Sign language interpreters work in various translation environments, in various conditions, in various situations and on various bases. In countries where sign language interpreting is more developed, interpreters can work in translation agencies, in institutions which use interpreting services on a regular basis, such as hospitals, courts of law, schools and universities or companies employing the deaf, or as freelancers. The situation in Poland is somewhat different: sign language interpreters are employed mainly by the Polish Association of the Deaf or one or two companies (full-time or for specific interpreting assignments); they can also work in institutions which sometimes require sign interpreting services, usually in a dual role – that of an employee of the institution, e.g. a clerk, and of an interpreter. For many people interpreting is an additional job, performed after or while working – in such cases interpretation is most often done by freelancers. There is also a considerable group of people who volunteer sign language interpreting services to help their family or friends.
Sign language interpreters work in various translation environments:
- medical (doctor’s appointments with family physicians, specialists, in a clinic and in a hospital)
- legal (at police stations, in courts, at a notary’s office)
- administrative (in offices, in banks, at a cooperative’s office)
- educational (at schools, at universities)
- professional (during job interviews, work meetings and corporate training)
- artistic (in theatres, cinemas, during cultural events)
- family and social (during religious ceremonies and special events)
- public (during local and state events)
In principle, sign language interpreters should specialize in particular fields, just like interpreters. Specialization ensures a higher quality of interpretation, resulting from, above all, knowledge of the subject and professional experience on the part of the interpreter. However, in practice, interpreters often have to interpret in various fields due to the acute lack of sign language interpreters. This requires immense flexibility, vast general knowledge and high language and communication competences. In many countries throughout the world sign language interpreters also provide remote interpreting via cameras or videophones (video-relay interpreting).
Interpreting is a very exhausting activity, both mentally and physically (especially in the case of sing language interpreters). This is why interpreters should work in a team (usually in a team of two) when a single interpreting assignment lasts more than 1 hour. In such situations interpreters take turns at interpreting, working in 20-30 minute intervals. When one of them works, the other one rests, allowing his mind and body to have a rest. However, he remains in constant contact with the interpreter currently working – monitoring his interpretation and providing support in problematic moments. For example, when the working interpreter loses or forgets a part of the original information, doesn’t know the equivalent for the original word or is not sure if he’s interpreting correctly, the interpreter who is resting can whisper the answer or confirm that the interpretation is correct, but also point out a mistake.
Team interpreting is the optimal solution for lengthy assignments. An interpreter’s level of concentration and his/her ability to process information decrease noticeably after 15-20 minutes of interpreting, which leads to a considerable decrease in the quality of interpretation. A 10 to 15 minute break and a rest from work allow the interpreter to regenerate and return to work with renewed energy. Awareness of working in a team is also beneficial for the interpreters’ physical and mental state: presence of a colleague is an enormous support, both before and during the interpretation, as well as after it is completed. And, as two heads are better than one, the final result of an interpretation whose quality is overseen by two interpreters is undoubtedly better.