A Method for Teaching: English-to-American Sign Language and English-to-Signed English Interpreting

Alan A. Atwood Columbus State Community College

Interpreting Course Series | Transliterating Course Series | Conclusion

In this paper a description of a method for teaching spoken English to American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English to signed English interpreting is presented. The author has used this method, and variations of it, over a period of years in two-year community college settings. The method incorporates modeling, consecutive and simultaneous interpreting activities, text analysis, practiced and un-practiced monologues at various timed lengths and words per minute rates (WPM), interactive role plays, and diagnostic evaluation. For the purposes of this paper the terms “signed English interpreting” and “transliterating” will be used synonymously. Many interpreter educators working in two-year community college settings may realize that more time is needed for students to master ASL and interpreting. This method is designed to efficiently and effectively use the time available in two-year interpreter education programs to teach interpreting. A description of a portion of Columbus State Community College’s, Ohio, (CSCC) curriculum may help to understand where the method is currently applied. CSCC’s seven-quarter program results in an associates degree. The ASL, interpreting, transliterating, and practicum series are described (Figure 1). Please do note that approximately half of the curriculum is being presented. The program includes a five-course ASL series, three interpreting courses, three transliteration courses, and two 200 hour practicum experiences. Students begin taking the ASL series during their first quarter of enrollment. Figure 1. ASL, Interpreting, Transliterating and Practicum Portion or CSCC’S Curriculum and Meeting Hours Per Week.

First Quarter: ASL I (6 hours), Introduction to Interpreting/Transliterating (3 hours)
Second Quarter: ASL II (6 hours)
Third Quarter: ASL III (6 hours), Interpreting I (4 hours)
Fourth Quarter: ASL IV (6 hours), Interpreting II (6 hours), Transliterating I (4 hours)
Fifth Quarter: ASL V (6 hours), Transliterating II (6 hours)
Sixth Quarter: Practicum I (200 hours), Interpreting III (6 hours)
Seventh (Final) Quarter: Practicum II (200 hours), Transliterating III (6 hours)

There are five basic aspects to the method: modeling, interpretation of monologues, interactive role plays (dialogues), variation of preparation time given to students, and diagnostic evaluation. Modeling of interpreting is used to exhibit and discuss goal behaviors. Texts are modeled “live” by the instructor, and commercially produced video tapes with models are viewed. Monologues, both audio taped and read live, are used to teach text analysis, to provide practice using the cognitive processes involved with interpreting, to some degree improve language competency in ASL and English, to increase sign and spoken language vocabulary, to develop sign production skills, to increase mental and physical stamina, and to improve students’ ability to interpret messages presented at normal conversational rate. The amount of preparation time students are given is decreased over time to develop their ability to deal with novel situations. The use of monologues in teaching interpreting may be unfairly denigrated by some educators. Interpretation of monologues is one aspect of practicing interpreters’ employment. The number of hours spent interpreting monologues varies among interpreters. The more important focus of interpreting monologues in the education of interpreters is that it provides effective drill in using the cognitive processes in interpretation. Students may understand through lecture the hypothesized cognitive processes they may use, but the act of interpreting provides the experiences that help to internalize the hypotheses. Dialogues may provide this experience too. However, first-year students who have no background in second languages appear to have difficulty interpreting signed and spoken dialogues. This task seems to be too overwhelming to sensitize the students’ cognitive processes in an efficient manner. Monologues may reduce the complexity of the task by focusing on one modality or language. As students internalize the cognitive processes, and are able to produce an interpretation with some degree of fluency, they become better able to handle the complexity of a dialogue. Dialogues should be introduced at this level, but it is the author’s experience that monologues are a more efficient task earlier in students’ education. Interactive role plays are used to develop students’ skills in interpreting dialogues and to interact with Deaf and hearingimpaired and hearing consumers. Finally, students are provided with numerous opportunities for diagnostic feedback. Students’ performances are video taped. Based upon each performance, detailed feedback is provided with recommendations for improvement. The instructor keeps copies of all feedback to monitor students’ progress during the quarter.

