pre-assignment

 - education, vocabulary, subject competence; nutrition; health;

2. Assignment

 - interpretive choices; relationships with other; ethical integrity and decision-making; and

3. Post-assignment

- reflection and analysis; professional development activities; continued ethical and professional integrity.


Once the assignment is completed, DC-S becomes a tool to be used for analysis, the interpreter checking the effectiveness of his or her use of controls to satisfy demands.

Find Out More

To learn more about the Demand-Control Schema (DC-S) and its potential to favorably impact interpreter education and preparedness, and, ultimately, performance effectiveness and job satisfaction, check out:

Crossing Borders In Community Interpreting 

Crossing Borders in Community Interpreting:
Definitions and Dilemmas


Advances In Teaching Sign Language Interpreters

Advances in Teaching
Sign Language Interpreters


Sign Language Interpreting and Interpreter Education: Research and Direction

Sign Language Interpreting
and Interpreter Education:
Directions for Research and Practice

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Filed under: SiteAdmin — TerpTopics @ 4:47 AM


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“Hands Of My Father”

Filed under: Books & Videos, CoDA — Tags: , , , , , , , , — TerpTopics @ 3:34 PM

Logo: TerpTopics, LLC

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

“Hands Of My Father” by Myron Uhlberg

Compelling. Absolutely compelling.

You’ll need tissues for your leaking eyes and a belly-band for your splitting sides.

Mr. Uhlberg’s second language serves him well: He has crafted a seamless, sateen story, lived first-hand (as it were) through an incredibly rich childhood. Hands in the air for Mr. Uhlberg!

Here’s the link: Hands Of My Father.

text: trademarks copyright

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Hearing People Ask

Filed under: ASL, Interpreters, Interpreting — Tags: , , , , , , , — TerpTopics @ 8:14 PM



When ASL interpreters show-up:


Hearing People Ask


Inspiration: www.TerpTopics.com/AskAnInterpreter.htm (Retrieved: 20090605)

Related: www.TerpTopics.com/TerpFAQs.htm


Where interpreters go, questions abound.  Here are some questions of a general nature that we have received from hearing consumers or others who happen by or have previously seen an interpreter at work.  Elsewhere on TerpTopics.com, Q&As are being compiled that are specific to certain groups or settings.  Additionally, you may have an interest in browsing the TerpTopics.com FAQ for new signers or interpreters.




1.  How did you learn sign language?  Is it hard to learn?  How long does it take?


 Find answers to these and other basic questions on the TerpTopics FAQ.


2.  Can the deaf consumer hear anything?


 Questions of a personal nature are best addressed to the deaf consumer.

 Even if the interpreter knows the answers to such questions (s/he may or may not), it is inappropriate, a breach of confidentiality, and would necessitate stepping out of role, for him/her to answer.

 If you asked the question within earshot of the deaf consumer, the interpreter signed what you said.  The deaf consumer might not respond because you were not speaking to him/her.

 If you would like an answer to this or another personal question, speak directly to the deaf consumer.


3.  Why are you signing everything I say?  That question was for you, not for the deaf consumer.


 While on duty, it is the interpreter’s job to facilitate equal communication access.  With this in mind, when you speak within earshot of the deaf consumer, the interpreter will sign what you say.


 Whether on duty or not, it is customary and common courtesy for hearing signers to sign what is said in the presence of deaf persons.


4.  This homeowners’ meeting must be very dry for you to have to interpret - especially if you don’t live in this neighborhood.  Are you bored?


 It is not easy to be bored while working hard to facilitate equal access and dynamic equivalence.

 Interpreters are just like everyone else, so it depends upon what is or isn’t the interpreter’s cup of tea.

 Some of us become bored right along with everyone else in the room.  In other words, if others are bored, the interpreter might be feeling the same way.  On the other hand, if everyone seems to be having a wonderful time, the interpreter might also be having a wonderful time.  Either way, the interpreter (bored or captivated) is there to do a job.

