Aude-Valérie Monfort

Round Table with Sign Language Interpreters at the AIIC Germany Regional Meeting in Hamburg

05/11/2016

 

In the interest of narrowing the knowledge gap between sign and spoken language interpreters, Aude-Valérie Monfort, founder of the AIIC Sign Language Network, organised a roundtable discussion at the AIIC Germany Regional Meeting meeting in November 2016.

Simone Scholl and Julia Cramer, two sign language interpreters based in Hamburg, joined the meeting at the end of the afternoon to talk about their work and reply to the many questions put forward by the participants.

After graduating, Julia Cramer specialised in medical and performing arts subjects, two completely different fields of interpreting, but both perfectly in keeping with her interest in communication between people. Julia is also active in the sign language interpreters association in Northern Germany and works as a sign language interpreter trainer. Her own former teacher, Simone Scholl, teaches conference interpreting at the University of Hamburg where students can prepare for the Bachelor or Master degree in sign language interpreting, the latter with a specialisation in court and conference interpreting.

With regard to further education opportunities, the University of Hamburg also offers a programme in court interpreting where sign-language interpreters are trained successfully together with spoken language interpreters, in particular with languages of lesser diffusion. 

In Germany, most of SLIs’ assignments are paid on the basis of the federal law on payment and compensation by judicial authorities (JVEG), i.e. by the hour, whether the interpreters accompany a deaf person to a medical appointment or a student to his university lecture on philosophy or engineering.

When asked about coping strategies with very fast speakers, a situation also familiar to spoken language interpreters, both explained that sign language has a definite advantage over spoken language. Its three dimensional grammatical structure helps expressing oneself in a more economic manner: For example, if the speaker says “the person approaching the car looks angry”, the sign language interpreter can use one hand to sign the car, the second hand to represent the person moving towards the car and a facial expression to express “anger”, all this at the same time. Whereas a spoken language interpreter will still have to articulate a sentence, one word at a time, with only one mouth. Some signs are also extremely practically short. When the first microwave ovens appeared on the market, deaf people signed the oven and the use of it in a very descriptive and lengthy manner (Imagine Marcel Marceau miming a rectangular object, opening the door, sliding in a plate, closing the door, pressing the button, and a slight waving of the fingers to indicate the microwaves). Today, the whole descriptive process has been reduced to the slight waving of the fingers in the air, which takes only a fraction of a second to sign. Naturally, in a speech for instance, it is sometimes still necessary to spell out each letter of a name when the person is mentioned for the first time or until a sign has been agreed upon to designate the object or the concept mentioned. But sign and spoken languages remain equal in that, sometimes, the speaker’s speed challenges the interpreter’s skills.

The discussion between sign and spoken language interpreters continued afterwards over dinner where European colleagues managed to impress their US counterparts with their skills at tackling a huge hamburger with a knife and a fork.

For the future, the Sign Language Network representatives and Julia Cramer agreed to build on this first contact by developing cooperation between their professional associations and organising joint training events.

Aude-Valérie Monfort
November 2016