What is interpreting?

Sign language interpreting means more than just replacing words of the spoken language with signs of the sign language. It’s an extremely complex process which requires the interpreter to possess special cognitive, language and interpersonal skills. To put it simply, interpretation consists in receiving a message in one language and translating it appropriately into another language. In reality, in order to properly translate the content of the message from the source language into the target language, above all, the interpreter has to fully understand the sense of the source language message. He needs to have, firstly, an excellent command of the source language, along with knowledge of the cultural reality, and, secondly, highly developed communications skills (awareness of the rules governing the linguistic behaviour in specific communication situations, knowledge of styles and registers, using polite forms of address, sensing the interlocutor’s intentions). Having understood the original message – its sense and aim, the author’s intentions – the interpreter has to reconstruct it in the target language. What it means is that he has to produce a translated text which will be fully grammatically, stylistically and culturally correct, which will reproduce the sense of the original text and render the author’s intentions, what is more, a text whose effect on the target audience will be similar to the original’s effect on its audience. For this purpose, knowledge of specific translation strategies and techniques, fluency in the target language and knowledge of its users’ culture are indispensable for an interpreter. All of this – receiving a message in one language, understanding its meaning and formulating it in another language – occurs almost simultaneously (especially in the case of simultaneous interpretation) and usually under a lot of time pressure. This is why it requires the interpreter to be highly concentrated, sometimes for long periods of time, to have a very good memory, to possess mental and physical strength and the ability to cope with stress. Additionally, in order to provide a high quality translation, the interpreter should possess a vast general knowledge, as well as knowledge of the fields in which he interprets, both of which he should constantly expand in addition to improving his practical interpretation skills. As an interpreter constantly comes in contact with people during his work, he should possess interpersonal skills. Finally, apart from the theoretical knowledge of translation, the practical interpretation skills and the knowledge of the translation quality standards and norms, professional interpreters are bound by the rules described in the the code of ethical conduct.

Professional sing language interpreters throughout the world develop their skills in a long and demanding process of learning and later practising interpretation, first under the guidance of a mentor, later on their own. In order to improve their performance, they join interpreter organisations and participate in conferences, training and workshops dedicated to interpreting. In Poland, education in the field of sign language interpreting has become available just a few years ago (the first edition of the postgraduate studies „Polski Język Migowy” – Polish Sign Language – started in 2008 at the University of Warsaw). The Association of Polish Sign Language Interpreters has also been established recently. As such, sign language interpreting is slowly developing also in our country. More and more people realise that it’s not just knowing a language or two and that sign language interpreting is a job like any other, requiring responsibility and proper qualifications, just like the profession of a doctor or a lawyer does.