Xuan Luo, NZSTI Council Member
Thanks to the unanimous support of the NZSTI council, I had the opportunity to attend SLIANZ’s online 2022 Conference “Interpreting Tomorrow” on 2 and 3 July as the NZSTI representative.
The conference successfully wove a remarkable range of topics into eleven presentations delivered either as real time presentations or pre-recorded videos. The line-up included five international keynote speakers as well as an impressive cohort of NZSL interpreters, training academics, and students. The topics ranged from remote conference interpreting teaming, interpreting during a pandemic and how COVID-19 has affected the AUT NZSL programmes to theatre interpreting and an academic examination of the role that sign language interpreting services play for the Deaf community. As someone with little prior knowledge about sign language interpreting, I found the presentations eye-opening and thought-provoking.
The conference was held virtually, but attendees also had the option of gathering at different hubs to watch the presentations with others. This was a great option for those who prefer to have more human contact rather than spending the whole day sitting in front of the computer alone. The organisers included a fun photo competition between the breaks which added humour and helped relax the attendees during what was a content-packed conference.
Maya de Wit, the first international presenter, showcased a number of impressive technical set-ups for remote conference interpreting in teams. She also provided tips and advice on new skills and tools to cope with the challenges of remote team interpreting. Maya’s explanation of a system that utilised five computer screens set up with different apps open to accommodate various technical purposes was truly an eye-opener in terms of how technology could be used to accommodate teaming for conferences interpreting.
Another keynote speaker, social scientist Professor Alys Young, delivered a talk on her research project “Translating the Deaf Self”. The project examined how Deaf people’s spontaneity or self being can be obscured or even lost through the filtered lens of interpretation, and how interpreter-mediated interactions can inaccurately represent Deaf people’s identities. Through their interaction with hearing people through sign interpreters, Deaf people are “re-presented” and their identity consequently depends heavily on the way the interpreter “portrays” them. One interesting finding of the project was that well-educated Deaf professionals reported that matching personalities with the interpreters is more important than trait-matching, such as gender-matching. One such professional reported that they chose interpreters for different situation based on their characters to better suit their needs. Professor Young’s presentation struck a chord with me as I once read a book which claimed that “interpreting is a performing art” and that interpreters are essentially “acting” the clients’ original method of communication in a different language. Although I have my reservations about interpreting being a “performing art”, it does appear that in their efforts to preserve the linguistic content and intent of the original utterance, spoken language interpreters should also endeavour to preserve the paralinguistic elements in a non-obtrusive manner and make careful and appropriate language choices so that the self-identity of CLAD clients remains true. This is particularly important in specific medical settings such as psychoanalysis assessments, or in some legal settings where character is a crucial factor for decision making.
The presentation delivered jointly by Maartje De Meulder and Hilde Haualand seemed to echo Professor Young’s perspective and was equally as thought provoking. Being Deaf themselves and highly successful in their academic careers, Maartje and Hilde re-examined the impact of the sign language interpreting services (SLIS) from a mezzo perspective. Their presentation questioned whether the institutionalization of SLIS in government policy, in countries such as New Zealand, is the answer to granting “access” and “inclusion” for Deaf people. They gave a brief account of how changing the policy in an attempt to achieve inclusion and access to public services for Deaf people contributes to a decrease in designated services for Deaf (or disabled) people such as Deaf schools or Deaf churches, and the problems which arise when SLIS becomes a prerequisite for public service provision. They urged that SLIS should be studied and analysed critically. Emphasising it was not a demand to cut funding for SLIS, they suggested that more scrutiny was needed on how different kinds of “access” can be created without SLIS, and called for more language-concordant education and public services. Although I had no in-depth knowledge about this subject matter, I gravitated towards their view point that institutionalised SLIS should not replace other types of access and inclusion, and the idea that the more independent of SLIS Deaf people are, the more they are included in society.
The SLIANZ local team delivered lively and relevant presentations that gave me the chance to understand how the pandemic affected SL interpreting practice, training programmes and the Deaf community, and how they coped with the challenges and came up with new strategies. The presentation by the Wellington COVID-19 team who interpreted for 300+ press releases was particularly interesting. Jenn and Angela shared their personal stories of how they got involved in the Wellington COVID-19 team, including their challenges of signing new terminologies such as “COVID positive” and “booster vaccine”, the mental pressure of working in the public spotlight. They talked about their hard work preparing for intensive assignments through teaming and close communication with the Deaf community. Their honesty in sharing their vulnerabilities was much appreciated by the audience, and their final messages were also relevant to spoken language interpreters, particularly the last message of “be nice to yourself” as the mental stresses and pressures of translating/interpreting professions can take a toll on the practitioners.
I also found Donna Bailey’s presentation on video interpreting very interesting. She analysed how skilled and experienced interpreters took on a dynamic role during their interactions with Deaf & hearing clients (particularly at the opening and closing) to ensure a smooth flow of the conversation, or to navigate challenges. I felt this was a good reflection on the role boundary of spoken interpreters. Are we there merely to enable our clients to linguistically present, or should we use our social skills and cultural knowledge to subtly assist or navigate the interaction and handle any potential difficulties? To what extent should the interpreter intervene? In reality, there are always situations that aren’t black and white, and practicing interpreters constantly face the challenges as to how to handle role boundary situations.
Some other interesting points I learned during the conference were:
- There is currently only one New Zealand Sign Language/English interpreter training course in the country which is offered by AUT in Auckland. The course is a three-year full-time course.
- There are approximately 160 practicing sign language interpreters in New Zealand. In comparison, the number in the UK is approximately 1600.
- SLIANZ has around 140 members and the number of conference registrations was 116.
- Quite often, sign language interpreters work in a team, and they generally work in 15-minute blocks. Because of this teaming practice (combined with the small size of their society), I feel that SLIANZ is quite a tight-knit community.
In conclusion, attending SLIANZ 2022 was a very positive experience for me, and I learned a huge amount from the conference. Not only did it provide me with knowledge of sign language interpreting, but it also gave me opportunities to reflect on spoken interpreting practices from many different perspectives. I would encourage more NZSTI members to attend SLIANZ conferences in the future.