Never Stop Improving: Why You Should Improve Your Signing Skills
Imagine taking a trip to a foreign country. You do not know the language, so you are forced to rely on someone else to help you communicate. Would it matter to you if that person stayed true to the message you wanted to share? Would you care if the person expressed the feelings and exact meaning behind your statement? What if the other person misinterpreted your message, sounding bored or angry when you didn’t intend it that way?
In today’s society, we have so many different ways of communicating through technology: phones, texting, email, instant messaging. But have you noticed that when technology is used, the message is often unclear? Because the other person can’t see your face (and in some cases, can’t hear your voice), they sometimes misunderstand your intentions. The same is true in the Deaf world. I have heard the statement that “deafness is a communication handicap”. Deaf people often rely on interpreters to help bridge that communication gap. That is a big responsibility for interpreters.
Church interpreters are no different. We have the responsibility to communicate God’s message from the preacher to the deaf person. It needs to be clear and accurate! Unfortunately, it often is not. Sometimes church interpreters are looked down upon. Because they only interpret at church, not as a job to make money, they sometimes feel they are “good enough”. Many reach a certain point in their skill level and stop trying to improve.
Never stop learning!
Small improvements are better than none!
4 Reasons to Improve
1. God commands you to do your best.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). If you are going to take up the responsibility of becoming an interpreter, you should “do it with thy might”. You should always try to become the best interpreter you can be.
2. It shows that you care.
If you always stay at the same level, never adding to vocabulary, or trying to learn new ways, it gives the impression that you are not really concerned about the deaf. Years ago, many interpreters were taught English word order and initialized signs. Over time, methods have changed and some signs have been updated. It is difficult, but not impossible, to learn new methods after many years of doing things the same way. You should at least be able to say you have done what you could. When someone corrects you or shows you a new sign, write it down. Try hard to remember those signs, and make a point to incorporate them when signing. Be willing to adjust and change.
3. It may reach more people.
If a deaf person visits your church for the first time, will they be able to understand you? Will they see that you are trying your best and that you have a desire to communicate with them? There are certain false religions which are known for having extremely well-trained and professional interpreters. This does not always mean that they have a college degree or an interpreting certificate. It means they practice, and learn, and do their best to sign the way that deaf people can understand. Ted Camp, founder of Silent Word Ministries, often says, “If they do not understand the way you sign, then sign the way they understand”. If you believe that you have the Truth, then work hard to communicate it clearly. Make communication and understanding easy so they will want to come again.
4. It will help you teach others.
What will happen when the older generation of interpreters passes away? Will there be younger interpreters stepping in to take the responsibility? Many younger interpreters are becoming more and more focused on “professional” interpreting – interpreting in schools, legal, medical, and other areas. There is nothing wrong with those things, but we need more young people surrendering their lives and obeying God’s call into the Deaf Ministry! Who is going to teach them? Can you show them the right way? When I first wanted to learn sign language as a teenager, where did I go? To a lady who was interpreting in my church. I became interested in sign language through watching her. She graciously went through a sign language book with me on Sunday afternoons. When I first tried to interpret, I did a lousy job because I still didn’t know many signs. But she helped me to get started. Neither of us knew at that time that God would later call me into full-time Deaf Ministry.
A Word of Warning!
Notice in the first reason, I did not say, “Try to become the best interpreter”. We are not to compare ourselves with others. It is so easy to look around at other interpreters and think “I will never be that good” and become discouraged. Or we might say, “I could have done a better job than that person” and become proud. The emphasis should be on becoming the “best interpreter we can be”. Each person has a different skill level, and we should work to improve, while accepting that we may never sign like “so-and-so”. For some, it is a challenge to interpret deep ideas quickly. For others, signing may seem to come naturally. 2 Corinthians 8:12 says, “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” God knows our skill level; He created us each differently. But He can also give us strength and enable us to go beyond what we thought was possible if we are willing to let Him. It is our responsibility to do our best.
Ways to Improve:
Study – there are many resources available on the internet that can be used to help you improve. Online ASL dictionaries are a great way to increase your sign vocabulary. Silent Word Ministries has many books and materials to help you improve your signs. Visit silentwordministries.org to see our online catalog.
Find a mentor – this could be someone who is deaf or hearing. This should be someone who is further along than you. It might be someone who holds an interpreting certificate or who has studied ASL. Or it may be someone who has signed for many more years than you. Just be sure that they are qualified. Perhaps they can explain some of the rules to you, and help you understand why things are done a certain way.
Watch other interpreters – this is a good way to add new signs or see how grammar is used. It may be in person, or you can try looking up videos online. Videos of professionals interpreting for world leaders or other settings can sometimes be found. Disclaimer: use caution when viewing online videos. Not all videos are good. Be aware that some videos may be submitted by new students doing assignments for class. Others may have questionable content or situations. Use wisdom in this area.
Practice with a friend or fellow interpreter – find someone you can meet with regularly. Sign to each other. Keep each other accountable, and help each other to learn and improve. Set goals – example: learn five new signs before the next meeting time.
Attend a workshop – ask other interpreters or visit www.rid.org to find out if there are workshops in your area. Some workshop may have a fee, while others are free. There are many topics to study. Silent Word Ministries conducts workshops such as the American Sign Language Institute (ASLI) during the summer. We also conduct special days such as Fantastic Saturdays in many states. These meetings are designed to reach and teach deaf, but also to help interpreters improve their skill levels.
Spend time with the Deaf – One of the best ways to improve your signs is to spend time with people who know the language best. Deaf people love to get together. Many areas have socials called “Deaf Coffee Chats” or “Silent Socials” at a local mall or coffee shop. Some communities have Deaf Bowling Leagues. Ask your deaf where other deaf meet. Then go and sign with them. Some areas host special activities such as Deaf Expos.
In everything you do, strive for excellence. Work hard to be your best!
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest.
Until your good is better and your better is best.”
– Tim Duncan