Cooperation and trust, prerequisites for successful interpretation and communication

The AIIC Sign Language Network reports on the efsli 2018 conference in Dubrovnik

By Helsa Borinstein, Chloé Chénetier-Kipping, Maya de Wit

A total of 300 attendees from 36 countries (including several non European countries) came to Dubrovnik, Croatia to attend the annual conference of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (efsli) on 15 & 16 September 2018.

Interpreting in Employment Settings: You are (f/h)ired!

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Interpreting in Employment Settings: You are (f/h)ired!’ In some countries around the globe Deaf people are being given more access to education and as a result have increased employment opportunities. This makes the overarching topic of this conference, employment settings, highly relevant. The consumers’ perspective was a large part of what was included in this year’s conference programme.

Helsa Borinstein, Maya de Wit & Chloe Chénetier-Kipling
Helsa Borinstein, Maya de Wit & Chloé Chénetier-Kipping in Dubrovnik. Photo Credit: AIIC SNL

Presentations ranged from how to conduct job interviews with an interpreter to how to work on the job with an interpreter; the stakes being high not only when obtaining employment but often in the daily nuanced interactions between colleagues, superiors, subordinates, and customers.

We learned about a range of struggles and successes in some areas. In Hungary, for example, only 24% of the Deaf population is employed. On the other hand, we heard about a Deaf professional who works with designated interpreters.

Maya de Wit, Chloé Chénetier, and Helsa B. Borinstein represented AIIC, furthering the Association’s continued desire to foster a growing relationship with sign language interpreters. In addition to the official representatives, several other AIIC sign and spoken language interpreters were also in attendance, including Nina Okagbue and Elania Maggio Graw representing CACL.

A warm welcome

Ivanka Bucko, president of EFSLI, offered a warm welcome to start the conference. A representative from the municipality emphasized the need to elevate the profession of sign language interpreters, which has yet to be officially recognized in Croatia.

Opening address by the efsli President
Opening address by the efsli President. (Photo credit: AIIC SLN)

Debra Russell, president of the World Association of Sign Language interpreters (WASLI), Daniela Amodeo, president of European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association (EULITA), and Mirjana Juriša, president of Croatian Association of Sign Language Interpreters (CASLIFD) all offered their best wishes for a successful conference.

Markku Jokinen, president of the European Union of the Deaf (EUD) gave an inspiring opening keynote. His message was, in essence, a reminder of the “why” of what it is that we do. He emphasised the need for Deaf consumers and interpreters to discover a way of working together, describing it as learning to dance together.

Markku stressed the fact that there are situations where sign language interpreters are key protagonists when it comes to helping Deaf people sustain their interaction with hearing interlocutors and emphasized the need for Deaf people to work with sign language interpreters as allies helping to give them access to all the official documents and background knowledge they need to achieve the outcome they want, also describing good (shared) tactics as a means to establish a clear strategy. An effective working relationship requires a deep degree of flexibility and creativity which is sometimes at odds with the training programmes that interpreters undergo.

He went on to present, for the benefit of trainers, a list of what he feels Deaf people need.

The idea of how imperative it is to have trust came up in his presentation, as well as suggestions on how this can be fostered. Essentially, open communication allowing for constructive feedback to be given, heard and honoured. This often requires vulnerability, which can be difficult however it is necessary in order to reach the shared goal.

Cooperation challenges

Malin Tesfazion, from Stockholm University, looked at the cooperation challenges arising when sign language interpreters work with deaf and hearing signers - thereby providing ( i.a through the terminology she used – “hearing non-signer”, “deaf signer”, “hearing signer”) new food for thought for colleagues not familiar with sign language interpreter settings.

Vera Wusu presented her research results on what the requirements are to have fluent sign language interpreting in the workplace: cooperation, openness, trust, familiarity and suitable interpreters. The latter proved to be not easy as it requires humbleness. Hilde Haualand, confirmed this by stating: "There is no handbook about how we, Deaf professionals, work and interact with interpreters. In a way it has changed my identity."

