This is the blog/vlog of Isabelle Heyerick. It contains information on interpreting strategies, research and events.
Author: Isabelle Heyerick
My area of expertise is signed language interpreting and my research is situated on the intersection of (applied) linguistics, intercultural studies and language ideologies. I hold a PhD in Linguistics, a MA in Linguistics and a MA in Interpreting. My PhD is a first exploration of which linguistic interpreting strategies Flemish Sign Language interpreters use and why. My postdoctoral research investigates how discourses and ideologies about deaf people and signed languages prevalent in both the majority society and in the Deaf communities influence the linguistic decisions signed language interpreters make in their actual practice.
I am the secretary of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the vice-president of Tenuto, an organisation offering continuous professional development for sign language interpreters.
On July 10th I delivered the opening keynote at the online conference organised by the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters. The theme of the conference was What have we learnt from 2020-2021.
Het artikel gaat in op de strategieën die tolken Nederlands – Vlaamse Gebarentaal (en bij uitbreiding alle tolken) gebruiken en de keuzes die ze maken. Het benadrukt dat die keuzes deel uitmaken van het tolken en dat tolken niet zomaar iets doen maar hun keuzes kunnen motiveren en verklaren.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Hello and welcome to another episode of the exchanges discourse podcast. I am dr. Gareth J. Johnson, the managing editor in chief of Exchanges, the interdisciplinary research journal, published by the Institute for Advanced Study based at the University of Warwick in the UK. Thanks for joining me today. In a similar vein to last times episode, I’m joined once more by a guest and today it’s one of our more senior WIRL-COFUND research fellows. We’ll be talking about her research and publishing experiences.
Well, this morning, I’m joined by Isabelle Heyerick, who is currently a postdoctoral WIRL-COFUND fellow in Applied Linguistics here at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Warwick. Welcome, Isabelle. Thanks for joining us.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Good morning. Happy to be here.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Fantastic. Now, obviously, you know, my first question is going to be about your own research. So, tell me a little bit more about what you’re working on at the moment.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yes, sure. I’m always happy to talk about my research. So, my current research, the focus actually developed from the one I did previously, my PhD. But it’s also influenced by some new current trends in the field. My field of study, I’ll start with that, is signed language interpreting. I approach it from what I would call an interdisciplinary perspective.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Always good.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah, also, one of the reasons I’m an IAS fellow. The interdisciplinarity is actually made up from interpreting studies, obviously, that would be the main angle, but it’s influenced heavily by Deaf Studies, and applied and sociolinguistics. So, the research focus is really on linguistic interpreting strategies, hence the Applied Linguistics angle as well. But I look at how prevalent ideologies about signed languages, spoken languages, and interpreting actually influenc the linguistic choices interpreters make in their actual work. So that’s my main focus, but more recently, and this is because of the pandemic. I mean. I think each researcher is now kind of raring towards like, okay, a lot of stuff is happening here, how can I research this, how does it tie in with the knowledge I already have? So more recently, I’ve actually started to explore the impact of the visibility of signed language interpreters. Because since the pandemic, all over the world, we have a lot of sign language interpreters, in the media, interpreting press conferences, briefings, etc. So, I’m looking at how this increased visibility has actually influenced people in wanting to learn signed languages or wanting to become signed language interpreters and tying this to ideologies they might have about deaf people, about sign languages, etc.
Dr Gaz J Johnson That sounds really timely work as well. I mean, it’s, obviously, I mean, I’ve seen in the media or the various discussions over wearing face masks, and of course, the difficulty for deaf members of the public from not be able to lip read. So saying that of course, sign language at least isn’t restricted by masks in quite the same way.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yes, exactly.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Brilliant. Well, okay. Now, obviously, you’re on the Exchanges Discourses podcast, and one of the things we are very much interested in is scholarly publishing. So I know, as an academic author yourself, you’ve probably got a few irons in the fire at the moment. What, what are you working on right now?
Dr Isabelle Heyerick I have actually not started writing yet. But over the Summer I submitted an abstract to a journal, which will publish a special edition on, believe it or not, sign language interpreting and ideologies.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Fantastic.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick I submitted an abstract and it was accepted for publication. Which means that we have to write the article, right? So at this point, I’m just putting together the skeleton of what I want to address, I am looking at my data. Of course, I am looking at the abstract, where I said what I would write about. So just preparing that really. So it’s due March, which means I will actually really start writing somewhere by the end of next month.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Over the Christmas break, perfect.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah. Sounds like something you want to do with a nice glass of wine or champagne, right?
Dr Gaz J Johnson I find it quite interesting when you submit abstracts, and then you come to write and do the conference paper or the academic paper, and I look at why have I overpromised what I’m going to put in this article. One of these two options would have been a fine article, but it’s been already accepted. So now I’m going to talk about these two themes in one article. Fantastic.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Well, I had my abstract reviewed by a couple of my peers and they were like “Amazing. But I really am reading six articles here”. I kept all drafts of the abstract and I have five more articles in the pipeline.
Dr Gaz J Johnson I guess that’s a good thing. I was going to say. Wow, six articles in one day is good. That is far better.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick I think it’s one of my things. My PhD turned out to be 600 pages. It was like three PhDs in one study, you know.
