Using a Sign Language Interpreter

  • A sign language interpreter translates between American Sign Language (ASL) and a spoken language such as English or Spanish.
  • Before beginning, give the ASL interpreter the “lay of the land”. Explain what the meeting is about and what you hope to accomplish, as well as a little background on the parties involved.
  • Keep in mind that ASL does not translate spoken language on a word-for-word basis.
  • Therefore, some expressions, humor, plays on words, etc. become meaningless. Try to keep the conversation straightforward.
  • Facial expression is an important part of ASL, in the same way tone and volume are important in spoken language.
  • Speak directly to the Deaf person as if speaking to a hearing person. Avoid statements such as “Tell her” or “Tell him” and try to maintain constant eye contact. Do not speak louder than normal.
  • Most Deaf people have some ability to read lips, so face the person and speak normally. Do not shout or exaggerate lip movement in an attempt to facilitate understanding, as these actions can be demeaning to the Deaf person.
  • The sign language interpreter should be positioned next to and slightly behind you. This arrangement will allow you to engage the Deaf person and also permit her/him to see the interpreter.
  • The sign language interpreter is professionally and ethically obligated to communicate everything that is said, including side remarks, telephone conversations, etc. everything the Deaf person would hear if she or he were not Deaf. If you do not want the Deaf person to “hear” something then do not say it. It is inappropriate to discuss the Deaf person’s case with the interpreter, especially in the presence of the individual. The only exception to this rule might be to clarify a communication issue.