American Sign Language, or ASL, is the predominant language used by the Deaf community to communicate, relying on the relay of hand gestures, facial expressions and body postures to convey a message. Following on from our previous post, we’re going to look at some key facts about Amerian Sign Language, and what you need to understand about sign language interpreters when it comes to keeping your communications clear.
Why do you need a sign language interpreter?
In order to assist with communication between those who use ASL and those who do not, a sign language interpreter can be hired to close the language barrier.
It is vital to note that while ASL and English are both widely used in the United States, they are as distinct as any two languages. Direct translation from one to another is impossible, in the same way it is impossible to directly translate from English to Spanish or Chinese, and vice versa. The role of a sign language interpreter in the communication process is instead to help communicate what one party means, rather than what they are saying.
Interpretation becomes more complicated when we consider the use of metaphor and connotations in English that are often used to convey something without saying specific words. In English, we might ask rhetorically, ‘How are you?’, when we really just mean ‘Hello.’
What makes an interpreter important?
In this sense, a professional sign language interpreter is more than just a medium through which two people can communicate. An interpreter must display empathy, respect privacy, and make judgement calls on the sorts of messages they are comfortable with interpreting. Simply knowing how to sign using ASL isn’t enough to be a sign language interpreter. There comes with it a great deal more responsibility to communicating meaning, most often without rehearsal or preparation.
Using a sign language interpreter requires an English speaker to think about what they mean, as well as what they are saying. Sometimes, a direct approach is preferable, to allow for the message to be more easily communicated and understood. This is especially important when one considers the role of sign language interpreters within the medical industry, in education, and during public announcements.
In order to meet accessibility demands of customers, businesses benefit from understanding the differences between interpretation and translation, and the professional services available to help their messages be shared more widely. Public-facing companies in particular are increasingly required to change their approaches to business so they might meet the needs of their customers with specific requirements in terms of access. Depending on the complexity of the message a company wishes to convey, the employment of a sign language interpreter can assist in the sharing of a corporate message.
Who uses American Sign Language?
In the United States, it is estimated that more than 500,000 people use ASL, including members of the Deaf community – approximately 11 million people in the US – as well as those they live with or socialise with regularly, and sign language interpreters.
It is important to note that even accounting for the members of the Deaf community who learn ASL later in life as a result of hearing loss, the status of American Sign Language in the United States varies from state to state. At present, 40 states recognise ASL as either a foreign language with regards to school credits, or as the official language for the Deaf community in the state. Just as with English speakers using different accents, ASL users communicate through regional accents across America.