Today I was fortunate enough to get permission to sit in on a friend’s New Testament class in which two interpreters accompany the professor to assist a Hard-Of-Hearing student in the class. Watching these interpreters in a classroom setting rather than during Chapel worship only served to increase my respect and admiration for their abilities.
The interpreters were able to rapidly fingerspell the many challenging names that appear in Biblical texts, as the professor spoke them. For a person who often struggles simply to read and pronounce these bizarre names in spoken English, this was an incredible achievement.
I was also impressed by the cooperation between the signers, and their mutual assistance. During January, my school offers concentrated classes that fit into three weeks an entire semester’s worth of information. In consequence, the classes are often between two and three hours long, every day. The two interpreters made sure that neither was exhausted by the intense and prolonged work, often tapping each other’s arms to signal that one would take over and let the other rest.
Another memorable example of the teamwork was when one signer, at a loss for a word to interpret the professor’s speech, turned to her partner, who signed the closest approximation she could think of. I had not thought much about how much of a mutual effort interpreting is before today. The truth is that more than one interpreter is often a necessity to prevent exhaustion, and watching the two working in class today, and even conversing with each other in ASL, made me even more excited to be a part of the unique culture.
Finally, I was struck by the idea that a classroom interpreter not only has a critical role in helping a student learn and succeed, but also has the chance to learn from the classes in which he or she works. I think that it would be, although difficult, an incredible experience to have a job where I could work while at the same time being able to expand my knowledge by taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity to learn from the professors whose words I would be interpreting.