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6 Ways to Ensure your Communication via a British Sign Language Interpreter is Successful

At eSense Translations, one of the key services we offer is British Sign Language interpreting. This service is normally provided to assist a deaf or partially-hearing person communicate in a discussion where spoken language is used. Although, a lot of the advice we have previously shared on working with an interpreter can be applied to working with a British Sign Language interpreter, there are other tips that you can follow to ensure your communication is as effective as possible. Here eSense Translations offers 6 further guidelines.


1) Categories of BSL interpreters

There are two categories of registered BSL interpreters:

  • Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) – Yellow Badge
  • Trainee Sign Language Interpreter (TSLI) – Purple/Blue Badge

Both categories of interpreters have to meet certain standards, demonstrating their qualification and experience in sign language interpreting. TSLIs are normally working towards their RSLI status and although they are not permitted to interpret for the criminal justice system or within mental health settings, there are number of appointments, for example education, team meetings and basic medical appointments, where they do have the qualifications and skills needed to interpret effectively.


2) Ensure sufficient breaks are included during the session

Sign language interpreting can be very tiring. It is therefore recommended that BSL interpreters take breaks after 20 minutes of interpreting. If the session is extensive and breaks are not possible, then two BSL interpreters should be booked to work interchangeable over this period of time.

Sign language interpreting can be equally tiring for the BSL user, so regular breaks should be included to give them a rest too. Remember a lack of concentration, could mean that vital information is lost or misunderstood.


3) Provide the BSL interpreter with preparation material in advance where possible

British Sign Language interprets ideas to their recipient, rather than every single word. If your discussion is particularly technical, has abstract or subject- specific vocabulary, it is very useful for the BSL interpreter to have access to this information in advance, so that they can prepare effective equivalents in sign language.


4) Consider the position of the sign language interpreter 

Whether your BSL interpreter is signing for a group during a presentation or for an individual during a one-to-one meeting, consider where that interpreter is positioned. The deaf participant(s) will be looking directly at the interpreter, so do not place them with any light shining behind and directly into the recipients’ eyes.

Try to ensure the background behind the interpreter is as plain as possible to make watching them as clear and easy on the eye as possible.

If interpreting during a conference when a video or slide-show is being shown, ensure the interpreter is not in the dark! Leave the room lit or arrange for a specific light to be on the BSL interpreter. Also as a side-note, if the BSL interpreter will be asked to interpret the video shown, ensure they are able to watch it in advance. Normally sign-language interpreters will stand with their back to the video and so will not be able to view the content at the time.


5) Impartiality

Remember the sign language interpreter is there only to assist with communication between the two parties. He or she must remain impartial and therefore cannot offer any advice or direction to either person. The BSL interpreter will adhere to a strict set of boundaries to ensure the avoidance of any misunderstandings and to achieve clear, effective communication, but also will not show any bias or preference throughout the interactions.


6) Allow sufficient time for responding

Although BSL interpreters will normally interpret simultaneously, there will still be a slight delay, as they need grasp the meaning of the sentences before signing them to the recipient. When in a group particularly, always allow for this delay, giving the deaf participant sufficient time to respond.


Bonus Tip!

At eSense Translations, we book British Sign Language interpreting sessions on a regular basis and from our experience we know that these interpreters’ diaries get booked up very quickly. If you require a sign language interpreter, always try to book in advance as much as possible. However, don’t despair if you need assistance more urgently! Diaries change, so it’s always worth checking if you do need a BSL within the next day or two, eSense Translations will do their best to assist!


By Lorna Paice


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