Updated: Oct 30
Sign language interpretation requires a specialised set of skills and unique abilities. It goes beyond mere fluency in sign language.
To ensure that deaf people can receive and understand the message, a sign language interpreter must not only have linguist skills, but they must also possess cultural knowledge and interpersonal skills.
This article shares 5 challenges of sign language interpretation that professional interpreters face in their careers.
1. Hearing the Speaker
To be able to interpret and translate what the speaker is saying, the interpreter must be able to hear it. Location challenges, faulty audio-visual equipment, or poor acoustics can all contribute to an interpreter having difficulty hearing the speaker.
2. Fast Speech
When a speaker is not accustomed to addressing the deaf community, they may unwittingly engage in types of speech and speech cadences that make a professional interpreter’s job extra challenging.
Because a sign language interpreter has to hear the speech, understand it, and translate it into sign language, all while following along, speech that moves too quickly adds an extra burden.
3. Equipment Obstacles
Despite advances in modern technology, equipment snafus are bound to happen. Plus, there’s the chance of human error that can exacerbate a problem. For example, an improperly placed mic that muffles sound or a speaker who fidgets or moves around the stage can compromise sound quality.
4. Technical Jargon
When a speaker has little to no experience having their speech interpreted for the deaf community, they may not be aware of what a professional interpreter is facing.
Acronyms and technical terms may not have associated words in sign language that can be used. As a result, the sign language interpreter may have to spell things out, which can take significant time and put the interpreter at risk of falling behind and compromising the accuracy of the sign language interpreting services.
When possible, an experienced interpreter will get notes and conference materials in advance of the event to become familiar with industry-specific terminology and discussion topics. Interpreters may also need to do research about a topic beforehand to become fluent in the “language.”
5. Humour, Jokes, Slang, and Idioms
Like text and email, humour, sarcasm, and jokes do not always translate into other communication forms, including sign language.
Further, there might not be a sign language equivalent for some slang terms, and additional challenges can be present when a speaker uses idiomatic language. An idiom translated to the deaf community might not have context, there could be regional variations, or the interpreter may simply be unfamiliar with the cultural background of the saying.
For example, “hitting the hay” and “biting the bullet” are traditionally used in American English only and may not be understood by an international audience.
How Advances in Sign Language Technology Research Can Help
As technology continues to evolve, particularly in the field of AI, it can create additional opportunities for the deaf community to get access to real-time information and communication across a variety of platforms.
Specifically, recent developments in AI include systems that can, in the future, recognise and interpret both speech and sign language gestures to enable real-time communication in public spaces, transport hubs, and customer service settings.
The Bottom Line
New technologies are emerging that can help facilitate communication and promote understanding as it gets interpreted from spoken language to sign language. Several factors are accelerating this process, including the need for ADA compliance. You can make your website ADA compliant, add real-time sign language translations to videos, and more with Signapse. Learn more about Signapse’s sign language translation products and how they meet the challenges of sign language interpretation.