Working effectively with NZSL interpreters

This section describes how to effectively work with NZSL interpreters in a variety of situations and how to make working conditions safe for them.

What do NZSL interpreters need to ensure effective communication with Deaf people?

How can I help NZSL interpreters to work safely?

How do I communicate with a Deaf person using a NZSL interpreter?

What do NZSL interpreters need to ensure effective communication with Deaf people?

Meetings with Deaf people will run more efficiently and effectively if you consider requirements of NZSL interpreters as an integral part of your meeting or event planning. This is not an optional extra, or something that can be left until the last minute.

As the meeting/event organiser, you should take responsibility for effective communications and not rely on NZSL interpreters or Deaf person to make everything happen.

The NZSL interpreter will need to:

Hear and see everything and everyone clearly. This includes audio-visual/multimedia presentations, videos and any documents / papers that may be referred to, as well as clear visibility of all participants in a meeting. Interpreters may need to sit or stand slightly in front of (and to the side of) the speaker if microphones are used.

Sit or stand where they will be comfortable for the whole meeting. If seated, the interpreter should ideally have an adjustable chair with a good back and without arm rests.

Sit or stand where they can be seen clearly by the Deaf person(s). The Deaf person and/or the interpreter will be able to advise you on the best position. Things that need to be considered include:

  • being next to the main speakers
  • lighting – can the Deaf person easily see the interpreter?
  • background behind the interpreter  - is there anything to distract from the interpreter, such as a clear glass wall where you can see people moving outside, or coloured wall that makes contrast with the interpreter poor
  • proximity to other visual information - such as where a presentation is projected.

Note: if a Deaf person is speaking at an event, then the NZSL interpreter will need to access a microphone to voice what the Deaf person signs.

Have regular breaks, and/or work with another interpreter.

Have written information about what’s being discussed available before the meeting/event. Information that an interpreter needs includes:

  • advance notice of the purpose of a meeting
  • a list of names or roles of people involved
  • an agenda
  • speech notes
  • handouts
  • a copy of presentation slides.

This information is needed so that the interpreter properly understands the context of the meeting, and any specialised language or terms used which may not be common in NZSL or known by the Deaf person. The NZSL interpreter will need to translate any specialised or technical terms or concepts into language that a Deaf person can understand. This is not easily done on the spot.

How can I help NZSL interpreters to work safely?

As well as ensuring good communication, NZSL interpreters have to manage a physical element to their job. NZSL interpreting is covered by the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 as with all occupations in New Zealand. One of the major health and safety concerns for sign language interpreters is Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS). In a 2005 survey, the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) found that 64% of NZSL interpreters had suffered a work-related injury of some kind during their career.

To prevent such injuries, NZSL interpreters need regular breaks during their working time. The physical location of the meeting or event should be set up so the interpreter can sit or stand comfortably, and there is not undue stress placed on their body while interpreting. This approach follows ACC injury prevention guidelines.

Interpreting between different languages is a complex and mentally demanding task. All interpreters require regular breaks so they retain optimum levels of concentration and accuracy in their interpreting.

Key points for prevention injury are:

  • If your meeting/event lasts more than one hour, you need to book two interpreters. If only one interpreter is working, allow 5 to 10 minutes of rest break for each 30 to 45 minutes of interpreting
  • Make sure the meeting venue is physically comfortable – such as having an adjustable chair with a good back rest but without arm rests, and lighting should not be too dim or too bright to prevent eye strain (both for the NZSL interpreter and the Deaf person).
  • If water or other refreshments are provided to people at the meeting / event, please include the NZSL interpreter(s).
  • Provide information on what is being discussed to the interpreter(s) at least 24 hours in advance. This will lessen the stress of having to interpret new concepts or terms into NZSL on the spot and ensure the best communication happens.

SLIANZ’s Occupational Safety and Health Standard Practice paper outlines best practice for NZSL interpreters to work safely:

How do I communicate with a Deaf person using a NZSL interpreter?

Most people have never taken part in an interpreted conversation before, and it can be difficult to imagine how such a meeting will run. There are some simple things to keep in mind that will help you work effectively with a NZSL interpreter and ensure good communication with a Deaf person:

Your main conversation partner is the Deaf person, not the interpreter. To reflect this, the interpreter will speak/sign in the first person when relaying what each party is saying to the other (for example, the interpreter will sign/speak 'I think' rather than 'he/she thinks').

You should address the Deaf person directly and to face them rather than the interpreter. While it is natural to look at the person talking, you need to remember that interpreter is repeating what the Deaf person said.  

When the Deaf person signs, the interpreter will voice what they are saying into English. Look at the Deaf person signing, rather than at the interpreter, whilst listening to the interpretation.

Talk to the Deaf person in the first person as you would talk to a hearing person. You do not need to talk through a NZSL interpreter, such as saying 'could you please ask him/her...'.

As the Deaf person will need to look at the interpreter while you are speaking, it is useful if the interpreter sits or stands close to you. The Deaf person can then also see your face and body language as you talk.

You can speak at a normal pace. However, it is helpful to the interpreter if you pause occasionally after sentences or chunks of conversation. Interpreting is not a word-for-word process. Instead, the interpreter will wait until they have heard a reasonable chunk of information before they find an equivalent in the other language. It is therefore not helpful if you speak very slowly or pause between words.

If you are quoting from written material, allow extra time and pause between sentences. The grammar of written language is different from that of spoken/signed language, and there are often fewer natural pauses and hesitations. The interpreter will therefore need some additional time to do the interpreting.

The NZSL interpreter’s role is to facilitate communication between people. They do not contribute to the conversation themselves. SLIANZ's Code of Ethics instructs interpreters to remain impartial, and keep all discussion confidential.

Next section: Working with NZSL interpreters in specific situations

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A guide to working with NZSL interpreters

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