 If you notice that an interpreter is him- or herself a particularly animated person, but then becomes subdued with limited facial expression when interpreting for a specific speaker, this apparent change of personality is because the interpreter is reflecting the energy and enthusiasm of the speaker.  The interpreter is not presenting him- or herself; rather, s/he is presenting the speaker’s affect and so on.  Conversely, if the interpreter is ordinarily understated him- or herself, and then seems to come alive when interpreting a particularly invigorating presentation, it is because s/he is conveying the high-energy or emphasis of the speaker or intensity of the topic.


5.  I am finding it very difficult to look at the deaf consumer because you’re the one who’s talking to me.  Surely, deaf people are used to that; s/he will understand if I don’t look at him/her, won’t s/he?


 While it may be the interpreter’s voice you hear, the deaf person is speaking to you, not the interpreter.

 When working with an interpreter for the first time or two, we know it can be a little awkward to remember to look directly at the deaf person when speaking with him/her because hearing persons are in the habit of looking toward the source of a sound.  Please continue trying to maintain eye contact with the deaf speaker.  You will soon find that your awareness of who is speaking will come sharply into focus, and will feel like second-nature (we promise).

 Most people, hearing or deaf, prefer to be addressed directly.


6.  Would the deaf consumer be more comfortable seated?  Maybe s/he would like something to drink.  Filling out these forms can take forever.


 Much as we interpreters might wish it were so, we are not mind-readers.

 Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person.


7.  What difference does it make where the deaf consumer sits?  Won’t you just be interpreting everything anyway?


 Support columns, glare, equipment, props, people, and more can obstruct the view, which will interfere with visual communication (equal information access).

 Deaf persons often sit where they can best see the interpreter, the presenter, and the presenter’s visual aids (maps, videos, etc.), as well as the other attendees (audience members, meeting participants, etc.)..

 The only way to know for sure where a person would like to sit is to ask him/her.  We encourage you to ask the deaf consumer where s/he would prefer to be seated.

 Keep in mind that a light source behind either the interpreter or the deaf consumer can create glare and make effective communication difficult, even impossible.


8.  We thought it would be better if you just stand right here, in front of the window; that way you won’t be in the way.


 Interpreters are very happy to work with you and the deaf consumer to determine the optimal location.  We do not wish to be in the way.  At the same time, we are there to facilitate communication for everyone in attendance.

 Oops!  Not in front of a window, lamp, projector, or other light source.  A light source behind either the interpreter or the deaf consumer can create glare and makes effective communication difficult, even impossible.


9.  It looks like we’ll need you to stay another 30- or 45-minutes.


 If the interpreter’s schedule and the demands of the assignment permit, s/he may be available and able to stay.

 If the interpreter is not physically or mentally able to maintain interpretation quality (due to exhaustion resulting from the demands of the assignment), then s/he is not qualified to do the job and will be unable to continue.

 If the interpreter has a prior commitment, s/he will not be able to stay beyond the scheduled time for this assignment because of the previous obligation.


10.  Several of our customers are deaf, which is of course no problem.  But, we have a new deaf customer who has special personal care needs.  Do interpreters also perform personal aide duties?


 Some interpreters are specially qualified to administer or assist with personal care.  Interpreting and provision of personal care services are different jobs with potentially mutually exclusive responsibilities.


If you are seeking an interpreter who is also qualified in personal care duties, be sure to specify your needs when making service arrangements.


Here is a valuable resource we think you will find useful.


11.  Can’t you hurry this up?  I have someone else waiting.


 We understand that first-time users of interpreting services may not have the experience that informs subsequent arrangements.  The power to change the pace of the conversation is squarely your hands and those of the person with whom you are speaking - not in the interpreter’s hands.


If you are unable to adjust the pace, consider rescheduling for a time that meets everyone’s needs, or schedule a second meeting to continue today’s session.


12.  Here’s the form.  If you have any questions, you can ask the office assistant.  You were here last week, so you know the drill.  Just tell the deaf consumer how it all works.


 Oops!  Interpreters are not qualified to step into your professional role.  We leave the responsibilities of your job to you.

 We are qualified to interpret, and are happy to meet our professional responsibilities.


13.  Our business can’t afford an interpreter for every appointment.  Tell the deaf consumer we’ll just write notes next time.


