Deaf persons may be assisted by an interpreter. There are different kinds of interpreters:

  • Sign language interpreters, who translate the spoken language into sign language, and vice versa.
  • Text interpreters, who type out everything a speaker says - often using a special keyboard. The deaf person reads the text from the monitor, from an overhead screen, or from a personal tablet. 
  • Multilingual interpreters, who translate for instance spoken English into Danish sign language, and vice versa. Or: British sign language into Danish sign language. 

In most countries, interpreters have had special training and need special registration/accreditation, to be allowed to work as an interpreter. Not every person who knows sign language can interpret for you!

When you speak with a deaf person who is assisted by an interpreter, remember that the deaf person is your communication partner:

  • Make eye-contact with the deaf person, not with the interpreter.
  • Speak to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.
  • Don't ask the interpreter questions about the deaf person, the interpreter will interpret everything you say!
  • The interpreter can interpret almost simultaneously, with a speaker. You don't have to take turns, as with interpreters of spoken languages.
  • When you are speaking, the deaf person will watch the interpreter. This can be confusing, because it may seem as if the deaf person is not paying attention. But he or she IS paying attention. To be able to understand what you are saying, he or she MUST watch the interpreter. Usually, the interpreter will stand close to you, so that the deaf person can see both you and the interpreter, at the same time. Of course, this is not possible, when the interpreter has to interpret for several hearing persons.
  • When you are assisted by a sign language interpreter, make sure the interpreter can hear you. Don't speak too fast. Don't be upset when the interpreter asks you to slow down, or to repeat what you said.
  • When you ask a group a question or tell a joke: be aware that the interpreter may lag behind some seconds or sentences. Because of this, the deaf people will respond a bit later than hearing people. Not because deaf people are slow or don't understand, but because they depend on the interpreter.
  • When you use PowerPoint, video, or other visuals: be aware that the deaf people have their eyes focused on the interpreter. Allow extra time for them to watch the interpreter, then your visuals, and then the interpreter again. 

When a deaf person asks for an interpreter, discuss with him/her what kind of interpreter is needed, who will hire the interpreter, and: who will pay for the interpreter. In some countries, educational institutions have a legal obligation to provide the interpreter(s) that a deaf person needs. In other countries, social services or health insurance companies will pay for the interpreter.

Interpreters are human beings, they bleed when scratched, and they will break down when they have to interpret for a long time, and/or under difficult circumstances. In many instances, you will need two interpreters who take turns. Explain the job to the interpreter or the interpreter agency. They will tell you if you'll need to hire more than one interpreter.

Interpreters like to be prepared, especially if they have to interpret formal presentations or any kind of talk about a specialised subject. When you use PowerPoint or handouts: send these to the interpreter(s), preferably several days before the date of the training, meeting or presentation. 

For fun: some interpreter humour (British Sign Language and English subtitles). Written and produced by Ben Green, BSL interpreter.

Log in