Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

the old-fashioned way

November 2nd, 2005

I guess it will really only become “old-fashioned” if the model actually changes, but I was struck by the normalcy with which a group today operated on auto-pilot.
I’ve been working in a setting where I move around constantly, putting my body (as the interpreter) where the speech (spoken language) is coming from. Sure, this means people notice me more often, but you know what? It means they’re actually paying attention to the communication process! I had felt that some things were different, were going “better” somehow, but I wasn’t sure why. Today, going into a different situation where folks are using the traditional model, I was able to identify some of the differences.


What do I mean by the traditional model? First and foremost, I mean the interpreters get planted in a chair, somewhere, which may or may not be close to most of the linguistic action but nonetheless is a stable place. I have no idea how this configuration began, but (brace yourselves, here I go!) I think it sucks!
Here’s why: first of all, it makes us “less distracting.” What this really means is, non-deaf people can ignore us – which means they can more easily ignore the presence of deaf persons in the situation. When I “make” myself more visible, by moving around the room, people remember why I’m there. What has happened in the situation where I am moving around all the time is that
a) non-deaf folks regularly notice if I’m stumped or missed something spoken and they help me out by providing a feed, repetition, or clarification and
b) non-deaf people notice when I’m following a signer but haven’t quite put the concepts together yet in my head, and they wait.
There are other benefits too. Turn-taking is slowed down a bit; overlaps are less frequent; there are more opportunities for the Deaf person to break in to the temporal fast-pace of the spoken discourse, and – because the non-deaf participants are engaged visually (i.e., using their eyes to register a different kind of communicative input), there are fewer of those awkward moments when sign & speech co-occur and the interpreter has to choose, or let both pass unconveyed.
There were a few other odd things about this meeting, such as people waiting for the interpreter to designate the next speaker. That’s not our job! On the one hand, this does show the group’s sensitivity to the issue – they do know some things have to change, but it shouldn’t be a “let’s wait for the interpreter to catch up” dynamic, it should be a “let’s all figure out how to modify our norms a wee bit so that there isn’t an issue of the interpreter falling behind. On those occasions when it does take more speech to convey the gist of a signed comment, or vice-versa, this will simply blend into the flow.
Ok. Rant mode off. 🙂

3 Comments

Categories: Interpreting
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3 Responses to “the old-fashioned way”

  1. dd says:

    awesome… I’m gonna chew on this today… you’re right. I like what you’ve said, and how you’ve said it. Will give it more thought as I race through this day, and will come back to this.
    happy thursday.

  2. steph says:

    I’m still chewing, too. 🙂 The tricky thing is, people get used to things the way they are, so introducing something novel is a challenge. When, how, with who? Today, for instance, I subbed at a job where the norms have been establised and it’s unlikely I’ll be back. Doing something “radical” there would have served no purpose except to make me look radical! 🙂 I suppose this is one of the lessons of getting older? wink – at least, I’ve learned I can’t just start doing what I think is “right” or “better” without people getting stressed out. We’ve got to build coalitions and support among the participants in the very situations and settings where we’re interpreting – this includes the deaf and non-deaf consumers. I warn people, if they tell me to do what I feel like, well! They might be in for a surprise!

  3. anonoterp says:

    via email: I can recall a situation where I took it upon myself to move about the room to interpret for various speakers in a classroom type of setting. At the time I had just found out about my hearing loss and started using hearing aids. I found it easier to move about the room but then again the dynamics were a little different. The teacher was Deaf and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was all kind of spontaneous and it felt really good then. However, after the class I got the impression that the teacher didn’t care for it as it wasnt what was the norm. It was a departure from the normal lecture format and the students were sharing so it seemed to work at the time. Perhaps your sharing will give me courage to wipe the glue off my ass! and get up out of the chair! There is another situation where I keep wanting to get up and go over to where the visual screen has the info (other dynamics~ room is darkened somewhat and deaf person has a copy of the visual material given to them at time of presentation. Professor is VERY approachable but Deaf person seems to want terp to stay in seat and be less obtrussive).

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