Dr Gaz J Johnson It’s always good to hear people who write a long thesis, because my thesis was a long one as well. But there was a lot to say, and I’m unfortunately a bit of a garrulous individual when I write as well. Probably part of it. Obviously, you’ve published a few times already, Isabelle, what’s been your impression of the scholarly publishing world for yourself as an academic?
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah. So I think my impression has changed from an early career or early academic author to where I am now. I don’t know. My father used to say that some things you should just do when you’re young and foolish, and you don’t really know what you’re doing. I think for a few of my first publications, this was true. And it was good that I did it when I was young and foolish, because knowing what I know now I would probably not go there. But it also means that sometimes you do something, you invest time and energy, not really knowing what you’re doing. And now in the later stage of my career, I actually do know what is expected of me. And then I look back, like, oh, that was a bit of wasted time and energy, a little learning curve.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Absolutely. And I was going to say, that is the academic learning journey for us all, you know. As with the things I did with my own research, I look back and I went, well, I could have saved myself six months or a year here with this work. If I only realized what I know now, three years later.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Exactly. And I think that’s one of the things that is quite important in academic writing and publishing, to have people around you who kind of know and who are willing to share that knowledge with you. Who are willing to support you, to guide you, and to keep you on track. And it’s not only keeping you on track, like “this is your focus, don’t meander into all the other stuff that’s interesting as well.” It’s also just about very practical stuff; what are the requirements? What are the standards? How do you have to submit something? What will make a good impression? But also, how do you communicate with people you don’t know? How do you communicate with reviewers? What is the right tone? And there’s a lot to learn there, and you don’t learn it during your PhD.
Dr Gaz J Johnson And I was gonna say, in dealing as I do with an awful lot of reviewers, they are all individuals, and they interact, and they react in very different ways to sort of comments from authors and vice versa. So, it is something I often think is, it’s you need to just have that experience. But also people like ourselves, saying don’t stress, that we’ve all been through this, it’s not the end of the world when a reviewer comes back, and they really don’t like your paper.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Exactly. And I think having had later on the experience of also being an editor to an edited volume with another person. So we’re two editors, seeing how the conversation goes between editors and reviewers and then knowing what goes through to the actual author also kind of gave me another perspective. Being on the other side and receiving reviews for other authors, you know. Because you know, well, there’s somebody there, the editor who most of the time will protect both of you. Because I as an editor have had some reviews where I thought these are not very kind reviews, you could make your point in a kinder way. You don’t have to be that attacking or to diminish the person to the ground, right? You can still make your valid point in a more collegial way really.
Dr Gaz J Johnson We always say with exchanges our motto is critique not criticism. That’s what we hope our viewers embrace that it’s going to be analytical, yes, it actually may well say things are not great but there’s a way to phrase it that is still empowering, that is still useful without just going out right down the grounds that well this is a dreadful article I wouldn’t bother publishing this. I have seen reviews like that and particularly for first time authors so downheartening. It really is. So since we’re talking a bit here about the sort of horror stories as well. Have you had any terrible, really terrible experiences? Naming them, names perhaps? In your own publishing career?
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Oh, I’m not going to name any names but there was a very unfortunate event. Very early on, actually. I think it’s probably due to the fact that I was a young author, not a lot of experience and actually co-authoring with somebody who was equally not very experienced in the whole of academic publishing and its code of ethics. It was a combination of ourselves being young, unexperienced and some miscommunication, I think, with the editor of a certain volume. So what happened? We, me and my co-author, we presented a paper at a conference. And that paper was like heavily based on a chapter that had been accepted for a book. So, we’d already written the chapter, it was under embargo, and it would be published in the book soon. But that was what our presentation was based on, like the findings we report on in that chapter. After the conference, we were invited to submit our conference proceedings paper. And we declined, because we said, well, this will be published as a chapter in the book, like inthe very, very near future. The editor of the conference proceedings came back to us and was very adamant that we had to submit the paper. Yeah. Accepting to give this presentation we accepted to publish in the conference proceedings. So we said, okay, we will, we will write something, we will submit something, but a lot of it will be similar to that chapter. Still, we kind of tried to focus on the things we discussed in our presentation, because we didn’t cover the whole research. So it was similar, but different. Anyways, later on, the book was published first, and then a couple of months later, the conference proceedings. And we received an email from the editor of the conference proceedings, calling us intellectually dishonest.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Oh, goodness, sight. Oh, terrible.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick She told us that it is absolutely not done in academia, that you publish the same thing twice in different publications. And we just didn’t know what to do. We were young. We thought we communicated it clearly that this is going to be the case. And we felt that well, we were pressured to do it anyways. So, I think that’s my. Also because you’re young and unexperienced. This was not my first publication. But one of the first. I thought I’ve ruined my academic career. Now someone’s going to tell everyone that I’m dishonest and I’m a fraud. So that was a, that was my horror story.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Wow. That’s a good one. Thank you.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick I’m happy my trauma is serving.
