Working with an Interpreter: Some Tips

Before the meeting starts, it is helpful to meet with the interpreter to explain what will be covered. Provide the interpreter with copies of the agenda and/or other print materials for review and to follow as the meeting progresses. Ask the interpreter about any additional needs, such as a glass of water, a straight back chair, etc. 

When setting up at the beginning of the meeting, the interpreter and deaf or deaf-blind individual will work with you to figure out the best positioning for each of you to ensure effective and comfortable communication. 

Treat the interpreter as a professional. Introduce the interpreter to the group and explain why he/she is attending. The interpreter should be given the same privileges as the other group members, for example, lunch or other meals provided. 

Speak directly to the deaf or deaf-blind person,, not the interpreter, when using the interpreter to communicate with a deaf or deaf-blind person. For example, say "Do you have anything you would like to add?" rather than "Does he/she have anything to add?" Speak directly to the deaf person

Speak clearly, in a normal tone, and at a normal pace. If there is a problem with keeping up, the interpreter or the deaf or deaf-blind person may ask the speaker to slow down or repeat a word or sentence for clarification. 

Direct eye contact. While direct eye contact is valued particularly in one-to-one meetings, direct eye contact on the part of the deaf or deaf-blind individual is not always possible as the deaf or deaf-blind individual will need to watch as the interpreter signs.

Remember that the interpreter is a few words behind the speaker. Give the interpreter time to finish so that the deaf or deaf-blind person can ask questions or join the discussion. 

Permit only one person to speak at a time during group discussions. It is difficult for an interpreter to follow several people speaking at once. Ask for a brief pause between speakers to permit the interpreter to finish before the next speaker starts. It can be helpful to ask people to raise their hands and wait to speak after they have been recognized. Also, if a deaf-blind individual is at the meeting or event, it is appropriate etiquette for effective communication for each participant to state her or his name before speaking so the deaf-blind individual knows who is talking. 

Schedule breaks during the meeting. Following a sign language or oral interpreter for a long time is tiring for a deaf or deaf-blind person and for the interpreter. Talk with the interpreter about when to take periodic, brief breaks. 

Provide good lighting for the interpreter. If the interpreting situation requires darkening the room to view slides, videotapes, or films, auxiliary lighting is necessary so that the deaf or deaf-blind person can see the interpreter. If a small lamp or spotlight cannot be obtained, check to see if room lights can be dimmed but still provide enough light to see the interpreter. 

If it is a large group setting, solid color backgrounds are helpful for platform interpreting. 

As a final courtesy, thank the interpreter after the service has been performed. If there have been any problems or misunderstandings, let the interpreter or referral service know. Also, ask the deaf or deaf-blind person if the service was satisfactory. It is a polite gesture to inform the referral service of your satisfaction with the interpreter.

One Last Note … 

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language in its own right, with its own grammar, syntax and structure which includes using body and facial expression. It is important to realize that you are dealing with two different languages and that it may be necessary to rephrase or repeat your point. Examples are helpful to use for clarification.

Some information in this text is based on excerpts from the following:
"Through an Interpreter," Rochester Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Ed.
"Use of Interpreters," Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Service (ADWAS)

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