Why would Deaf people think interpreting is easy?

I pose the question respectfully. I understand that not all Deaf people think interpreting is easy, but I know several Deaf people who never realized how hard interpreting was until they tried to do it themselves. Case in point, a Deaf colleague of mine recently wrote:

I remember attending a CDI [Certified Deaf Interpreter] workshop with several Deaf participants. After several interpreting exercises, most Deaf participants arrived at a realization – that interpreting is not easy…

I have heard this time and again, and for this reason, I wish all Deaf consumers of interpreting services took a Deaf interpreter workshop! (Unrealistic as that wish might be.) I thought about saying “all consumers” (Deaf and Hearing), but I’ll tell you why I didn’t. It seems to me that most Hearing consumers think interpreting is hard because they see us doing something they are mystified by— signing. Yes, they hear us speaking their spoken language when we interpret from signed language, but even then I believe they think it must be hard to understand “that sign language.” I also have had more Hearing than Deaf consumers say with doubt, “I don’t know how you’re going to interpret that.” Deaf consumers, however, live in a world full of Hearing people, and they know what spoken and written language is capable of. Almost all Deaf people are bilingual—and some Deaf people are more literate than their Hearing counterparts—so to Deaf people, spoken language is not as mystifying as signed language is to Hearing people. I think that might be why Deaf people would think interpreting is easy. What do you think of my theory?

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

5 thoughts on “Why would Deaf people think interpreting is easy?”

  1. As a Deafie, I have done interpreting – both English to sign, and vice versa, and it is bloody hard work, you gotta think on yr feet, you gotta find the correct meaning, etc….which is why I rarely do it…. translating tho, is easier in many ways… personally, I consider the best interpreter’s to be those who are literate in both languages…

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  2. I never envy interpreters. What they have to contend with is very often poor signing by deaf people who are sign-illiterate some of them, but insist As they use sign, everyone else is wrong. You need to understand hearing terps have to have an HIGH degree of English and sign language skills, often way above most deaf people, and have to ‘sign-down’ with all the issues that can bring, including complaints from some deaf the then can’t follow or are being treated as idiots. The global view is all deaf are great signers, we know they are NOT. The deaf can get it wrong and get away with it, terps ca’t !

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  3. I think you’re right about why hearing people think it’s not easy – because they recognize that it’s a foreign modality and they are aware of their own inability to use sign language. They’re monolingual, and they know it.

    But I think deaf people think it’s easy because they are bilingual – they’re just lacking a common modality with the hearing person. It’s more like “if I could hear and talk I could do this myself, because like you, I know both languages.” But I think the mistake here is a lack of understanding of the process. Interpretation, particularly when done simultaneously, is a very different brain process than simply understanding, and I think deaf people who believe interpreting is easy are unaware of this. In my experience, you have to actually go through the process before you can recognize this for yourself. Just the telling isn’t enough, as you noted people realize after workshops.

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  4. I often ask, “Why would anyone think teaching would be easy?” Looks can be deceiving. Just because it looks easy or sounds easy, does not mean it is.

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  5. In forming beliefs, experience is the main factor, not knowledge. Compare a hearing person experiencing signs and a deaf person experiencing sound…. quite a different kettle of fish.

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