Dr Gaz J Johnson But it’s good to see it hasn’t destroyed your career, has it? You see, you know, you’ve taken it on board, you’ve learned from it. And you know, it’s now something we can talk about, perhaps laugh about at a certain degree, which is good.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah, absolutely. It was, again, a learning curve. And you become more mindful. Now I read what I’m agreeing to.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Back in the day, when I was a librarian in charge of the open access repositories. One of the things I used to say to the academics I worked with so many times: have you actually read what you’ve signed? My job often was to read and analyse lots of license agreements. So, they’re tedious. But my lord, they do sometimes sign you up to things you don’t quite expect.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah, but I think, and I think a lot of early career researchers or academics can relate to this. Sometimes you’re just so happy that they’ve accepted you. They want me to give this presentation. They want me to write this chapter. You just trust that you go like: Yes, I’ll do it. And you don’t really read what will be expected.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Yeah. I will confess, I still get excited every time I get accepted for anything. So, it doesn’t, it doesn’t change. But yeah, I’m like you, I now do scrutinize what exactly have I signed up to do?
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Exactly. Yeah.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Okay. And then Isabelle, my last question, we’ve kind of touched on this in a few areas already. Which is I would like to ask folks, the one piece of advice they’d give, particularly first-time authors, and you’ve kind of touched already on ideas of getting someone else to kind of look at your paper. We talked about do read what are you getting yourself into. But do you think there was one thing you’d say, like almost to your younger self?
Dr Isabelle Heyerick Yeah, I think it ties into what I think is the most important thing I’ve learned in my academic career. Which is that a good author or a published author, because probably they’re not always the same thing, like a published author is not always good author, you have to surround yourself with people who actually want you to be successful. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed. Because I think you never write alone. Even if you’re the sole author of a piece or a chapter, the writing process is not a process you can do by yourself. I mean, obviously there are the people who will help you with the practical stuff, you can have the people you can bounce ideas off, you can ask for reviews outside of the official review process. And then you have your audience. Like you need to know in the back of your mind, I’m writing this for someone, because there’s going to be days, not at the beginning. Because then you’re very motivated. But there’s going to be days like near the end of the first draft, you’re like, I can’t look at this. And then I think it’s important to understand that actually, there are actual people out there waiting for you to have this published because it will be helpful. So, for first-time authors looking to publish. My advice would be, don’t be blinded with where you want to publish. Like, which big title? Which publishing company? Look for people you want to publish with. Who are the people on the editorial board? Who are the people that will guide the whole process? Are these people I want to work with, I think want me to be a successful author, as you will learn so much from them. And those first successes, which might be in less major journals, or might not be with the publishing company in your field. Like in my field, the publishing company would be John Benjamin’s. Right. So obviously, that was a dream of me, to someday I want to have a chapter in one of their books. But I started off publishing in more accessible journals. With people I knew. I knew they wanted me to be published. And that has led me to a chapter this year in one of John Benjamins Publishing volumes.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Wonderful.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick So, I think, yeah, it creates the confidence. These victories you will need to then later on, tackle the big ones. So yes, surround yourself with people who will help you get there.
Dr Gaz J Johnson Well, that’s, that’s fantastic advice. Thank you, Isabelle. Really, really good. In which case, we’ve come to the end of our chat for today, I’m going to thank you because that has been absolutely fascinating for me as well. I hope it will be for our audience. So, thank you very much for coming on the Exchanges Discourse podcast.
Dr Isabelle Heyerick It was my pleasure and really always, always happy we can talk about the work we do. And if it can support someone else’s, even better.
Dr Gaz J Johnson My thanks to Isabelle for a great and highly enjoyable conversation. I do hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to it as well. This will be the last episode of the Exchanges Discourse podcast for 2020. But don’t fret. We will be back early in 2021 with our first double guest episode, as we look towards the publication of our representations of nerds’ special issue later that year. I hope you’ll be able to join us refreshed and revitalized for the new year and ready for some publications related chat. For now, I’m dr. Gary Johnson, your host for this Exchanges Discourse podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our journal and Exchanges on Oracle ac.uk or on Twitter at @ExchangesIAS. If you would like to get in touch with a question for the podcast, a potential theme for later episode or to discuss a potential submission, you can get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening. And please don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe.
If we have ever been challenged and have needed to resort to strategies to cope with the everchanging day-to-day life, it has been in 2020, and it continues to be the case in 2021. Finding a healthy balance to navigate the “new normal” requires strategies and coping mechanisms. I wrote the following article on the well-being of sign language interpreters during the pandemic for the WASLI Newsletter, inspired by a workshop offered by Lianne Nap:
2020 has ended and what a strange and challenging year it has been. It has also shown us how resilient we can be and how we, no matter what, are and stay connected. Our profession had to respond and adapt to the new reality of interpreting during a pandemic where we find ourselves “locked down”. And whereas we have tackled the practical and technological challenges, turned our homes in interpreting studios and trained ourselves in becoming tech-savvy, what have we done to make sure that we are coping with these changes on a personal, psychological and emotional level?
In November, WASLI Secretary, Isabelle Heyerick as the founder and Vice-President of Tenuto vzw (an organisation offering continuous professional development for Flemish Sign Language interpreters) co-organised and attended a webinar on reflection through the concept of mirror play facilitated by Lianne Nap (www.inthemirror.eu). The webinar invited colleagues to reflect on how the physical and technological changes impact their overall energy and how they can tip the scale to the positive.
