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Ever wondered why when you've booked a BSL/English Interpreter they are always asking you for preparation materials, well here is why it is so essential (written by our lovely Anna Edmonds): -


The importance of preparation material for Interpreters.

Those of you who use interpreters on a regular basis will remember many of us emailing, texting, calling and visiting you on the basis of requesting preparation for an upcoming job. Although this seems a pointless and time consuming job, it is done for a practical and pragmatic reason.
Most people expect ‘Interpreting’ to be substituting a word for another word. In fact it relates directly to the meaning. This is especially true in BSL because the language is a visual, spatial and kinetic (movement) based language compared to English which is a verbal, static, intonation based language. We need to be able to understand not only the jargon but the sentence as a whole in order to process it effectively. Therefore, if someone was talking about tectonic plate structures, I would not interpret this as crockery but the earth’s structure in relation on earthquakes.
  Interpreters don’t know everything. Yes, it feels like we’ve been everywhere and seen everything but actual this is just a drop in the ocean compared to all the different situations and topics we could end up in. The main reason for prep is to familiarise ourselves with what could come up in the meeting, conference, course, interview, court etc. For example, if I was booked to interpret a conference on ‘Astrophysics and Nuclear Fusion’ I would probably not be the most knowledgeable person on this subject. Try to understand and interpret this: “In the 13th to 15th centuries, Tusi and Ali Qushji provided the earliest empirical evidence for the Earth's rotation, using the phenomena of comets to refute Ptolemy's claim that a stationary Earth can be determined through observation.” Therefore asking someone with the relevant information about this is vital to a better and more understandable interpretation. It doesn’t have to be anything quite as complex as this either, I have never had any experiences with Social Services and therefore wouldn’t find this anymore intelligible than this. Interpreters tend to chose jobs they feel they have enough experience and knowledge to interpret well, however prep goes a long way to help with this.
Acronyms and Initials are another tricky part of ‘blind’ interpretation. I was asked to interpret a WFD announcement for a live audience. I immediately thought of the World Federation of the Deaf. However, I typed this into Google and received a list of abbreviations including: Water Framework Directive, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Worlds Fastest Drummer and the World Federation for Dentists. This is a perfect example of when Google and Wikipedia are completely useless. Another example is understanding the difference between WRAP, RAP and RWAP in business meetings can help us be a clearer.
However, prep comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be the PowerPoint being used, minutes from the last meeting, agenda, lecture notes, timetable, announcements, articles etc but also could be more general. For example asking the booker about: how many people will be present; is it formal or informal; where will I be standing; do I need any equipment (microphone, stand); is there enough good lighting; will there be breaks etc. Also, it is useful knowing the client you’re due to work with. I once attended an assignment where the light wasn’t very good and there was a large distance between myself and the client, it wasn’t until the end that I realised the client had Ushers Syndrome (which affects the eyesight) and couldn’t see me at all.
I hope this has helped describe the constant badgering clients get from interpreters for prep before a job. I would like to remind everyone that all information given to interpreters/booking staff is confidential and is shredded directly after any job. Prep is an important part of our role and enables us to do our job more effectively making the interpretation clearer for both parties.

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  • Devon County Council
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  • Exeter City Council
  • Royal Devon and Exeter - NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Devon Healthcare - NHS Foundation Trust
  • Torbay NHS - Care Trust
  • Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education
  • Living Options

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