 Please speak directly with the deaf consumer, rather than with the interpreter.


Your business may or may not be subject to the ADA or other laws that establish and protect the rights of deaf and hard of hearing persons.


OBTAIN GUIDANCE FROM A QUALIFIED LEGAL ADVISOR concerning if and how laws, statutes, and ordinances that protect the legal rights of deaf and hard of hearing persons, might impact your business practices.


For a sense of some of the laws that may apply, see Laws and Statutes.


Not every deaf person communicates effectively using written English.  Work with each deaf consumer to reach agreement upon what for him/her is reasonable accommodation under applicable law.


14.  Turn down the music?  Why?  It’s Mozart!  How can loud music make a deaf person uncomfortable when s/he can’t even hear it?


 Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.


It is not possible to know what sounds, pitches, or frequencies are heard by others unless we ask them or they tell us.


Sound vibrates (especially low-frequency sound waves) and impacts our bodies and the things around us.  Our chest, head, and stomach feel sound vibrations.  Our feet pick up vibrations through the floor, and our hands or arms feel it through tables, chairs, and so on.  These vibratory sensations can be distracting, even disturbing, to deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing persons who are especially sensitive to sound or sound vibrations.


15.  Does the deaf consumer have any questions?


 Please remember to speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.


16.  Do you read Braille, too?


 Among people in general, some (including a few interpreters) understand Braille; however, most people (including most interpreters) do not.  Your interpreter probably does not understand Braille; but, might be one of the few.

 Deafness and blindness are not the same thing.  Braille is used by blind persons.


17.  What’s wrong with saying “deaf and dumb?”


 This is an outdated label and is considered by many to be offensive.

 It is not accurate to assume deaf people are unable to speak.  The voices of most deaf people work as well as those of most hearing people.

 Unfortunately, some people misunderstand the meaning of the word dumb in this context, which can lead to the erroneous belief that to be deaf is to be unintelligent.  Interpreters will be among the first to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.


18.  Why do deaf people jump when, for example, a chair falls over?  Do they hear it?


 Some deaf people can hear sound within specific frequency or decibel ranges, which may explain why they, like hearing people, are startled by loud and sudden noise.

 Because sound, especially strong and sudden sound, travels as waves through not only air but also through walls, windows, floors, tables, and chairs (among other things), a deaf person may startle at the sudden and strong vibration that manifests when sound is sudden and loud.


19.  Don’t your hands get tired?


 Yes, they do.  Interpreters’ hands tire and are subject to repetitive motion injury, as are their wrists, elbows, shoulders, and other joints.Interpreter Health.

 For more information, start with


20.  Why do you need a break?


 Interpreting is intensive work that requires continual linguistic and cultural gymnastics (mental strain), as well as physical work (muscle and joint strain, and repetitive motion).Interpreter Health; Repetitive Strain Injuries; and Hiring An Interpreter.

 For more information, check out


21.  Why do we need more than one interpreter?


 More than one interpreter may be advised to accommodate an audience that could include consumers who do not all use the same signed language (i.e.: signed English and American Sign Language).RID Standard Practice Paper.

 If your audience is large and spread out, the hands of only one interpreter may not be clearly visible by all in attendance.  Positioning two or more interpreters throughout a room or to stage-right and stage-left will better support equal information access.

 Interpreters are especially at risk of work-related injury.  For information about how interpreters are at risk, see the response to item number 20 (above).

 To avoid injury and to maintain mental and visual acuity, lengthy, intense, or highly technical assignments require more than one interpreter.  Team members will rotate about every 20-minutes.

 For more information about interpreter teaming, see this


22.  So, the second interpreter is getting paid for sitting there half the time and doing nothing?!


 Interpreters working as a team take turns being “on,” which means the previously on interpreter takes a seat out of the way and within easy view of the interpreter who has now assumed the primary interpreting role.

 The second interpreter is physically resting and is relieved of the primary mental stress, but has eyes fixed upon his/her team member and is carefully following the discourse and interpretation process, ready to assist when called upon by the interpreter who is on.  

 Some interpreters say that being on is in one sense easier than being off because of the emotional stress associated with the responsibility that goes with the secondary role.