At the end of this webinar the impression remained that signed language interpreters have addressed the technological adjustments but are neglecting the mental strain interpreting from home is posing. It is necessary to know the technological and practical ins and outs of interpreting during a pandemic: the technology and equipment we need to be able to do our job. However, it is also necessary to know what we need to safeguard our mental well-being. Lianne pointed out: we are our own tool, there is no replacement if we break. This is especially true when professional and personal boundaries are blurred and our work enters our private homes, and vice versa. We are currently not only interpreters working from our own home, we are also all the other facets of our person in that home, managing our personal, private and professional lives (and the ones we interpret for and with) in one space. The impact of this changed reality should not be underestimated and should be addressed so that we can continue to do the job we love.
“We are our own tool, there is no replacement if we break!”
WASLI encourages interpreter associations and organisations to explore opportunities to devote attention to this topic and ways to address it. For instance, some of our regions have established closed Facebook groups where interpreters can discuss the challenges and support each other.
Below we gladly provide other examples of what organisations have offered or are offering to their members, which can serve as inspiration. However, if an organised approach is not (yet) possible, getting in touch with your colleague(s) to have a “we are in this together and we will get through this together” chat might be simply enough.
* While writing this blog the amazing Twitter account @VirtualNotViral organised a Tweet chat on the subject of well-being with guest Narelle Lemon with some great tips and resources, which they allowed me to share in this blog. You can also read the full archived Tweet chat.
This is not about strategies. But it can be, if we want to. This is about what is happening now in the world. Not the biological virus, the other virus: racism and the protests against that virus #BlackLivesMatter.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, huge changes in our daily lives -social and professional-, insecurities, being unable to see our family, travel and enjoy the little things of life, we are facing something much bigger. We are facing ourselves. We are facing our history. We are facing what we thought we knew, what we know, what we wish we did not have to know and what we should know. All of us have been in situations where we did not speak up when discrimination happened, when racist remarks were being made, when sexist “jokes” (why do we call them jokes?) were laughed away. I do not want to talk about the personal experiences. That is a journey each of us has to undertake in our own time and at our own pace. I do want to talk about the lack of diversity in our profession: signed language interpreting.
When we talk about signed language interpreting, we almost immediately think about multiculturalism, multilingualism. However, we tend to limit our conversations, education and knowledge to what this means on to the bicultural axis of deaf culture & hearing culture (whatever those entail) and to the bilingual/bimodal concepts of spoken and signed languages.
Where however are the conversations about the diversity, multicultural knowledge, religious variation we see in society? And I am not only talking about that variety in the deaf communities. What about the hearing people we work with? What about our colleagues? I think that is the sore spot. Where are our interpreter colleagues of colour? Where in Western countries are the Black signed language interpreters, the Asian interpreters, the signed language interpreters from a Muslim background, the Jewish signed language interpreters? When I look at my region in Belgium, Flanders, the society is multicultural, but the Flemish Sign Language (VGT) interpreting community is white and female. Like me. There is no representation of the diverse communities we work with. So how can we expect to serve them adequately?
I have started to educate myself. It’s something each of us can do: learn, start to understand and do better. At the moment I am reading about Black American Sign Language – English interpreters (free download) and I follow the conversations of Black deaf people, educators, researchers, comedians and Black signed language interpreters on Twitter and Instagram. I take in the systemic issues they point to, such as access to education, access to signed language interpreting programmes, ignorance of multicultural topics in those programmes, access to professional associations, underrepresentation in those organisations, racism by service users, racism by colleagues, being “type casted” for only “black” jobs, having to deal with prejudice from educators, colleagues and clients. And I ask myself how can I do better? How can we do better?
I believe signed language interpreting programmes need to have a closer look at the society signed language interpreters work in, the people they work with and the diversity in that society which lacks in the training programmes, the staff and the students.
I believe we need to step away from our binary thinking when it comes to culture and bring the full-scaled multicultural conversation into our profession.
I believe we need to talk about representation of service users through interpreters and what it means if the vast majority of the interpreters are white and female, while the service users are not.
I believe we need to see, acknowledge and accept that we have long ignored that power imbalances in our profession do not only cut along the deaf – hearing distinction. A lot of “voices” are not being heard.
I believe we can change this. And so maybe this can be about strategies at last.
Each of us can start a conversation:
if we are a signed language interpreter, we could start talking about the lack of diversity in our profession with colleagues and service users
if we are a member of a professional signed language interpreter association we could strive for more diversity amongst board members
if we are signed language interpreter educators we could start actively recruiting staff from minoritised groups, look for collaborations with spoken language interpreting programmes that address multicultural realities of interpreting, review the current curricula and actively recruit students from underrepresented groups
if we are signed language interpreting researchers we can make diversity in our field more visible by addressing these topics and putting them on the research agenda
Il n’est pas question de stratégies. Mais si c’est ce que l’on veut, ça peut le devenir. Le sujet, c’est ce qui se passe dans le monde aujourd’hui. Pas le virus biologique, l’autre virus : le racisme, et les manifestations contre ce virus.
