On 2nd March 2016 the London Assembly passed a motion in favour of the British Deaf Association (BDA) British Sign Language (BSL) Charter. This was a significant event for the Deaf community of London as the BSL Charter consists of five pledges concerning access to services for Deaf people and consultation with the Deaf community. The next step is for the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to sign up and implement the BSL Charter. Paul Redfern, Senior Community Development Manager at the BDA, was interviewed on London Live the same evening and I attended to interpret.
This was an interesting interpreting assignment for many reasons but here I discuss three. Firstly, interpreting between spoken English and BSL (two-way) live on television is something I have done only once. Bookings of this nature do not happen often, although BSL/English interpreters work between sign and speech as part of their everyday work, doing so in a television studio adds another dimension. It’s nerve-wracking. The BBC Breakfast News is interpreted on the BBC News Channel each morning - you may have seen the interpreter in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Here the interpreter is working from spoken English into BSL (one-way) and doing so simultaneously. The interpreter is listening to spoken English (source language), processing the information and producing that in BSL (target language) for the audience at home all at the same time. Not only do you have to be skilled at working under such pressures - exposure on national television - but you also must have excellent knowledge of current affairs.
Interpreting in two modalities is quite different from spoken language interpreting where speaker A says something in language A (source language) and then pauses while the interpreter translates this into language B (target language) for speaker B. The very nature of spoken language interpreting means it is not possible to listen to Language A (source language) while translating into Language B (target language). Interpreting between a spoken language and a signed language allows simultaneous interpretation i.e. the deaf person signs, there is a slight time-lag for processing before the interpreter ‘voices-over’ what was signed and this is a continuous and fluid process. Here the interpreter is working with both the source and target languages simultaneously. There are no pauses - a deaf person can continue signing or a hearing person can keep speaking and the interpreter takes in the new information at the same time as they are signing/voicing-over. ‘Voicing-over’ is the term used to refer to the translation from BSL to spoken English.
This leads to my second point concerning processing time, or ‘time-lag’. In all interpreting there is some ‘time-lag’ which simply means the time from when the person starts speaking/signing to the time when the interpreter begins the interpretation. In a live broadcast each interview has a fixed time slot and so for the interpreter the time-lag must be managed well otherwise the opportunity for the interviewer to present questions is reduced. As I said, time-lag is used for processing and there is much research exploring aspects such as the ideal length and variation between interpreters. As the interpreter, I was processing the questions (English to BSL) and the responses (BSL to English). It’s live and I have limited opportunity to repair any errors. I am conscious that I must accurately reflect both parties and choose the most appropriate signs/words to do so.
The final aspect is preparation. As an interpreter, this is often difficult for hearing clients to grasp, particularly if they are leading a session and I am asking for preparation materials. As an interpreter, in preparing for any assignment I will:
Unfortunately, in this scenario I did not have the questions in advance (this is pretty standard for media interviews). However, I know Paul Redfern very well having interpreted for him on many occasions and we have a good working relationship. We met earlier to discuss the day’s events, for me to learn the names of significant people who had been involved and to think about potential questions - as we took our seats in the studio, just seconds before going live, the presenter leaned in and said he would ask something about …..
Just as an aside, the sharp-eyed of you who have viewed the broadcast might have spotted me voicing ‘Scotland’ and Paul signing SCOTLAND slightly later - which may appear as though I have read his mind. This is a perfect example of us working as a team. Paul was signing his response and I didn’t understand where he was going with his statement and gave him ‘the look’ and he neatly repeated a tiny phrase. At the very heart of interpreting is all parties working together.
With a quick Google search of ‘time lag sign language interpreting’ you can access the PDF ‘The Effects of Lag Time on Interpreter Errors’ by Dennis Cokely. This is an excellent paper: easy to read and outlines in more detail the points I have noted and more.