23.  You would have thought that the interpreter for President Obama would have at least worn fancier high-heels, for goodness’ sake.


 Happily for us all, high-heels are no longer requisite to respectability and formality.

 Health and proper ergonomics are hard to come by for a human wearing high-heels or who is otherwise off-balance or unnaturally positioned.


24.  Why do interpreters always wear white [or always wear black]?


 To help postpone the inevitable eye-fatigue that comes from observing lengthy or frequent interpretations, interpreters wear plain-colored clothing that contrasts with their skin tone, providing a good background for clear visual communication.

 In addition to wearing a skin-contrasting color, interpreters typically avoid vivid or neon shades, and stripes or other visually complex patterns or color combinations that could cause eye strain or visual distortions.


25.  If the interpreter is just going to say whatever we say, why does s/he want a copy of the text/presentation/ play in advance?


 Interpreted deliveries benefit from practice and preparation in the same way your delivery benefits from your knowing what you will say and how you will say it.


26.  Don’t all deaf people everywhere understand sign language?  It’s universal, right?


 No.  American Sign Language is as different from Spanish Sign Language, as spoken Italian is from spoken Norwegian; each is a separate and distinct language.


27.  Isn’t ASL just signed English?  They’re really the same language, right?


 No.  American Sign Language (ASL) is not signed English.  And, British Sign Language (BSL) is not signed English, either.  Australian Sign Language (Auslan) is not English, either.  ASL, BSL, Auslan, and English are separate languages.

 While it may be possible to literally transcribe some Italian sentences into English (word-for-word), chances are good that if you speak English (not Italian), you will not be able to understand much of the result.  The same is true of ASL and English.  An interpreter may be able to transcribe some English sentences using signs (sign-for-word) but chances are good that if you use ASL (not English), you will not be able to understand much of the result.  Of course, if you are bilingual, you might understand it as presented in either language, no matter how mangled it becomes in the translation.  (smile)


28.  I don’t understand why the hearing people in the room have to take turns talking.  Why can’t you keep up?


 It is not possible to say in one sentence what two people said at the same time.  We must first say what one of the people said, then say what the other person said … that is if we clearly understood them (remember, they were both speaking at the same time).Ed Sullivan Show who used to do his best to keep all those plates spinning on skinny poles.  Come to think of it, he probably had the skills to become a dynamite interpreter. (grin)

 To get a sense of the task faced daily by interpreters, try to repeat everything said by everyone in, say, the lunch room at work, or the check-out line at the grocery store, or by your family members around the supper table tonight.  Don’t repeat aloud what everyone says, though, because people would surely begin to wonder about you.  Instead, quietly (mentally) repeat everything that everyone says.  Just try it for five or ten minutes … okay, two minutes.  We think this experiment will clarify the importance of turn-taking during interpreted communication.

 Just to make the above experiment a little more interesting, try mentally repeating what everyone is saying while simultaneously responding to questions put to you by someone in the room.  Yikes!  That’s what interpreters must do when someone speaks directly to the interpreter.  If you’re old enough (or have seen the re-runs), you’ll remember the guy on the


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Hearing Teachers Ask

TerpTopics, LLC


When deaf students are mainstreamed:


Hearing Teachers Ask


[Inspiration: TerpTopics.com/TeachersAsk. Related: TerpTopics.com/AskAnInterpreter.]


As the end of yet another academic year looms, we find ourselves reflecting upon questions and comments educational sign language interpreters receive from hearing teachers.  We thought we would share some – by no means all – of them, along with some – by no means all – of our thoughts.  The items are in no particular order, but are numbered for ease of reference.

NOTE: Used here, the acronym DHH means deaf or hard of hearing; DHH student means a student enrolled in a school district’s program designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing or who learn best when using or incorporating sign language or for whom sign language interpreting is otherwise provided as an accommodation.





1.  I have several DHH students in one of my classes.  Two interpreters are scheduled, each works with a small group of two or three students.  When I really watch what they’re both signing, they don’t seem to be signing the same thing.  How can I know the students are receiving the material being presented?


