Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

rituals of interpretation: to move or not to move

May 20th, 2008

As students take finals, a chance arises for more feedback about how the interpreting has worked this year. First, the old school: a moderator asks if I’ll be set up somewhere so the signing “won’t be a distraction to other students taking the test.” In fact, unusually (!), I’ve arranged a chair near the deaf student so that I’m right here for consultations – if any are needed – with the teaching staff. One teacher approaches me to let me know that some students in her class, a discussion section (not lecture) had told her in private that they really appreciated the presence of an interpreter. Watching me retrace what she’d just said, pointing out the specific parts on the board, was helpful in giving them a second chance to absorb the material. Not that they understood the sign language, but just signaling (by literally pointing out) the relevant part of an equation enabled them to gain a firmer grasp of the material.
Also, as we wait and the student distracts herself from the upcoming test, I gain some feedback from her perspective. How does she feel about my moving around? “I understand more because you are right next to the teacher.” I asked, what about when the teacher moves to one end of the board and I stay behind, because there’s something more to explain? “Sometimes I get lost…we fall behind.” Yeah, sometimes you’re taking notes and I have to remember a bunch of stuff, other times I understand the words but not the concept and have to wait until I understand the point of the words. Should I just give you the words? A shrug, “we can experiment.”
We agree that its neat the non-deaf students are using me, too. “Yeah, especially waiting to let you ask the questions so they don’t have to.” I know! The Slimeballs! 🙂 I love the proof, though, that I am not just interpreting “for” the deaf student; what I’m doing benefits everyone (or at least most).
I’m a little shy to ask, but the students who participated in the official research last week made some comparisons between my interpreting and that of other interpreters they had seen. Someone had said watching me was like watching “a show.” Hmmm. I don’t think I’m giving a show, I think I’m performing the language. The deaf student agrees. She says the other interpreters “sit in one place and show no expression.” I know my colleagues are competent, and … this habit we’ve developed of fixing a position takes so much away from the communicative potential of a bilingual encounter! :-/ One of my favorite Wanda’s was telling me the other day that, “in the old days interpreters moved a lot” in the kinds of ways that I do now, but “somehow we got out of that.” Now that would be an interesting critical-cultural analysis: what conditions prompted ASL interpreters to dispense with motion? What education is necessary to bring the movement back?

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One Response to “rituals of interpretation: to move or not to move”

  1. rodrigo says:

    Steph,
    just accept you are “old fashioned”.
    Sounds like a lot of fun, though.
    You really make a show, not only interpreting…

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