A personal experience
Many years ago, I was in a medical setting where I worked as an office temp. I had mentioned to my boss that I was taking sign classes, so when a call came over a loudspeaker asking for someone who knew sign language, she ordered me to go. So there I went like a lamb to the slaughter, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
When I came in to a medical examining room, there were upset parents with a sick child. The medical staff was scurrying around the youngster. Everyone was frustrated and angry because writing notes back and forth did not work for either the deaf couple or the medical staff. I learned later that some deaf people have poor or Grade 3 to 4 English skills. When they are in a stressful situation, their English skills go down, as they would for any another foreign language-speaking person in the same situation.
I realized that I was thrown into the deaf couple’s personal life. I might have to share vital medical information or convey something that would really upset the deaf parents – a big responsibility for which I was not qualified. The situation did work out fine, but it was then that I realized that sign language interpreting is extremely demanding and stressful, and required a lot of accuracy and skill.
Sign language interpreting looks deceptively easy, but is actually difficult to master. Sign language is not a form of English. It is a complete language with its own unique characteristics. Interpreters must study for several years at a college or university, as well as having regular contact with the deaf community. A sign language interpreter must not only master one language but two languages – English and sign – to be effective.