We completely understand your question (we get this one a lot).


One way is to compare a DHH student’s academic performance (grades, participation, etc.) with that of other students in the same class.  Another is to direct questions about the material to the DHH students.  Additionally, ask your educational interpreter if s/he is confident that each student is receiving the material, and why or why not.


LANGUAGE NOTE: In English, a concept can be expressed using a variety of word choices (shut the door; see that door? please shut it; do you mind shutting that? [points to door]; go ahead and close the door for me).  Sometimes word-choice specificity is critical; sometimes not.  Signing is sort of like that.  Different interpreters make different sign choices based on a number of factors, many of which are discussed throughout TerpTopics.com.  Also, interpreting is not the same as translating.  Here’s a glossary that we hope helps a little.


2.  One day last week, students were rewarded with about 90-minutes of pizza and a captioned movie.  I told the interpreter s/he could go ahead and leave since we weren’t really doing anything important. But, s/he said s/he couldn’t leave.  Why not?


The interpreter is assigned to facilitate communication and provide dynamically equivalent access to information.  It is his/her job to be available for the duration of the assignment and to provide services as needed.  Even if there seems to be no immediate interpreting need, in the event of an unanticipated situation you would be glad to have him/her at hand.


3.  Why does the interpreter feel it necessary to interpret everything?  Students make inappropriate remarks, or I might say something under my breath … s/he even interprets bodily functions, for crying out loud.  Why is it important to let the deaf student know there’s a helicopter outside, or an argument in the hallway?  I’ve told him/her not to interpret those things, but s/he does it anyway.  Come on …


When you and the interpreter whisper privately in such a way that students cannot understand your conversation, the interpreter will not sign the conversation (likewise, if you and another student or adult speak privately).


Deaf students are not let out of the loop (isolated) when the rest of the class knows there’s a helicopter outside, or when the students in the front know what you said under your breath.  Interpreters facilitate dynamic equivalence to the best of their ability.


We hope it is helpful to browse the RID Code of Professional Conduct, which informs the behavior of professional interpreters.


4.  Rather than take the extra time required for an interpreted communication when I’m already stressed out, it’s just easier for me to explain and give assignments to the interpreter, then have him/her tell the DHH student what I said.  But, the interpreter insists that I go through the whole process so s/he can interpret what I say.  It’s frustrating, and I don’t know why s/he won’t cooperate.


Classroom teachers are pretty much expected to speak directly with students (hearing, DHH, or otherwise).  We know that an interpreted conversation may require a couple of extra moments.  Hearing students frequently require extra time, too; yet, teachers continue to communicate with them.


Interpreting services are available for that student because it is the accommodation of choice to best support his/her education.  Interpreters join teachers in support of I.D.E.A. and providing the accommodations designated on a student’s IEP.


5.  At my middle school, sometimes I ask a DHH student to stay after class for a minute or two, but the interpreter is unable to stay longer than a few seconds because s/he has to dash to the next class.  How can I speak privately with a DHH student when the interpreter always has to leave?


This happens often - almost daily in a middle school setting!


Your interpreter is faced with the choice of extending the present assignment and arriving late to the next (where people are awaiting his/her arrival before beginning class), or of leaving the present assignment as scheduled and arriving at the next on time.  Unless there is an overriding urgency at the present assignment, his/her primary obligation is to get to the next one on time.


Arrange for an interpreter to be available before or after school.  You might also problem-solve with the interpreter in question, or ask for ideas from your school’s interpreter liaison (if your school has one), other teachers, deaf education specialist, ESE coordinator, or other support personnel.


6.  When I present material that wouldn’t ordinarily elicit smiles, I notice that sometimes the interpreter and DHH student exchange grins.  What’s that about?


An interpreter error can elicit a grin; so can a student misunderstanding followed by the interpreter’s clarification.


LANGUAGE NOTE:  Facial expression used during English discourse is linguistically different from that which is American Sign Language (ASL).  In fact, facial and bodily expression between these two languages can be dramatically different.  Naturally, such language differences are subject to misunderstanding.  Feel free to ask your classroom interpreter for information about how mouth and facial expression in English and ASL differ.  And, while you’re at it, ask if s/he can recall what the grin was about. (smile)


7.  Often, the interpreter continues signing for a couple of seconds after I’ve finished speaking - sometimes I think it’s as long as 10 seconds, which seems like a very long time to me.  How come?


