once you learn…

I have been so busy this semester that I have not had a lot of time to work with the signing at my church. Today I was able to actually participate. Although the regular signers were not there and there were no deaf people attending the service today, I still signed. I didn’t sit in the front, just in my regular pew.

I practiced signing with the entire service today, not just the songs, and I noticed that I am becoming faster with my signs and my ability to keep up with the speaker. I still struggled sometimes to stay on top of the speed of the message and to remember all the signs I needed to, but I was surprised by my own abilities, especially with a lack of practice.

I was glad I was able to do so well at signing today, and I hope that soon I will be able to help the interpreters with the service as well as the songs. I had been thinking it would take much longer for me to have the skills necessary to do that. I certainly do need to learn more and practice more before I am ready for that ind of commitment, but knowing that I am becoming ore capable as an interpreter was very encouraging.

I have come a long way since starting to learn ASL last year, and it surprises me when I look back and think that a year ago I had no idea that learning would take me where I am now. I never expected to actually begin to interpret so early, even if it was a bit of a surprise to me as much as anyone else, and I could not begin to imagine that ASL and the Deaf community would become such an integral part of my life. I’m excited to see where this next year takes me, because if the last one is any indication, I have no idea what’s in store!

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unexpected opportunity

I had the amazing and slightly terrifying privilege of being the interpreter for the church service I attended today. I go to the church across the road from my college campus and watch the interpreters in the service every chance I get.

This morning I arrived confident and planning to have a conversation with the deaf man who sits next to me in the front row. All went well until the service started and the two chairs up front were empty.

Although last week there had been only one interpreter, this week neither one came. So I turned to the man next to me and signed, “do you want me to try signing,” and he agreed. So I went up and sat in the interpreters’ place and did the best I could for the rest of the service.

I was certainly far from being a qualified interpreter. I didn’t know a lot of the words to sign the service, and I was very slow trying to keep up with the pastor. Still, it was something. I apologized several times for being so slow and not very good, but the deaf man just thanked me for getting up and doing my best.

It was a very humbling but also uplifting experience. I know now how much work I will need to become a real interpreter, and this has made me aware of how hard the job will really be. But at the same time, I feel blessed to have been able to do something, no matter how small or stumbling, to show that I care and want everyone to be included in the service. I was somehow able to find the confidence to volunteer and get up front and do the best I could manage.

While this is not at all how I imagined my first interpretation, it was an amazing Sunday morning to feel God at work in what I do. If I had any doubt about the reason I have been learning ASL, that was put to rest this morning. I know that I have already been put in the right place at the right time with the right skill once. I have no doubt it will happen again. And next time, I’ll be even more prepared.

Interpreting with only six months of lessons under my belt may not be the most excellent option, but it convinced me of one thing. There is no going back. Before this, I was learning without the need to actually use everything I knew in such an important situation. Now I have just volunteered myself for the job in a sort of incredible leap of faith. I am technically an ASL interpreter now. I just need to become a good one.

I may not have exactly been ready for what happened this morning, but I had gone to church feeling confident and prepared to have a conversation with the man next to me. Little did I know how much I would need that confidence, or how much I would realize about myself and the use of the gifts God has given me.

I felt it appropriate that one of the songs in church today that I helped interpret was “Take My Life and Let it Be”. As I stated in an earlier post, this is my theme song for my work with ASL, and I couldn’t help but feel the truth of it today. When I gave this talent, gave my hands, to God, he was able to use them today because of that. I am looking forward to what he has planned for me next. Because even if it’s something unexpected like today, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

worth a thousand words

Today I was attending my university’s Chapel service when I was able to observe a fascinating way that ASL can create a compelling visual representation of a concept.

The speaker was discussing Mark 1:10-13. At one point he particularly referenced one of the words in verse 12, which reads, “At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness.” (New International Version)

The speaker looked at the particular verb in Greek that has been translated “sent out”, which is actually the word “εκβαλλει“- pronounced ekballo. This verb literally means to cast out or compel by force.

