12 Tips for Working With A Professional Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter

using a sign language interpreter
Img Source - Verywell Health

Now that you’re up to speed on how to hire the right American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for the Deaf or Spanish translator from a Language Service Provider (LSP) or professional interpreting agency, lets go over some tips for working with ASL interpreters once they’re on the job.

  1. Look at the Deaf person when you’re talking. The interpreter should be treated as semi-invisible. Many have a tendency to look at the interpreter while the message is actually directed towards the Deaf client. The inclination is understandable, but it’s considered rude. Looking at the Deaf person will also allow them to glance over and read your facial expressions, an important feature in Deaf communication.
  2. Speak to the Deaf person as you normally would to any other person. Use first person language, not “tell him/her.” Also, don’t raise your voice or speak slowly (unless specifically asked to). Don’t expect the Deaf person to be able to read your lips. Also, when the interpreter is speaking, remember that the message is actually in the Deaf person’s words, not the interpreter’s.
  1. Be flexible regarding the position of the interpreter. They will typically sit/stand beside the hearing client and face the Deaf person, but they may move around or choose a different position depending on the lighting or the Deaf person’s preference.
  1. Be prepared to spell medical and technical terms or names. Low-frequency words are spelled out and may be difficult for the interpreter.
  1. Prep materials are key to a smooth interpretation. Give any PDFs, PowerPoints, Programs…etc. to the interpreter so they can get familiar with the jargon and names beforehand.
  1. Make sure the interpreter is well-lit and can be seen by all those who rely on their services. If it’s a conference or a similar event where lighting will be controlled, then you may want to consider a spotlight for the interpreter. There’s no use in having the interpreter if they’re literally in the dark.
  1. Interpreters are trained to be the Deaf person’s ‘ears’ in the room. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want the Deaf person to hear. In other words assume that everything that’s being said is being interpreted. It’s rude to speak behind someone’s back, especially when they’re in the same room. It’s considered taking advantage of someone’s disability, so keep that in mind. Also, don’t ask the interpreter not to interpret something, as it puts them in a very uncomfortable position. If you need to discuss something that the Deaf person shouldn’t hear, then leave the room as you’d do with anyone else.
  1. In general, treat the interpreter as a fly on the wall. Interpreters are trained to be as unobtrusive as possible. They are there to facilitate communication between the Deaf person and everyone else. They are not there to garner their own attention. If you have any questions or comments that are to be specifically directed at the interpreter, wait until the end of the assignment and speak to them once the Deaf person has left.
  1. Speak one at a time. It can be very challenging in group settings, but remember that it’s impossible for the interpreter to interpret two messages at the same time.
  1. Expect to book two interpreters when there will be speaking for more than 1.5 hours. Sign Language is a physical language and can result in injury if performed continuously without breaks. Teams will relieve each other every 15-30 minutes (depending on the speaker’s pace), which gives their wrists and arms the rest they need in order to avoid repetitive motion injury. ASL interpreters are especially in short supply, so book them as soon as possible.
  1. Ask for clarification when necessary. Interpreters aren’t perfect, so if a message seems unclear, then just ask the Deaf person for clarification. You can simply say something like “The interpreter said this…, is that what you meant to say?” It may make the interpreter feel uncomfortable, but it’s more important to avoid miscommunication with the Deaf person.
  1. Video interpreting requires high-speed internet, a good webcam, decent screen size, and good speakers/microphone. Nothing is more frustrating to a medical ASL translator than choppy video or not being able to hear, be heard, or seen. Make sure there is a continuously clear picture and sound. Otherwise the interpreter is useless. Also, position the screen in front of the Deaf client and point the webcam at them as well. The interpreter needs to be seen by the Deaf person and needs to see them as well. You can check out On-Site versus Remote interpreting to see if this is the right fit for your needs.

For additional interpreting and translating tips and Deaf culture news you can visit our blog.

Want to Book an Interpreter?

If you have any questions about ASL or other spoken language interpreters, you can reach out to Spot On Interpreting at 855-562-7768. If you’re ready to book a professional medical, conference, or legal ASL interpreter you can also call or fill out our request form. You can also email us at [email protected] or look us up on Yelp and google. We are always happy to help out in any way we can.

We have access to professional and certified ASL interpreters and Spanish translators in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Orlando, Washington D.C., Chicago and across the nation. We are also able to tailor our services to meet your specific needs and budget. As a family-operated 5-star language service provider, our main goal is to treat our ASL & Spanish interpreters, translators, and clients as they deserve to be treated.



James Williams
James is our Lead Content Publisher here at Feeds Portal. He has worked with many top websites over the years, including BuzzFeed.

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