Au lendemain de la pandémie de COVID-19, après le confinement, le changements importants qui ont affecté notre vie quotidienne (sociale et professionnelle), l’insécurité, l’impossibilité de voir nos proches, de voyager et de profiter des petits rien de la vie, nous sommes face à quelque chose d’encore plus grand. Nous sommes face à nous-mêmes. Nous sommes face à l’histoire. Nous sommes face à ce que nous pensions savoir, ce que nous savons, ce que nous souhaiterions ne pas avoir à savoir et ce que nous devrions savoir. Nous nous sommes toutes retrouvé.e.s, un jour ou l’autre, dans des situations où nous avons gardé le silence alors que nous assistions à des faits de discrimination, alors que des remarques racistes étaient proférées ou que des gens riaient à des « blagues » sexistes (et d’ailleurs, pourquoi appelle-t-on cela des blagues ?). Je ne veux pas parler d’expériences personnelles. C’est un chemin que chaque personne doit parcourir, à son rythme et lorsqu’elle estime que c’est le bon moment. Ce dont je veux parler, en revanche, c’est de l’absence de diversité au sein de notre profession : l’interprétation en langue des signes.
Lorsque l’on parle de l’interprétation en langue des signes, on pense spontanément à des notions telles que le multiculturalisme ou le multilinguisme. On a cependant tendance à en réduire la signification, dans nos discussions, notre formation académique et notre connaissance de manière générale, à un axe biculturel fait de culture entendante et culture sourde (et tout ce que cela implique), et au concepts bilingues/bimodaux des langues vocales et des langues signées.
Mais où sont les discussions à propos de la diversité, des connaissances multiculturelles ou des différences religieuses que l’on voit en société ? Et je ne parle pas uniquement de ces différences au sein des communautés sourdes. Qu’en est-il des entendant.e.s qui travaillent avec elleux ? Qu’en est- il de nos collègues? Je pense que c’est un sujet douloureux. Où sont nos collègues interprètes de couleur ? Où sont, dans nos pays occidentaux, les interprètes noir.e.s, les interprètes asiatiques, les interprètes de culture musulmane, les interprètes juif.v.e.s ? Si je prends ma région, la Flandre, en Belgique, la société est multiculturelle, mais la communauté d’interprètes en Langue des Signes Flamande (VGT) est féminine et blanche. Tout comme moi. Il n’y a pas de représentation des différentes communautés avec lesquelles nous travaillons. Comment espérer dès lors leur offrir des services suffisants en qualité ?
J’ai commencé à m’instruire moi-même. C’est quelque chose que chacun.e d’entre nous peut faire : apprendre, commencer à comprendre et faire mieux. En ce moment je suis en train de lire à propos d’interprètes en langue des signes américaine – anglais noir.e.s (Téléchargement gratuit) et je suis des discussions de sourd.e.s noir.e.s, de formateur.ice.s, de chercheur.se.s, de comédien.ne.s et d’interprètes en langue des signes noir.e.s sur Twitter et Instagram. J’essaie de comprendre les questions systémiques qu’elleux soulèvent, comme l’accessibilité à l’éducation, l’accessibilité à des programmes d’interprétation en langue des signes, l’ignorance de sujets multiculturels dans ces programmes éducatifs, l’accessibilité aux associations professionnelles, le manque de représentation dans ces organisations professionnelles, le racisme de certaines personnes qui recourent aux services d’un interprète, le racisme des collègues, le fait d’être catalogué et cantonné à des missions « pour les Noirs », de faire face aux a priori des formateur.ice.s, des collègues et des client.e.s. Et je me pose la question, comment puis-je faire mieux ? Comment pouvons nous faire mieux ?
Je crois que les formations d’interprétation en langue des signes doivent regarder de plus près la société dans laquelle les interprètes travaillent, les personnes avec lesquelles elleux travaillent et la diversité de cette société. Une diversité qui est absente des programmes de formation, au sein du personnel formateur ou des étudiant.e.s.
Je crois que nous devons prendre du recul par rapport à notre façon binaire de penser lorsqu’il s’agit de culture, et intégrer les discussions multiculturelles sous toutes leurs facettes dans nos profession.
Je crois que nous devons discuter de la représentation des usager.e.s des services à travers les interprètes et de ce que cela signifie si la grande majorité des interprètes sont des femmes blanc.he.s, tandis que les usager.e.s des services ne le sont pas.
Je crois que nous devons voir, reconnaître et accepter que nous avons longtemps ignoré le fait que les déséquilibres de pouvoirs dans notre profession ne se résument pas a une distinction sourd.e.s- entendant.e.s. Beaucoup de « voix » ne sont pas entendu.e.s.
Je crois que nous pouvons changer cela. Et peut-être qu’en fin de compte, il est bien question de stratégies.
Chacun.e de nous peut entamer une conversation :
En tant qu’interprète en langue des signes, on pourrait entamer une conversation sur l’absence de diversité dans notre profession, et en discuter avec des collègues et avec des usager.e.s de nos services.
En tant que membre d’une association professionnelle d’interprètes en langue des signes, on pourrait lutter en faveur d’une plus grande diversité parmi les membres du bureau.
En tant que formateur.ice.s d’interprètes en langue des signes, on pourrait commencer à recruter activement du personnel issu des minorités, à essayer de collaborer avec des formations d’interprètes en langues vocales qui ont affaire à des situations d’interprétations multiculturelles, on pourrait revoir le programme actuel et recruter activement des étudiant.e.s issu.e.s de groupes sociaux sous-représentés.
