Spanish to Colombian sign language interpreter signs at international conference in Cartagena, Colombia, while Santos speaks

Sign language interpretation 101

Interpretation Multilingual events

We know that booking sign language interpreters is new to many. Truth be told, there are a series of details to take into account to make sure that your event’s sign language interpretation goes off without a hitch. There’s nothing to be afraid of though! We’ve come with a handy list of practical tips to ensure that the interpreters can do their job correctly and that your deaf and hard of hearing audience members can fully participate  in your event.

We’ve come with a handy list of practical tips to ensure that the interpreters can do their job correctly and that your deaf and hard of hearing audience members can fully participate in your event.

Before the big day

  • Presentations. Quality, precise interpretation is the name of the game, so it’s essential that the interpreters have an opportunity to review any material to be used in the event prior to its start. Share your presentations, videos, papers, or any other useful prep material with the team so that your superstar interpreters can study up on vocab and technical terminology.
  • Location, location, location. Sign language interpreters need to be located in a suitable spot free of visual distractions (for example, make sure there are no windows behind them). This is because “signing involves not just broad arm and hand movements, but also many subtle clues and features, particularly involving fingers and lip and face movements and expressions, which must be clearly seen in order to understand the meaning” (National Disability Authority). Signers should be clearly visible to all deaf and hard of hearing participants without blocking the audience’s view of any presentations being projected.
  • Mic them up! Interpreters should be provided with a wireless handheld microphone so that they can verbally interpret any questions or comments made by deaf or hard of hearing participants. 
  • Front row all the way. Front row seats should be reserved for sign language interpreters to interpret into spoken language when needed. As interpreters work in shifts, it’s also essential that the standby interpreter be provided with a seat directly in front of the active interpreter to provide support to his/her colleagues needed and carry out  smooth handovers. Spots in the front row should also be reserved for hard of hearing or deaf participants so they have an unobstructed view of the interpreters.

Event day

  • Agenda changes. Let your event manager and interpreters know if there are any last minute changes to the agenda.
  • Other languages. If there will be presentations in multiple spoken languages at your event, make sure the signers are given interpretation receivers and headsets so that sign language interpretation is never interrupted, regardless of the language spoken on the floor.
  • Taking care of your interpreters. Make sure your interpreters are provided with water and are given time to rest, e.g. during the lunch break.
  • Debriefing. If your event goes for more than one day, we suggest holding a short debriefing session with the interpretation team at the end of each day in case any clarifications of terminology, etc. are needed.

With these tips in mind, support from your dedicated language strategy consultant, and our star sign language interpreters, you can be sure that everyone will be talking about your event for the right reasons once the show is over.

Fun fact

Did you know that facial expressions are part of the grammar of sign language? “Signers are animated not because they are bubbly and energetic, but because sign language uses face and body movements as tools” to communicate in a visual language (The Atlantic). Thus, thoughtful brow-raising, mouthing, eye and head movements, and body positioning can be expected of a good interpreter. Check out this interpreter in action, who went viral for just that. As one Twitter user put it: “Brexit captured in interpretive dance.”

Further information

Visit our FAQ to find out why you should include sign language interpretation in your event.

For further information on positioning of sign language interpreters, including cases where they will be streamed, read AIIC’s guidelines.

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