What does a sign language interpreter do?

A sign language interpreter converts the spoken language to sign language and vice versa. The interpreter has to listen, understand and memorise the content of the original language and accurately convey the message in sign language. The same goes when the sign language user is using sign language to communicate; the interpreter converts what s/he sees into spoken language. Therefore, the interpreter is the bridge that a speaker and a signer need to communicate.

Interpreting can be during a one-to-one conversation or group setting. It can take place in various areas such as education, health, court and law, employment, media, and social and leisure activities. Depending on the situation, the interpreting can be:

Simultaneous – the interpreter immediately converts what is being said to sign language. This is used in situations like conferences, group settings and education.

Consecutive – the speaker will pause after each sentence and wait while the message is interpreted in sign language. This is used more during one-to-one conversations, such as medical appointments.


Due to the variety in appointments, the interpreter has to be well prepared. The agenda and speeches of conferences/lectures can be useful for preparation. These will help the interpreter to be familiar with the topic and terminology that will be used. Therefore, the interpreter can deliver a better, clearer and effective interpretation, the same as the speaker. Some organisations are afraid to send speeches or presentation beforehand because of security or confidentiality reasons. However, a sign language interpreter is bound by the Code of Ethics which covers both confidentiality and also impartiality in any task.

Team interpreting

An interpreter can either be seen working on her/his own or within a team. This depends on the type and length of the assignment. For example during conferences, which require simultaneous interpreting, two interpreters are assigned for a task. This is because interpreting is an exhausting job in both the mental and physical senses due to the great amount of attention and energy needed. Therefore, it will be very difficult for one interpreter to maintain a high-quality interpreting over a long period of time. In this scenario, one interpreter will be signing and the other will be helping the signing interpreter by giving cues such as repeating names, figures and dates. Also, the interpreters will change after some time to have a fresher mind and avoid mistakes.

Interpreting service in Malta

The interpreting service in Malta is mainly offered by Aġenzija Sapport for Deaf individuals who use Maltese Sign Language. The service is also available for individuals/entities who would like to make their services or events more accessible to service users.  To contact or book a sign language interpreter, one can send an email on sli.sapport@gov.mt. Further information about Sapport services is available on www.sapport.gov.mt.

Maris Bonnici is a qualified Sign Language Interpreter at Aġenzija Sapport.

Image result for interpreter sign language

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