En tant que chercheur.se.s en interprétation en langue des signes, on pourrait rendre cette diversité plus visible dans nos recherches en nous intéressant de près à ces questions et en les intégrant au programme de recherche.
The second guest blog (English)/ vlog (French Sign Language – LSF) on this platform is by Aurélia Nana Gassa Gonga (France/ The Netherlands). As a French Sign Language (LSF)/French interpreter since 2012, she wants to share her experience of being a black woman in a profession predominantly composed of white female players. This contribution is a response to a previous post on this website about #BlackLivesMatter.
Aurélia is a qualified French/LSF interpreter since 2012. She is is an active member of the French association of Sign Language interpreters (AFILS) and works for a better recognition of the profession in France and abroad. As a junior researcher, she was part of the French team “Signed Languages and Gesture” at the University Paris 8 and CNRS and undertook research about deaf translation. In 2018, she became a PhD candidate at Radboud University (Nijmegen, The Netherlands) on a project about international sign used by deaf and hearing interpreters. Her research is part of a larger project called “Deaf communication without a shared language”. Aurélia disseminates her research through scientific publications and science popularisation on her Youtube channel “La Tête Froide”. She is on Twitter as @latetefroide.
Who am I?
I was born in France, I have studied LSF interpretation in France and I have worked as a LSF/French interpreter in France. Both of my parents were born in Cameroon and have moved to France in their mid-twenties. I am black, I am French and I feel French. This does not exclude the fact that I still feel connected to my country of origin as members of my family still live there. The path to become a professional LSF/French interpreter has not been an easy one, nor a hard one. As long as I remember, it has been work, simply. I come from a middle-class family and I had to work in parallel during my 5-year-college journey. So did many of my white peers. Plus, I got a student benefit from the French government to support me financially during my studies. So did many of my white peers. I am thankful for this benefit and for my former employers.
Racism and the SL interpreting profession?
The first time I was confronted with myself as a black signed language interpreter was in 2017 at the Gallaudet University Symposium on SL interpreting. This was the perfect occasion to meet many American signed language interpreters and better understand the situation of the deaf communities in the US, after having read a lot about it during my studies. I was shocked to discover that there are two SL interpreting associations in the US: the Register of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Alliance of Black Interpreters. There is also the association Mano a Mano, an organization of trilingual (Spanish-English-ASL) interpreters and, as its name indicates, brings together interpreters based on their working languages and not on the colour of their skin or origin. To be more precise, the RID is the official association for American SL interpreters and in order to be recognized as an ASL interpreter, you need to register with the RID. However, due to division, unequal services and access for black interpreters, the National Alliance of Black Interpreters was founded in 1999. In France, we have only one national SL interpreters’ association (AFILS) whose members are mainly white and female. However, as a black woman, I do not feel excluded. Moreover, I am the secretary within the board.
What justifies a black SL interpreting association in the US?
So there I was, in the US, not being a SL interpreter, nor a French SL interpreter but a black SL interpreter. Whoa, now I feel excluded. I entered the discussion on why the separation came about in the US with my black ASL colleagues and learned that there were three main reasons for this separation. There might be more, but these are the ones that struck me the most.
First, the US country is shaped around ethnic communities. As a consequence, black deaf people may use different signs than white deaf people and the Black deaf culture is perceived as different in ASL communities (one reason being that black deaf children may have attended different schools than deaf white kids because of the segregation policies following the Civil War). White people who are not part of the black community do not have naturally access to this community. In France, to my knowledge, we haven’t been through a segregationist system so LSF is mainly similar among people regardless of their colour.
Secondly, black deaf people usually express the need to identify with their black interpreter. In France, I have had the experience of being personally asked to interpret a situation because I am a female interpreter but never because I am a black interpreter. However, I remember assignments with deaf black people who would react happy and surprised to see a black interpreter coming in. These two reasons make sense to me as applying them, serves the community we work with and aims to improve the quality of the interpretation and the communicative interaction. However, I wish this sociolinguistic need could have been addressed by a dedicated working group within one single SL interpreters’ association instead of having two separate American SL interpreters’ organizations. However, writing this blog post, I took time to discuss this topic with one black ASL interpreter and asked for an update on the situation. She informed me that membership sections have been created within RID to focus on underrepresented populations, including interpreters/translators of colour.
Anyway, the third and last reason that was provided to me in 2017, saddened me. I got this explanation through a testimony from a black colleague. This black ASL interpreter shares an office with white colleagues and each time the white colleagues wanted to talk about a black deaf person, they would sign “black” instead of saying “black”. This feels really weird and uncomfortable for the black interpreter present in the room. Why don’t the white colleagues simply say the word “black”? Is this a bad word? Is it less harsh signing “black” than saying “black” during a conversation where you were talking all the while? So, the third reason for having separate associations is not sociolinguistically rooted like the two other reasons but is rather… Well, I don’t know what word to use. Racist-based? One thing is sure, it is not linked to trying to improve the quality of the interpretation. Here’s my point, black SL interpreters may feel uncomfortable and excluded by their white colleagues.