The accompanying explanation for this linguistic analysis was interesting to watch. When the interpreter signed the original verse, “sent out” was signed with a fairly common motion of the dominant hand flicking out from the top of the non-dominant one. However, as the original meaning of the verb was explained, the interpreter’s sign changed to a motion of a forceful throwing aside.

The visual reinforcement of the change in verbal connotation was fascinating to me to watch. While translating the Greek word required the speaker to make a rather detailed explanation and find the closest word approximation he could, the interpreter’s motions captured the meaning in a simple, yet incredibly powerful, gesture.

This is one of the most intriguing things I have found true of ASL. By nature, sign language is very direct, concise, and honest, and it also can say in one sign what a speaker may require an entire sentence to explain.

illuminating the scriptures

The university I attend held a series of lectures this week centered around a reproduction of the modern illuminated St. John’s Bible that our campus is hosting over the 2015-16 school year.

SJB-logo

I was able to attend several of these events, and most of the speakers were accompanied by one of the staff interpreters.As a matter of fact, I often found myself paying more attention to the lectures through the mediated means of the interpreter’s signs than to the spoken lecture itself.

Two things I noticed particularly from these lectures were especially fascinating to see interpreted in ASL.

  • A conversation being reenacted. One of the speakers’s presentations incorporated an imagined dialogue between the Biblical characters of Eve and the tempting Serpent in the Garden of Eden. I was able to watch a demonstration of contrastive structure in action as the interpreter switched back and forth with the alternating voices. The facial markers accompanying the story also brought the narrative to life, just as much as listening to the speaker’s voice changes.
  • An interesting anecdote. During one of the presentations, a professor made reference to the original manuscript of the illuminated text, which has not been bound yet, saying that if all the pages were bound into one volume, the text would be almost three hundred pounds! He then recounted incidents of monks being killed by large old illuminated manuscripts falling from high shelves in various monasteries. The interpreter’s gestures to accompany these stories were particularly forceful and vivid, and made the anecdotes even more humorous to me.

I found an interesting analogy to the idea of illuminating scripture in the work that an interpreter does. Just as the beautiful artwork in ancient Bibles served the purpose of communicating the Word’s message to those who could not read the Latin text of the Bibles, ASL creates an image for those who cannot hear the spoken Word.

This comparison is not at all intended to equate the Deaf community with the Middle-Ages people for whom illuminations were intended, but rather to compare the two forms of art used to convey the message of the Bible to every person, no matter who they are or what their language may be.

More than just being utilitarian in explaining the text,  illuminations and American Sign Language are beautiful and unique means of communicating the ideas they represent. Neither are exact copies of the words they accompany, rather they are full, living images of the meaning of the texts. Just like poring over the gilded pages of an ancient book or basking in the multi-hued light of a stained-glass window, watching an ASL interpreter signing a Chapel message or passage of scripture gives me the sense of being in the presence of living art.sign-language-translator

The harmony of beauty and meaning that the illuminations and ASL embody is one of the fullest and most amazing ways that art can be used to proclaim God’s Word. The Bible, seen through these means, is more than a collection of words that are at least two thousand years old, often more. Brought to life by illuminations and interpretations, the stories of Scripture can be more fully appreciated as their living, relevant selves.

networking

At the church I attend on Sundays, there is a section for deaf and hearing impaired with two interpreters working in the front of that row. I was able to sit there this past Sunday and watch them partner work. They had the benefit of being able to see the minister’s Power Points on a screen in front of their chairs but they still had to be able to sign extemporaneously from his actual speech.

I enjoyed watching them, and after service was over was able to have a conversation with one of them. She invited me to sit up closer to the front than I had been and even to join the professionals in signing along with a song if I wanted to. While it may be some time before I feel confident enough to sign all of an actual song, I am very excited by this opportunity to engage and practice my lessons in an actual interpretation setting.

signs and wonders

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.