A Conversation with Deaf Youth


At the Idaho Association of the Deaf Conference that Cliff and I attended a few weeks ago I had a chance to talk with Deaf youth about interpreters and interpreting services. Part of our conversation was focused on them identifying characteristics of both ideal and problematic interpreters. I thought their insight was valuable, interesting, and worth sharing:

The Ideal Interpreter:

  • Remains very engaged in the process with the Deaf person
  • Works with the student to develop appropriate signs for the class
  • Willing to be a friend
  • Signs clearly
  • Is willing to adjust and accommodate requests and needs
  • Shares knowledge of other sign languages
  • Has good ASL skills
  • Asks the teacher questions if the information is not understood to ensure an effective interpretation
  • Is friendly

The Problematic Interpreter:

  • Does not maintain eye contact while interpreting
  • Stops interpreting abruptly without a clear reason
  • Shows up late resulting in the Deaf student being unable to understand what’s going on and participate
  • Signs too fast so that the information is incomprehensible
  • Does not acknowledge my efforts to communicate my needs
  • Does not know the subject matter
  • Gets distracted by other stuff while interpreting
  • “Too SEE”
  • Does not receive feedback well
  • Defends self when getting feedback, “Well I learned that way!”
  • Knowing ASL is not enough- need to be able to interpret

There are some key themes that emerged in their descriptions of ideal and problematic interpreters. Good interpreters, according to the Deaf youth of Idaho, are the ones who have linguistic fluency in ASL as well as interpreting competency. They are constantly engaged in the interpreting process and interaction with the Deaf students to ensure needs are met. Positive rapport is a key value for those Deaf youth. Extralinguistic knowledge is essential. One student commented on the importance of having an interpreter who knows and understands Chemistry.

The Deaf youth in the discussion vary in how much they use interpreting services. Some attend the school for the Deaf without needing interpreting services. Some are mainstreamed full-time. However, they all agreed on what makes an interpreter ideal. Their insights are in line with things I have heard from Deaf adults over the years. What can you do, as an interpreter, to incorporate the wisdom of those Deaf youth in your practice?

Feel free to comment below.

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