Interpreting Course Series

Interpreting Lab I

In Interpreting I, the focus is upon the following activities: lectures on sign language interpreting theory and skills, modeling, and consecutive interpretation of instructor prepared monologues. Instructor prepared monologues incorporate ASL structures and vocabulary taught in ASL I-III, and are audio taped at 60-80 word per minute ranges. This course is one-half lecture and one-half laboratory. The lecture portion of the course is discussion of theoretical and practical aspects of doing interpretation. The Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf, Inc. (RID) Code of Ethics, working practices, and the like are primarily discussed in another course, however are applied here as necessary. Interpreting for International Conferences (Seleskovitch, 1978) is the primary text, in addition to miscellaneous readings from other sources. The discussion in this paper focuses more so upon the laboratory portion of this course. Furthermore, ASL-to-English skills are also taught in this series, but are not discussed in this paper. The laboratory portion of the course revolves around modeling of interpretation and text analysis of four instructor prepared texts written in English that students will interpret. The texts are read in the consecutive mode, onto audio tape at approximately 60, 60, 70, and 80 WPM respectively, and at timed lengths of approximately five, five, seven and one-half, and ten minutes respectively. The first 60 WPM, five minute text is used as a practice text in which written, diagnostic feedback is provided to each student, with a grade that is not recorded in the grade book. The remaining three texts are graded, however students are given feedback regarding their performance before they interpret it for a grade. Students are given a written script and audio tape copy of each text. U sing an overhead transparency of the first text, the students and instructor discuss how to translate the English text into ASL. Students are encouraged to brainstorm acceptable translations, alternative structures and sign choices and the like. The instructor guides the students by participating in the discussion and modeling suggested and novel ASL translations. Students are also encouraged to model their suggestions. Students use the discussions and modeling to determine how each will interpret the text. They are urged to use translations which are comfortable for them. In this way, the activity has both a group and individual function. The group discussions focus upon alternative structures, and each individual is free to use the information to develop their own translation. As portions of the text are translated, the instructor will play those portions of the audio tape for all to practice interpreting. This allows students to experiment with their translations to see if they’re effective as an interpretation, to focus on the goal behavior of working from a spoken text versus a written script, and to allow the instructor to observe the class and provide informal feedback. Finally, all students are video taped performing the text from audio tape. The same process is used with the second and third texts, each being more complex. The fourth text is analyzed and translated by the students. The instructor may provide help with vocabulary only. After students are video taped performing each text, the instructor provides each with diagnostic feedback. A copy of the English script is used to note suggested ASL grammar and structures, mis-production of signs, and passages that were interpreted well. These comments may be written above the corresponding English sentence. A separate form is used to discuss specific interpreting behaviors. The instructor keeps copies of the feedback forms to monitor students’ progress over time. Students view their videotaped performances while reviewing their feedback. The instructor models suggestions from the feedback for students, in addition to the entire text. A video taped copy of the instructor modeling the text is also made available. Toward the end of the quarter, simultaneous interpretation is introduced. Copies of the previously interpreted consecutive texts read in the simultaneous mode are practiced in class. Students are familiar with the texts and are better able to focus on simultaneous interpretation. These do not tend to be used as graded activities. Interpreting Lab II In Interpreting Lab II, activities focus upon student prepared 80-100 WPM simultaneous monologues, “live” interpreting of readings, interpreting interactive dialogues from commercially produced and “in-house” video tapes, “live” interactive dialogues, and modeling. At the beginning of the quarter, students are informed that they must choose two English monologues to interpret during the quarter, each due in three to four week intervals. They may be any topic which appeals to the students. The students are required to read the texts onto audio tape at 80-90 WPM, 15 minutes in length, and 90-100 WPM, 25 minutes in length respectively. The instructor determines the specific WPM rate within these ranges. Students are provided with a formula to determine words per minute. Students are also required to provide the instructor with a double-spaced copy of each text to be used for evaluation. The first text must be chosen during the first week of the quarter and approved by the instructor. Students begin analyzing the texts