Happily, the distractibility factor of continued signing ratchets down quickly.  After a week or so you won’t even notice.


We refer to what you’ve described as “lag-time.”  It happens because an interpreter can’t say what you’ve said until after you’ve said it, so his/her hands will not stop moving until after you have stopped speaking.


Additionally, the interpretation may have required expansion on one or more concepts, which requires an extra few moments and may tend to stretch things out a bit, showing up as lag-time at the end.  This is especially noticeable when the interpreted discourse is brief.  Lengthier discourse can offer the interpreter an opportunity to tighten-up a little on the lag-time, like when the teacher pauses, to think for dramatic effect, before before continuing to speak.  By the way, a skilled interpreter will not miss your subtle yet well placed pause intended for emphasis.  (smile) 


8.  Isn’t an educational interpreter the same as a classroom aide?  S/He’ll manage the classroom while I step out for a few minutes, make copies for me, grade papers, create classroom graphics, organize my storage closet, or run quick classroom-related errands, right?


Not really, no.  Try to bring your expectations more in line with those you have of teachers and you’ll be closer to the mark.  There are some interpreters and some teachers who would not at all mind doing the occasional favor.  Alas, duty time is duty time.  If you would not ask a teacher to abandon his/her duty to do you a favor, then you probably would not ask it of an interpreter.  Here’s a handy-dandy guide that may help.  Here’s another one.  Feel free to contact us for additional information or clarification.


9.  Occasionally, my classroom management may not be what I’d like it to be.  If my students misbehave, or if I come up short on discipline, will the interpreter inform school administration, or perhaps gossip about my moment of weakness?


Gosh, no!  Interpreters would be booted out of every school if we routinely tattled or gossiped about every little thing.  Interpreters are there to interpret, so that’s what we aim to keep to.  We’re terps, not tattles.  (smile)


10.  I admit it!  I’m human.  I may occasionally misstate a fact or misspeak in some other way.  How does the interpreter handle that?


The interpreter signs what you say.  If you say, “Seven plus three is twelve,” that’s what comes off the hands of the interpreter.  If you say, “A Freudian slip is when you mean one thing, but you say your mother,” all the students, hearing and deaf, will know it (and likely giggle).


An exception to the practice of saying what the teacher says” might be if doing so would endanger the student.  For example, if threatening sounds are coming from a door to the right and you mean to direct students through a door to the left but say “right,” the interpreter would very likely do his/her best to support the safety of all concerned and to heck with the practice of.


11.  If a teacher endangers a student, or otherwise breaks a local, state, or federal law, how will the interpreter handle that?


Interpreter ethics do not supersede safety or the law, statute, or ordinance.  Where law-breaking is concerned, consumers are not protected by an interpreter’s oath of confidentiality.  The interpreter is presumed to be a responsible staff member and adult, and can be expected to act accordingly.


12.  Who is responsible for managing the behavior of a DHH student, the classroom teacher or the interpreter (who is sitting right there in front of the student)?


Generally, classroom management is a teacher’s responsibility.  Interpreters will manage their relationships with students, including how students behave toward, address, and interact with the interpreter.  However, managing the general classroom behavior is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.  Here’s a quick video clip as a reference, and check out these for more information.


13.  While I am presenting the lesson, why does the educational interpreter sometimes follow me around the classroom and sometimes not?


It’s all about line-of-sight.  Interpreters attempt to position themselves where the deaf student most needs to look.  If the teacher is speaking about a map on the wall, expecting all the students to look at the map while s/he presents the material and strolls about the room, the interpreter will be at the map (where the students are looking), not chasing the teacher up and down rows of desks.  (smile)


14.  When should I expect the educational interpreter to use his/her voice?  Are they quiet all the time?  Sometimes, I forget they’re there and then they speak and startle me.  We both laugh.<


We know what you mean; we have had the same thing happen.


