Quality sign language interpreting – for the benefit of deaf people and interpreters

By: Johnny Baltzersen 

“It has been a great learning experience to have Ida and Emilie at the workshop here in Dar, and when we could also have Elisabeth on a zoom connection from Denmark, we are highly motivated to continue working on improving our sign language interpreting”.

These are the words of a Zoom interview with Jonathan Livingstone and Octavian Simba, key figures in TASLI, the organization for sign language interpreters in Tanzania. Jonathan is the general manager of TASLI and Octavian is a long-time ‘house interpreter’ in the deaf organization CHAVITA.

Sign language and sign language interpreting are two sides of the same coin when it comes to improving the integration of deaf people into society. For ten years, CICED has collaborated with both CHAVITA and TASLI, and while a new project with CHAVITA is being evaluated by CISU, an effort to improve the quality of sign language interpreting is moving forward. In fact, the collaboration in Tanzania started out focusing on sign language interpreting.

Ida Lund and Emilie Lykfeldt, whom Jonathan and Octavian mention, are trained sign language interpreters from what is now University College Copenhagen, where CICED has its roots, and Ida and Emilie had met people from TASLI at a conference in 2011 and responded to their desire for collaboration by getting involved in CICED.

Recently, Ida and Emilie ran another workshop in Dar es Salaam for sign language interpreters from TASLI and CHAVITA.

“It was hugely encouraging to once again experience the enthusiasm for the profession that these super skilled and dedicated sign language interpreters bring to the table,” Emilie and Ida say, also on an online connection, but this time no further away than Funen and Nørrebro, and continue:

“Sometimes we’re not quite sure if what we’re doing makes sense because it’s such a microscopic contribution, but at our check-out exercise it was quite touching and encouraging to hear Mr. K.’s words. Simba says that through our almost 13-year collaboration, the interpreters who have been involved in the project and who now interpret regularly on all TV channels have developed not only skills, but also confidence. It was not something he could have imagined just ten years ago, and it would not have happened without the collaboration with CICED”.

Can you give a concrete example of the new skills that Mr. B. Simba reviews? What can interpreters do that they couldn’t do before?

“On a purely practical level, when you’re out interpreting – usually two together – it’s typical for one of you to take a break and not engage in the situation at all while the other interprets. In other words, collaboration between interpreters and shared learning has not been the focus. Now the interpreters tell us that after our courses they actually position themselves in a way that they can help each other. That when they are voice interpreters and sit next to each other, they can support by whispering helpful remarks, and when they are sign language interpreters, they sit opposite each other and can help by giving signs that the interpreter may not be able to pick up. It may not sound like much, but it makes a huge difference to the work of interpreters and the quality of what is interpreted. And besides more theoretical and general topics such as interpreting ethics, it’s these kinds of new practical tools that make a difference.”

Unprompted, Jonathan and Simba reiterate this point in the interview above zoom. Simba says: “We’re not used to collaborating on tasks. It has always been very individual. But with inputs and demonstrations from Emilie, Ida and Elisabeth, we’ve realized the power of learning together. When we support each other in the actual interpreting situation, we grow together. It’s almost like action learning, because we’ve also started giving each other critical and constructive feedback after each round of interpretation.”

The TASLI-CICED collaboration also supports organizational development to make TASLI better equipped to act as an interest organization for sign language interpreters in Tanzania. And if the conditions for the deaf are to be improved, as the collaboration with the deaf organization CHAVITA clearly shows, more and skilled sign language interpreters are needed.

Balance is key when you’re a sign language interpreter. Exercise break in a workshop in Dar es Salaam.

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