outside of class. The instructor provides class time for students to ask questions about their texts. Some students may need to meet with the instructor out-ofclass to have all of their questions answered by the due dates. Students may ask for assistance with vocabulary and ASL grammar. However, students must always discuss vocabulary in context. In this way, the class focuses upon the meaning of words in context, and how they relate to the passage as a whole. Discussions and brainstorming focus upon accurate sign choices, “building” concepts when individual signs alone are not sufficient, and ASL grammar. Students also benefit from the variety of questions and discussions posed by their peers. Using the process discussed in Interpreting I, feedback is provided after each student performs her or his text. Each student must also choose a third text that she or he will read live in class, and which will be interpreted in front of the class by two other students. The students who will interpret the text preconference with the “speaker”, and are provided with copies of the text one or two class meetings before it is due. Immediately after each student has interpreted, the other students provide them with positive feedback regarding the performance. Behaviors viewed to be negative are best left to the instructor to communicate to the student. By the end of the quarter, each student has interpreted two “live” texts. Feedback is provided for both texts, but only the better grade is recorded. This activity helps students adjust to interpreting in front of others, making eye contact, using controlling strategies, and the like. Interactive interpreting (dialogue) is the primary focus of this course. It is introduced using commercially and “in house” produced video taped interactive dialogues. Each dialogue is viewed by the class and then discussed. Finally each student practices the dialogue with and without another student serving as a “back-up” interpreter. The amount of class time needed for each student to practice the dialogues is reduced if the instructor has access to an interpreting laboratory with sufficient equipment. CSCC’s laboratory is equipped with twelve student carrels and a control booth. Each carrel and the control booth has a color television monitor, VCR, audio tape recorder, and headphones with a built-in microphone. The instructor may playa video tape in the control booth which may be viewed in each student carrel. Students may also playa different video tape in carrels while the others view a tape originating from the control booth. The instructor may moni.tor each students’ ASL-to-English interpretation from the control booth when students use the headphones with built-in microphone. Englis
h-to-ASL interpretation must be monitored visually or recorded using a separate video camera. Finally, “live” interactive interpreting settings are created in the classroom. Students are required to collect or develop materials which serve as the script for each setting. Students may collect intake forms from social service agencies, employment application forms, medical forms, and the like. These forms may be modified to include in depth questions or to solicit in depth responses where none exist. The scripts are analyzed by students to prepare themselves for the interactive setting. Initially, students are grouped in threes, with each taking a turn acting as a hearing consumer, a deaf consumer, and as the interpreter. Each group of three students may practice simultaneously. While this may introduce “environmental noise”, individual students appear to learn to selectively focus their attention on her or his group rather quickly. Group work is also an efficient use of time. Subsequent interactive settings should include a Deaf or hearing-impaired individual who is able to use ASL in a primarily “hearing” environment. This person may be one that students have previously met and interacted with, for example, one who has been their instructor, or has been involved with the interpreting program on a continuing basis. The author has had numerous successful experiences employing Deaf and hearing-impaired individuals novel to students. Hearing consumers with little or no knowledge of deafness or experience with deaf people are also invited to participate. It is strongly suggested that at least two Deaf and two hearing consumers be available for each classroom period. This way the consumers may alternate turns. All consumers should be paid. The Deaf or hearingimpaired consumer and hearing consumer should also alternate being the “leader” of the situations throughout the quarter. Student collected scripts are used by the “leader”, however leaders are encouraged to ad lib as necessary. Each student should have an opportunity to interpret two or more “live” settings, each lasting at least 15-20 minutes, and be video recorded. Students are given time to pre-conference with the consumers before each setting. Unlike the previously discussed “group” interpretation above, the “live” settings should occur one at a time with the rest of the students observing. Approximately four settings may be video taped in a twohour class period, with enough time remaining for a discussion among the consumers and the students. The discussion is a valuable experience which should not be overlooked. Throughout the quarter, students also work on un-practiced “cold” interpretation of 90 WPM monologues.