The interpreter will speak when interpreting the signed communication of the DHH student.


The interpreter may occasionally ask you to repeat a word or phrase.  For example, s/he might say something like, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jones, would you please repeat that last sentence?” or “Mr. Jones, you said the plantation owners “did” or “didn’t” want the tariff repealed?”


15.  It is nice to have another adult in the room with me.  Sometimes I like to include the interpreter during classroom discussion … you know, ask the interpreter about something related to the lesson … but s/he seems uncomfortable when I do this.  Aren’t they allowed to participate?


Pretty much, no.  Interpreters are not there to participate.  In fact, interpreters try hard to avoid becoming any part of the action at all; their purpose is to interpret it (the action), not be it.


16.  I’ve been a reading teacher for several years.  My first experience with a DHH student and interpreter was last year.  Wow, did I learn a lot!  For example, a few weeks into the year, the interpreter approached me privately to say s/he was concerned that the DHH student’s ability might not have been accurately reflected in the grades.  I was insulted … that is, until I learned that the student was getting her older brother to do the work for her.  How did the interpreter know?


Educational interpreters consistently monitor a student’s comprehension of interpreted material.  The interpreter constantly checks for understanding, not only by observing classroom interactions, but by asking probing questions during moments of one-on-one communication.


When a student feels unclear or demonstrates lack of understanding, interpreters will attempt to clarify the information by changing the interpretation to match the student’s language level or contextual knowledge or experience.

Due to the focused intensity of communication between the student and interpreter, it is not at all unlikely that the interpreter has unique insight concerning a DHH student’s language and communication skill, knowledge, and ability.


 - TT







Original, relevant, and timely content of interest to

ASL and sign language interpreting students and practitioners,

including introductory information on deafness and American Deaf Culture.


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RID Raises the Bar

Filed under: Tests — Tags: , , , , , , — TerpTopics @ 10:52 PM

TerpTopics, LLC





According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) in information retrieved from its site on May 10, 2009 (view it here: http://tinyurl.com/RIDdeadline20090630) after June 30, 2009 hearing candidates wishing to apply for the interview/performance portions of the NIC (national certification test) must first have “at least an associate’s degree.”  Further, after June 30, 2012, a bachelor’s degree will be the educational minimum.  The deadlines for deaf candidates are June 30, 2012 and 2016, respectively.


RID built some flexibility into the new standard.  It will accept college credits earned in specified classes/subjects, as long as the cumulative credits are at least equal to the minimum required for associate’s or bachelor’s eligibility.  Alternatively, there are “life experience” allowances that may be considered.  Interpreters holding certification before the deadline must meet the new minimum standard only if they wish to take an additional performance exam, which means they are not required to meet the new standard in order to maintain existing certification. 


However you slice it, RID will raise the bar for interpreter certification after June 30th of this year.




For years, interpreters and consumers of interpreting services have agreed or disagreed about, and hashed and rehashed the question of, whether or not newly certified interpreters should be required to first have a college degree.  Those in favor argued that if practitioners of some other professions must earn academic stripes, then interpreters (who have long been clamoring to be considered professionals) should expect to meet a comparable standard.  Those against were concerned that raising the bar will discourage entry to a field in which qualified workers are in chronically short supply, saying there are not enough interpreters even without the additional hurtle.  Some wonder if the profession will become somehow divided, with degreed interpreters in one camp; non-degreed in another.




While the dialog continues, the time for decision-making ended at the 2003 RID Conference in Chicago.  The RID membership passed motion C 2003.05* (view it here: http://tinyurl.com/RID-C-2003-05).


*C 2003.05 set a June 30, 2008 deadline, which was subsequently amended to June 30, 2009, the current deadline.




Since the 2003 Conference, non-certified interpreters, who wanted to become certified but did not have a degree, have worked hard at getting one, or worked hard at passing a RID certification test before the deadline, or both.  Some made it, some are still working toward on it, and, no doubt, some have given up.




As with most matters, time will tell the tale.  Will the number of entrants to the field level-off, diminish, or increase?  Will the profession and its practitioners realize the benefits they seek?  Or, will fears of the naysayers manifest?



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