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Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What is a sign language interpreter?

A sign language interpreter is a person who is fluent in both a spoken language and a mode of sign language communication, i.e. Spoken English AND American Sign Language. Though they may have signing skills, not all sign communicators are qualified to be an interpreter, nor are all interpreters interpreting professionals.

2. What does a sign language interpreter do?

A sign language interpreter interprets/transliterates a message from a source language (L1- language 1) into a target language (L2- language 2), and vice versa. The interpreter takes into consideration not only the languages spoken but also assists in cultural mediation between hearing and deaf/hard of hearing communities, ensuring that the intent of the message is conveyed accurately to both consumers.

3. Is sign language universal?

A suprise to many, sign language is not universal. There is Mexican Sign Language, British Sign Language, Russian Sign Language, and more. There are, however, gestures which may have a universal meaning, such as the "thumbs up" can be understood as "okay," "good-to-go," or "Great job!" In the signed numbering system, with a slight movement, the "thumb-up" is understood to be the number "10."

4. I've never worked with a sign language interpreter before- what should I expect?

You should expect the interpreter to show up 15 minutes early prior to the assignment and to introduce him or herself.

The interpreter is a neutral party of communication who is not there for the deaf client only or for the hearing client only. The interpreter is there to provide accurate interpretations and to ensure the intent of the message is properly conveyed to all parties involved.

At times, a consumer may communicate very fast and may not be aware of how his or her pace is affecting the communication being conveyed. It is very important for both the hearing and deaf consumers to communicate at a normal pace. Hearing consumers should put in mind that a deaf/hard of hearing communicator who is writing down information while the hearing consumer is yet speaking has an unfair advantage. It should not be expected of the interpreter to hold long strings of communication and to give it all once the deaf/hard of hearing consumer is watching. If you are a hearing consumer, please do your best to consider the norms of advantage you may have that a deaf/hard of hearing person may not have.

5. Why is there a two-hour minimum for scheduling interpreting services?

An industry standard, services are billed in a base two-hour increment. Some agencies are now operating in a base 3-4 hour increment. Consideration of travel time and content are usual components of the minimum. Additionally, the two-hour minimum allows additional time for services when needed.

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7. Are two interpreters necesssary for an assignment?

Unlike spoken language interpreting, sign language interpreting requires full body movement and stress. Not only are the interpreters using their hands and arms to sign communicate, but they are using back and torso muscles as well. In addition, sign language interpreters are in constant receive and release mode as they hear a message, decipher its meaning, change it into the target language mentally, then produce it via hands. This entire process is done in a matter of seconds to minutes while the communication is still progressing. The fatigue associated with sign language interpreting can negatively impact the interpreter and thus, to reduce the physical and mental strain such activity can cause, a minimum of two interpreters are contracted to protect the well-being of the interpreter and to continually protect the accuracy and authenticity of the message that is being communicated.

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