Dr. Christian Rathmann, presenting the DESIGNS project on Deaf people’s access to employment through interpreters, stressed how valuable it was as it allowed for the “tri-partite” engagement from the research, Deaf, and interpreting communities, acknowledging that the respective work done by the three entities on development for training resources and the exchange for best practices to facilitate greater participation of Deaf sign language users in employment (for example the timely availability of interpreters matching the dynamics and demands of the labour market) does not take place in silos. The way forward will be more collaboration.

Over the two days, a number of speakers gave presentations describing the situation of sign language interpretation in a professional setting in their country (UK, Russian Federation, Hungary, Scotland, USA) through surveys or experiments.

The presentation by Patricia Bruck and Elke Schaumberger (Austria) on their work as designated interpreters for a Deaf pharmacist at St Mary’s Pharmacy in Vienna highlighted a number of interesting issues. Over five years of weekly presence they have witnessed a change from a situation where the Deaf professional was perceived as not competent because he always needed an interpreter, to a situation where, because of the regular presence of the interpreters he is now a recognized and integrated member of the team (as are the interpreters) and trust and cooperation have emerged. Additionally,  the pharmacy has become a place of invaluable health-related information for the Deaf community in Vienna.

Frequently sign language interpreters are faced with terminology for which no sign is available. These must be established by or with deaf professionals who are experts on that subject. This, as well as the problem of sustainable funding, were themes that ran through all the “national” presentations, with Marija Kefelja (Croatia) emphasizing another recurring issue: how difficult it can be for sign language interpreters to bridge theory and practice and to know where to draw the ethical line.

From a “conference interpretation” point of view, this in turn leads to the question of whether, in certain circumstances, the ethical lines can be drawn in the same way for sign language interpretation and spoken-languages interpretation and what the guiding criteria should be (with corresponding implications for training).

Professional standards at high-level meetings

AIIC presentation from Maya de Wit. (Photo credit AIIC SLN)
AIIC presentation

Maya de Wit presented on behalf of AIIC and the AIIC Sign Language Network (SLN) “Making it work: applying interpreters’ professional standards at high-level meetings”. She focused on the advanced expertise that is required of the conference interpreter, and on the lack of awareness among consumers, as well as among sign language interpreters, of the fundamental professional standards for conference interpreters.

The aim of the presentation was to provide the participants with information and references on where to find the professional standards, technical requirements, and the international agreements with the institutions, in order to demand good working conditions and linguistic access.

Apart from the Q&A sessions and coffee breaks which were buzzing with energy, workshops made it possible for participants to take a more active part in the event, through group work or instant surveys.

Hilda Haualand and Vibeke Bo looked at the match between Deaf professionals and interpreters and the ways of making it work, however hard it may sometimes be. Type-casting the interpreter, coping with jargon, preparation, management of dialogue and the professional image of the sign language interpreter were the topics discussed. Some of them particularly thought-provoking for spoken-languages interpreters and leading to very interesting exchanges between participants.

Throughout the event, participants –many of them sign language interpreters or spoken language interpreters themselves – were able to benefit from and admire the outstanding interpretation performance provided by the team of interpreters covering the conference. This was a fascinating – and in many ways a very moving – experience for newcomers.

Applause! (Photo credit: AIIC SLN)

Next year, Sweden!

Next year, the efsli 2019 AGM and conference will take place in Malmö from 6 to 9 September. The event will be organized by STTF, the Swedish Association of Sign Language Interpreters, celebrating their 50th anniversary. The topic of the conference is "Let’s have a fika- culture in a cup!" The AIIC Sign Language Network is looking forward to another inspiring conference.

Recommended citation format:
Sign Language Network. "Cooperation and trust, prerequisites for successful interpretation and communication". November 2, 2018. Accessed May 31, 2020. <>.

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