Working with New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters

NZSL Interpreters are usually hearing, are fluent in English and NZSL, and hold a qualification in ethically interacting with at least two other parties who don’t share a language. For most of our interpreters, interpreting is their full time job.

Our interpreters follow a code of ethics which give everybody clear expectations of their boundaries and behaviour.

There are a few things you can do to make your interpreted communication go more smoothly:

Tips for booking the interpreter:

  • We try our best to get the best interpreter match for all bookings. The sooner you can let us know about your booking, the better the interpreter match will be achieved. Many Deaf people have a preference of interpreter and we may need to juggle that interpreter’s appointments to meet everyone’s needs.
  • If your event is unable to be pause for interpreter breaks or is planned to go on for greater than two hours, consider two interpreters. Two interpreters working together will take turns at interpreting and supporting the other while not signing/voicing over by monitoring for errors, making notes, preparing additional handouts and assisting with papers. For some bookings we will need to book two interpreters for OSH purposes. We will work with you to figure out your best option.
  • See if the Deaf person who will be at your booking has a preference of interpreter. They may specify someone who can interpret into and out of lip speaking, old-sign, signed English, reduced field of vision signing (Usher’s Syndrome), NZSL or some other specific signing style.
  • The more you can tell the interpreter about your setting, the better work the interpreter will be able to do for you. If you are going to use special jargon, a lot of names, refer to prior minutes, PowerPoint, books or texts, letting the interpreter see these in advance will make for less interruptions by the interpreter when your meeting is underway.

Tips for using the interpreter at your event:

  • Talk or sign at your normal pace. Unless you are reading from a script, the interpreter is trained to keep up with a normal pace and interpret simultaneously. In fact, interpreters find it more difficult to interpret for very slow speakers who pause mid-sentence as they are often needing to use the end of the source language sentence for the beginning of the target language sentence!
  • If you sign or talk naturally fast, keep one eye on the interpreter. They will usually give you a signal if they need you to pause to allow them to keep up. Interpreters try their best not to interrupt, but will usually let you know if they cannot hear you or have missed something.
  • Use the interpreter like a telephone – only one person can speak or sign at a time through an interpreter. You may like to inform participants of this at the beginning and have them raise their hands to speak – this has the added benefit of making it visually clear for the Deaf person, whom the interpreter is signing for and allowing the Deaf person a fair chance to interject and have their opinion noted.
  • Talk directly to the Deaf/hearing person you are meeting with, refer to them in the first person (“you/your”) and look at them rather than looking at the interpreter. While Deaf people try to look at hearing people they’ll have to look at the interpreter to see what is being said. If the other person talks about themselves in the first person (“me/my”) the interpreter will interpret it to you in the first person as “me/my” rather than “them/their”.
  • Expect a pause before getting responses to questions – especially when there is a mixed Deaf/hearing audience. Whomever is using the interpreter will have a delayed opportunity to respond. This can cause a power imbalance in sensitive settings. You may want to wait for the interpreter to finish interpreting your comments and ask people to raise their hands to give an equal chance of taking the floor, to all participants.
  • Some questions come across better in the other language when asked positively/negatively. You may see the other person nod “yes” and the interpreter will interpret this to you as “no”. Don’t be alarmed – it’s most likely because the interpreter flipped your question around when interpreting it.
  • The interpreter is bound by a code of ethics. This covers confidentiality, not adding or omitting information and ensuring they are competent and impartial enough to interpret your booking. The interpreter will become uncomfortable at being asked ‘don’t interpret that’ or being asked for an opinion about anything other than the interpreting process and intercultural expectations.
  • If you have only booked one interpreter for your meeting, remember to take regular breaks of approximately 5 minutes for 25 minutes of interpreting. The interpreter may wish to leave the room to perform stretches. Many people report that interpreter breaks allow all participants to collect their thoughts and refocus.
  • If you have any concerns about your interpreter, please let us know – we strive for excellence and we hope you’ll help us to succeed in that.