Interpreting Lab III

Interpreting Lab III focuses upon live interactive interpreting settings with a variety of Deaf and hearing-impaired individuals. Each student must interpret for at least four or more different deaf consumers. Hearing individuals with little knowledge of deaf people are also solicited to participate. These “consumers” are paid to participate. As in Interpreting Lab II, students must collect or develop scripts which serve as the basis for interpreting situations. The instructor tries to match the Deaf and hearing-impaired, and hearing consumers’ backgrounds to each setting as best as possible. The instructor, without bias, designates one of the two consumers as the “leader” of the setting. Before each setting, the student interpreter is given time to describe the setting, and to preconference with her or his consumers. Typically, four dialogues may be video taped in one two-hour class period, with time remaining for a discussion with the consumers. During the discussions, the consumers may share their views and answer students’ questions. Finally, each student receives detailed feedback based upon their performance. Back to Top

Transliteration Course Series

The transliterating lab series follows the same basic pattern as the interpreting lab series beginning with monologues, then introduction of dialogues, and finally, dialogues with “live” consumers. A general outline is provided here for each course. The reader should refer to the description of the interpreting course series for specific information regarding each activity. Signed English-to-English skills are also taught in this series, but are not discussed in this paper.

Transliterating Lab I

This course is lecture and laboratory. Lectures focus on how to do transliteration, and the like. Initially, modeling is used to help students understand the goal behaviors. Students must prepare three texts on any topic, which will be transliterated in the simultaneous mode, at 75-80 WPM, 15 minutes in length, 80-90 WPM for 20 minutes, and 90-100 WPM for 25 minutes. Each text must be approved by the instructor. Class time is provided for students to ask questions about their texts. In addition to these, a fourth text must be chosen which will be read “live” by the student and transliterated by another student in front of the class. A copy of this text is provided to the student transliterator, and the two students pre-conference as necessary. “Cold” texts are practiced in-class and are not typically used for graded activities. Feedback is provided and copies are retained by the instructor.

Transliterating Lab II

Students prepare two texts, 90 WPM for 25 minutes, and 100 WPM for 30 minutes. If students feel able, and the instructor agrees, these rates may be elevated. Each student selects a third text which will be transliterated by two other students. Thus, each student will transliterate in front of the class twice, with the grade for the better performance recorded. Students pre-conference with the “speaker.” Several interactive dialogues are practiced. Initially, another student serves as the hearing consumer while the instructor or a student serves as the deaf consumer. Toward the second half of the quarter, Deaf and hearing-impaired and hearing individuals should be solicited to participate in these dialogues. Finally, “cold” simultaneous monologues are transliterated by the students on a regular basis. After the performance, the text is discussed and modeled, with the students transliterating it again. Some of these performances may be graded.

Transliterating Lab III

This course focuses upon interactive dialogues with a variety of Deaf and hearing-impaired individuals, and hearing individuals with little experience with deafness. An open discussion is held near the end of each class period. Back to Top

Conclusion

The description of this method has been an overview. Other activities may be included such as memory skills and the like. The author encourages people who plan to use this method to tailor it to their specific circumstances. A major concern with this method is the amount of stress experienced by students. It is critical that the instructor create a supportive classroom environment where students feel they can experiment with their behaviors. Students should be actively encouraged to meet with the instructor out-of-class to provide further support. Finally, the reader should understand that the information presented in this paper is “craft” knowledge based upon the experiences of the author. The method has not been empirically tested. The author looks forward to the day when this field balances theoretical research with practical experience and relies less on anecdotal information.