Rebecca-Anne Withey: What you should know about my sign language interpreter (BSL)

Posted on January 16, 2018



I’ve had some veeeerrry irritating experiences regarding BSL interpreters and how people respond to me working with one. The comments, the questions, the behaviours. Honestly, I could write a book.

To watch this article in BSL signed by translator Helen Foulkes, click play below, or scroll down to continue in English.

At times it’s been so crazily annoying that I’ve pondered sending people a report of guidelines to read before they meet me a BSL interpreter.

I would call this imaginary report  “what you need to know about my sign language interpreter,” and the guidelines would be something along the lines of…

  1. First of all, my BSL interpreter is called just that, an interpreter. Please do not call them a signer,  translator or worse – my helper. Interpreting is a professional vocation which takes many years of study and life experience – there’s a difference between someone who interprets and someone who signs, capisce?
  2. BSL interpreters act as my voice or my ears – but not my brain. The words they speak are actually mine. So before you tell them how fabulous/awful their presentation was, remember it’s my content you’re referring to. They’re the messenger. Don’t shoot them. And if the work was good I’ll take the credit please 😉
  3. Interpreting is a demanding, highly skilled job so please do not expect them to work in impossible situations. Long, noisy hours without a break is not only harsh on them but actually effects the quality of the interpretation. They aren’t being diva’s when they request an hourly break – it’s not a crafty cigarette they want. It’s a much needed eye break and brain rest!
  4. A lot of the time, I don’t know much about my interpreter. We aren’t best buddies and we don’t answer each other’s questions. It’s a professional relationship. You’re speaking to me through them, not about me to them. They don’t answer for me and sometimes don’t know me at all. So be sure to remember that before you pull them to one side and ask about my personal life. And if they do know me well, they wouldn’t dish any dirt to you. Nosy.
  5. BSL interpreters are in great demand. So please don’t leave bookings until the last minute or expect me to “bring a signer” at the drop of a hat. And don’t say “oh I know a girl who can help you, she can sign!” when it’s an important meeting and the girl in question is about twelve years old. Do you research, give me notice and contact reputable agencies or freelancers only.
  6. You can’t tell interpreters not to tell me certain things. If you’ve said something outloud, they’ll sign it. They provide access to everything, including any awkward/embarrassing/inappropriate comments. So watch what you’re saying, interpreters don’t come with an edit option I’m afraid. 
  7. And finally, whilst my interpreter is extremely adept at interpreting they are not superhuman. I can’t see them if you stand in front of them (!!!!!) and they can’t understand you if you’re mumbling. Accents and mannerisms affect how you sound to others. So if they ask you to repeat yourself or move out of my sight line it’s for a very good reason. So stay calm, be patient, and move aside – please.

Ah. If only I could get that report published.

Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.

She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. 

Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki. 

She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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