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Working with British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters

British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters help bridge the gap between the hearing world and the Deaf world. Working with an interpreter for the first time can be daunting so our interpreters have put together a few facts and tips to help you on your way.

Below you’ll find some important things to know about our roles, working with us and how you can help to ensure smooth communication between you and someone who is Deaf. 

1. We train for up to 7 years to become fully qualified

BSL interpreters undergo years of training and study to become qualified and it takes us on average 7 years!
We learn how to translate from English to BSL and BSL to English, not only linguistically but culturally too and we work in these two languages simultaneously. We are specially trained on how communication can be most effective in a group setting or 1:1.

2. Send us preparation materials

Please take time to send us preparation materials before your meeting explaining what you will be talking about and give the interpreter a chance to ask questions. This is especially important if you are going to discuss sensitive topics – something that may be difficult, upsetting or potentially triggering for the person you are meeting. We need to prepare for this as well. 

Having context and prior knowledge to the nature of the booking (for example, an agenda or previous meeting minutes) will allow for a smoother and more accurate interpretation.

If we arrive without this information, we may have to interrupt and stop the meeting to ask for clarification or definition of terminology which can affect the flow of conversation. Remember that you are the expert in your field, so we may be unfamiliar with technical jargon.

3. We won’t sign at the pace as you speak

The grammatical structure of BSL is very different to English. One sign can represent an entire sentence in English, but one concept or word in English will use more signs. This is why there is a time lag when we are interpreting and the responses in facial expression or body language may not match what the interpreter relays back to you.

But rest assured, as trained linguistics, we will make sure the meaning is conveyed both ways and we are using numerous strategies to get accurate answers/information

We will let you know if you need to slow down so we can catch up with what’s been said, in the meantime speak as your normally would. 

4. Book more than one interpreter

Sometimes you may see two interpreters working and wonder why. This is due to the physical and mental demands on the interpreter.

Interpreters will need to swap every 15-20 min, research has found that the quality of an interpretation starts to deteriorate after about 20 minutes. If there is only one interpreter booked and we require a break, please respect this and allow a 5-10 minute break.

5. Check in and offer regular breaks

Please check in with us especially if we are working without a co-worker. We tend to feel like a burden if we ask to stop a meeting and request a break, so if this comes from the person leading the meeting this is always appreciated.

6. Speak directly to the Deaf person, not us

Avoid saying “can you tell” or “Can you ask them?”. Refer directly to the Deaf person, not the interpreter as you would do in any normal conversation. This helps build rapport with your clients or Deaf colleagues and acknowledges that the appointment or conversation is between yourselves and them and not a discussion with us.

7. We are there to interpret everything

Please never ask us to not interpret something you are saying. Our job is to interpret everything that is being said if a Deaf person is present. If you are saying something that you don’t want the Deaf person to know, please have this conversation in private, in another room.

We hope you found this useful and if you have any questions about working with an interpreter, you are welcome to contact our team!

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