This last reason resonates with me. In France, some people tend to use “black” instead of “noir” – this might imply that French people are more comfortable using English than French to talk about this – as if “noir” is a bad word. I don’t really feel offended by this depending on the way this is communicated. When for instance the white person is saying something, then pauses as if something special/hard/weird/difficult/I-don’t-know? is happening, and says after that pause “black”, I do feel offended. I don’t understand this pause before the word “black” and the use of “black” instead of “noir”. Depending on the situation, I let it go or I confront the person. However, and fortunately, I do not associate this particular situations with the SL interpreting profession, but with society in general. Moreover, within the SL interpreting profession in France and abroad (efsli, WASLI for instance), I always felt comfortable and welcome. As an academic, I cannot say the same. But this is another story.
So, what’s next?
Back to France. Do black LSF-French interpreters feel discriminated against? I don’t. We should ask more of us and I am really looking forward to learning from testimonies that are similar to mine and that differ from mine. Do black people have less chance to get access to university studies? I don’t know. To the best of my knowledge, I have never read such studies on this topic. Do black people have more risk of being discriminated against getting accommodation or a job? I think so. I have read many studies providing evidence of this discrimination. However, regarding the fact of being discriminated as a black interpreter in France against getting an interpreting assignment… I have never experienced nor noticed such a thing.
So, my point is: of course we should strive for diversity. All kinds of diversity. But let’s take the time to focus on black people.
My question is: is the problem situated within the SL interpreting profession or at another level? Personally, I have never felt the need to fight for more equality for black SL interpreters in France, but for black people. Of course, black SL interpreters community is part of the society and not hermetic to his default. Let’s stand together regardless our ethnic background, let’s be ready to listen to all kind of testimonies from the people concerned, and let’s work this out together.
This is my testimony, this is my contribution. What’s yours?
The first guest blog (English)/ vlog (Flemish Sign Language) on this platform is by Karolien Gebruers (Belgium). Karolien Gebruers has been working as an interpreter Flemish Sign Language/Dutch since 2012. She trains interpreters in the postgraduate interpreting training programme at KU Leuven in Antwerp and is the president of Tenuto, a Flemish non-profit organisation offering continuous professional development training to interpreters. Karolien has a background in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (BAs from Lessius University College) and Interpreting (MSc from Humak University of Applied Sciences). She’s on Twitter as @KaroGebruers.
This guest blog post is related to the thesis I wrote completing the European Master in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI) programme. EUMASLI is a 2.5-year international study programme initiated by Humak University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Heriot-Watt University (Scotland) and Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences (Germany). My thesis explored Flemish Sign Language/Dutch Interpreters’ professional self in times of professionalisation. I did this by studying their self-perception as individuals as well as them being part of a larger professional network.
There are several developments in Flanders suggesting that the signed language interpreting profession is currently going through a professionalisation process. Two of those are quite significant. First of all, in the last decade a university training programme for interpreters has been established and secondly, the number of interpreters who made interpreting their main and full-time profession has slowly increased. If we want to understand how the professionalisation process might shape a profession in the future, it is important to study the current state of the profession and its practitioners. By applying the sociology of interpreting framework (Brunson, 2015), I looked at the daily experiences of individuals at a micro level, while taking into account that those individuals are part of a greater network of social relations (cf. Roy, Brunson & Stone, 2018).
This study did not focus on (linguistic) interpreting strategies as such. However, following the definition of a ‘strategy’ as“a plan, method, or series of manoeuvres or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result” (see earlier blog post), the findings showed that interpreters make decisions and apply strategies when it comes to the profession as a whole as well. I will briefly explain the way in which I collected the data for this research and will subsequently discuss the findings in terms of strategies.
Collecting and analysing the data
My study took on a qualitative approach and engaged six female interpreters (aged between twenty-four and forty-three) with different training backgrounds and levels of work experience. All of them were full-time interpreters and had at least one year of experience at the moment of the interview. The semi-structured interviews I conducted were inspired by two visual methods: autophotography and egocentric sociograms. Autophotography was used to study the self-perception as individuals. The participants were asked to take photographs guided by the question ‘Who are you as an interpreter?’, which they would explain during the interview. Egocentric sociograms , on the other hand, were used to study the self-perception as a part of a larger network. The participants were asked to list the names of people and organisations belonging to their professional network on post-its. Then, they positioned these post-its on the sociogram template, which consists of concentric circles with the interpreter in the centre (figure 1). Participants explained whom they positioned where on the template and why they chose those positions. For those interested in the methodological approach of autophotography and egocentric sociograms, you can read more about the what and how in this blog post.
Both the visual data and the interview transcriptions were uploaded to the software tool Nvivo 12. I mainly focused on thematically analysing the interview data, but also made some observations related to the visual data.
Strategies related to the signed language interpreting profession
Based on the results of the analysis, it appears that strategic choices related to the interpreting profession occur before, during and after interpreting assignments.
Two of the participants in this study, not coincidentally the more seasoned interpreters, expressed that their years of experience enables them to better assess if they are the right interpreter for certain assignments. One of them illustrated this idea with a picture of the ocean (figure 2) saying that although she thinks interpreting can be compared to ‘diving into the deep end’, she sometimes decides not to ‘jump’.
