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25 Tips to Being a Good Church Interpreter

  1. Wear proper attire. Solid colors are best. Look for colors that contrast with your skin tone. Be careful about clothing, watches (or jewelry), grooming (such as hair in the face), and habits of movement that may distract.
  2. Ensure proper lighting. Make sure that lights are not shining into the Deaf people's eyes. The interpreter should be lit well. The interpreter and pastor should be visible simultaneously
  3. Be flexible. Often, many last-minute changes will be made (change in Scripture text, unexpected speaker, film; etc). Interpreters must remain calm, accept the changes, do their best, and pray!
  4. Be loyal to the speaker. Convey the intent, ideas, mood, and spirit of the speaker. As an example, don't frown if the speaker's tone is joyful and pleasant.
  5. Relay the meaning of what is said. There are terms in the Bible and music that cause the interpreter to do some serious mental exercises to determine and relay the actual meaning effectively. Speakers often use idioms, as well. Remember to convey the meaning, not strictly the words.
  6. Spell as little as possible. Use another word that can be easily signed and not lose its meaning. While some spelling is inevitable, try to keep it at a minimum.
  7. Know the Bible. If you do not understand what a term means, then how can you sign it or explain it? If you do not know the context of the scripture quoted, how can you effectively interpret it?
  8. Become a "non" person. The Deaf should not "see" the interpreter but the speaker. Example: the speaker says, "When I was a young man," the interpreter should sign "When I was a young man." The interpreter should not sign, "When he was a young man." She becomes the speaker in the eyes of the Deaf. She bows her head and closes her eyes when he does. The interpreter should only be as a relay of information for the speaker.
  9. Use some mouth expressions with your signs.
  10. Sign with a pleasant smile. Looking at an interpreter with a slight smile is a lot more comfortable that looking at someone without any facial expressions. Of course, be sure your face is in keeping with the speaker's tone.
  11. When a Deaf person tries to correct your signing, do not just nod your head; repeat the correct signing. They are trying to help.
  12. Be proficient in two languages, English and ASL. Never be satisfied with your level of signing. Always learn and improve. Seek better ways to improve and become more efficient in the ministry. Deaf people will always be your best judge and teacher. Live with them,love them and learn to think Deaf.
  13. Participate in workshops and programs. Attend seminars, read books, study ASL dictionaries, and talk to Deaf people. Strive to improve; the Deaf will respect you for it!
  14. Try to prepare prior to interpreting. Although difficult, attempt getting as much information ahead of time so you will be better prepared.
  15. Have a back-up plan. Interpreters often feel indispensable. How easy to feel that way if you are the sole interpreter! Train other interpreters or set up a back-up plan, like having DVDs ready to be show. If more than one Deaf person is attending, try encouraging them to have their own class.
  16. Watch your attitude. Many Deaf people will overlook the interpreter's mistakes. But they can not stand a know-it-all attitude or oppressive behavior. Interpreters need to LISTEN to those who are Deaf. Do not take over or use "hearing power." Do have a humble heart and listen to the Deaf and their perspectives. Accept criticism humbly and ask them to tell you more so you can continue learning.
  17. Be involved in the Deaf community. This will strengthen language skills and make for an effective ministry. Good interpreters are those who are frequently with the Deaf, learning their ways, world, and language. The best classroom for Deaf interpreters is the Deaf people themselves.
  18. A new interpreter needs to go ahead and try. Do not wait until you are an expert or you will never sign. The best way to learn is to "do it." Some effort is better than no effort at all. Keep in mind, this means the Deaf also struggle along with you. All Deaf are different; some are more tolerant than others.
  19. Stay in love with the Deaf people. They can see on your face if you really love them. Remember, a little love will cover a multitude of signs.
  20. The Christian interpreters should be trustworthy and confidential.
  21. Sign while talking to others. Interpret all that is being said when around a Deaf person.
  22. Don't demand that Deaf people pay attention while you are interpreting services! This is very offensive.
  23. Allow a Deaf person to speak for themselves, even if their answer is in error to the question.
  24. Do not allow people to interupt your conversations unless it is something very important.
  25. Encourage (not force) Deaf involvement in the services of the church.