3 modalities, 3 languages, 6 professionals: One team
An example of best practice in composing and coordinating a mixed team of sign language interpreters, spoken language interpreters and speech-to-text-reporters.
The L'ADAPT conference which took place on 13 November 2014 at the European Parliament was an event so rare that it is worth mentioning: Two sign language interpreters (SLIs), two spoken language interpreters (sLIs) and two speech-to-text-reporters (STTRs) worked together in a team recruited and coordinated by Aude-Valérie Monfort.
While it makes perfect sense to hire these professionals together as a team given the characteristics and objectives their lines of work share, there is still too large a gap between spoken and sign language interpreters. In recent years AIIC has been trying to close that gap. Now that the association has admitted its first sign language members, the time has come to ensure a strong cooperation between them and their colleagues in the booth. It is in everyones best interest that these professionals be placed on an equal footing, for only the modality of their working languages differs.
With an increasing number of deaf people participating in international events, sLIs and SLIs find themselves working in the same meetings more and more often. Nonetheless, they interact with one another but sporadically and know too little about each others job.
Oliver Pouliot, International Sign-English interpreter, explains: There is no customary way of introducing the various interpreters to each other in these situations. It is generally up to us to go and introduce ourselves to the spoken language interpreters or to find the coordinator of the meeting. A systematic pre-meeting briefing bringing all the interpreters together to get to know each other a bit would go a long way.
Exchanging greetings, sharing preparation information, and asking last-minute questions can help shed light on everyones concerns and foster team spirit, leading to higher quality performance across the board. A short preparatory session with all the interpreters and STTRs leads to consistent use of terminology and guarantees that everyone hears of changes to the agenda or receives a copy of a presentation just handed in. STTRs Céline Laurent and Lauriane Lecapitaine note: A big plus was that we knew right away whom to talk to. Having a single point of contact and preparing the assignment together helped a lot.
Do we agree on the distinction between disabled and handicapped? In French is it personnes handicapées or en situation de handicap? Should we start with the name of the person who is speaking during quick exchanges among participants to make sure that the SLIs know who is saying what? These were just a few of the questions raised during our briefing.
Collaboration also had a positive impact on the performance of the colleagues in the booth. Our English-French interpreters Françoise Celis and Carine Puttevils say that they made an extra effort to avoid repetition, sometimes used for emphasis by a speaker, there being no point in forcing sign language interpreters or STTRs to sign or type the same thing twice. They add: We were especially keen to deliver a rendering that was fully useable straight away, keeping in mind that we were working for our colleagues as well.
It is interesting to note that STTRs often face difficulties similar to those of interpreters. As they cannot always render proper nouns exactly when they are said too quickly, they have to mark the space with an asterisk, just like SLIs or sLIs may skip over a name in a list read at top speed. One difference is striking however. While spoken language interpreters can try to render a proper noun phonetically, sign language interpreters and STTRs must (finger)spell it correctly, otherwise a mistake would appear on the screen or when fingerspelling.
Despite their particularities, the three duos shared an ethos of helping their colleague, be it by whispering a name, writing it down in large letters on a card, or sliding a note across the table in the booth. Three different methods but all equally effective!
This experience also gave us the opportunity to check if the were effective in helping sound engineers working with a mixed team of sign and spoken language interpreters. Our engineer had read the document beforehand and the equipment needed for sign language interpretation stood ready in the room headphone extension cords were plugged in near the platform so that the SLIs could stand close to the speakers. Of course there is still much more to be done when it comes to explaining and raising awareness about the jobs requirements. It would have been preferable to stand near a screen with a velotyped text in English rather than in French. It makes more sense for a deaf participant to be able to sweep over the International Sign and the English text, points out Maya de Wit, International Sign-English interpreter.
For the AIIC Sign Language Network, composing and coordinating a mixed team as done for the L'ADAPT conference reflects an approach overlooked for too long. It is absolutely necessary to repeat this kind of collaboration and improve it through experience.