Similarly, another participant took a picture of a tree with ‘broken branches’ (figure 3) and explained how some branches were cut off:
“Those are the branches that grow in all directions, and from time to time you think ‘No, not this branch’.”
Considering whether one is suitable for and capable of carrying out an interpreting assignment successfully is a principle that is included in the ethical code for Flemish Sign Language/Dutch interpreters. Hence, strategically examining if your professional self is the right match for a specific interpreting assignment is something all interpreters should consider.
In terms of representing and promoting the signed language interpreting profession, one participant, working in educational settings, emphasised the importance of making a good first impression. She illustrated this with a knock-on-the-door picture (figure 4) and explained that she is conscious of paving the way for interpreter colleagues when she is in a situation where teachers and students have no prior experience of working with an interpreter.
Again, applying this strategy is adhering to the code of ethics, which states that the interpreter should conduct herself in such a way that respect is shown for herself, the client and the profession. As the work of interpreters is by nature embedded in social relationships (cf. Brunson, 2017) it is expected that strategic decision making is not limited to the individual professional level. The example above indicates that, at a collective level, interpreters take into account their professional network as well as the profession as a whole.
As all participants expressed, not one day is the same in the life of an interpreter, which is seen as enjoyable and challenging at the same time. Being flexible is key. The “expect the unexpected” part of the job is illustrated with a roadwork’s sign (figure 5) by one of the participants, stating:
“You have to do something other than you have planned before, sometimes you think ‘Yes, it will be something like that’, and then you arrive and it’s something completely different.”
Similarly, another participant took a picture of a fridge (figure 6) and compared interpreting to cooking, as every interpreting job can be seen as making a dish, requiring specific ingredients and recipes. She explained that getting the recipe right is a challenge for each assignment:
“[…] sometimes you feel like ‘Wow this was perfect’, and other times it’s like ‘No, I shouldn’t have added this [ingredient]’.”
I would argue that constantly taking decisions and making strategic choices of all kinds during an assignment could be seen as one strategy at a macro level in order to successfully complete this assignment according to its goal.
All participants referred to the heavy workload because of the shortage of interpreters in Flanders. One of them expressed it is difficult to manage work-life balance by stating:
“Sometimes you need to take a break, I think we are literally being overloaded with demands, at the moment the demand for interpreters is too high, but sometimes you have to say to yourself I am taking a break, I am going to take care of myself now, after which the quality of my work will improve […].”
This interpreter consciously takes the decision to practice self-care, which will enhance her work in the long-term. In the realm of self-care, the importance of having colleagues was expressed extensively. All participants added colleagues to their sociograms and positioned them close to themselves, as exemplified in figure 7.
The participants emphasised their need to feel they belong to a group of colleagues. While continuous professional development trainings are seen as moments in which interpreters can share experiences and talk about challenges, the participants also want to have informal encounters with colleagues to debrief and relax. The decision to take a break with a colleague and enjoy coffee and cake in between assignments was illustrated by the following picture:
So, is the signed language interpreting profession strategic by nature?
The cases explained above are just a few examples of strategic decisions Flemish Sign Language/Dutch interpreters make. Although I did not explicitly look for strategies in my study, the participants provided me with eligible examples illustrating that they do apply strategies in order to carry out their work as an interpreter in a professional way benefitting themselves, colleagues, interlocutors, and the profession in general. The use of strategies appears to be an intrinsic part of the signed language interpreting profession. Therefor, I am encouraging interpreters to reflect on their strategies and to believe in ‘the butterfly effect’, as small actions can have a great impact. If we, as interpreters, want to elevate our profession it starts with every individual that is a member of it. Every interpreter can make a difference. I am ending this blog post with an image – what else – that aptly illustrates the butterfly effect:
References Brunson, J. L. (2015). A Sociology of Interpreting. In: B. Nicodemus & K. Cagle (Eds.), Signed Language Interpretation and Translation Research: Selected Papers from the First International Symposium (pp. 130-149). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. Brunson, J. L. (2017). Consumers, colleagues, and certification: Exploring the politics of interpreting. In: C. Stone, & L. Leeson (Eds.), Interpreting and the Politics of Recognition (pp. 99 – 115). London & New York: Routledge. Roy, C., Brunson, J.L., & Stone, C. (2018). The Academic Foundations of Interpreting Studies. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
This article is a critical reflection on public engagement and the concept of impact in UK research institutions, based on a recent experience. The UK impact agenda, driven by the Research Excellence Framework (REF), requires researchers to engage with the public in order to potentially have an impact on society. This, I argue, constitutes the implicit directionality of impact as a one-way process. Recently, I provided a workshop for Flemish Sign Language (VGT) interpreters entitled ‘I interpret, therefore I am’ at the Faculty of Arts of the KU Leuven (Antwerp, Belgium). The aim of the workshop, in line with the impact agenda, was to increase participants’ awareness about the interpreting process and change their perception of how an interpreter’s personal beliefs potentially influence his/her linguistic choices. However, interacting with the participants also had an impact on my current research design and me as a researcher. This particular experience led me to reconsider the implicit idea of impact as a one-way process. In what follows I argue that, impact can and – in my opinion – should be a two-way process, encouraging interaction with the public in order to have a valuable impact on society, research and the researcher.