Sign language – translation and interpretation

sign language interpreters

We know that in several professional contexts, the use of services and public communications, it is necessary to have sign language interpreters.

However, there are other barriers in the interaction between people with hearing difficulties (and between them and the rest of society), the main one of which is the absence of a common language. This is because different sign languages have been developed since the 18th century in an effort to help those with hearing difficulties play a more active role in society. However, the problem is that users of these different sign languages are unable to communicate with each other. Generally speaking, each country has developed its own system. For example, even though the English language is common to the United States and the United Kingdom, each of these countries has its own sign language with different grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

This is why there is a need for interpreters who can understand more than one sign language and who can bridge the gap between people of different nationalities. These interpreters must have the same qualities as ‘conventional’ interpreters: the ability to improvise and converse fluently, interpret non-verbal language and have an awareness of cultural differences. They are often called on to work in unusual situations, including interpreting conversations between two people from different countries, the simultaneous interpretation of a conference in English into French sign language or even cases involving a number of pairs of verbal and non-verbal language (for example, sittings of the European Parliament require large teams of interpreters).

The issue has become so important that there has even been artificial intelligence research into developing sign language machine translation software. There are companies in Portugal that specialise in translating and interpreting content into Portuguese sign language (LGP) and in translating between different sign languages. There is a growing number of resources for learning and interpreting LGP and other sign languages, as well as opportunities in higher education. Sign language interpreting has gained more visibility, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, with live television and online public information broadcasts becoming more imperative, with it being impossible to leave out those with hearing difficulties!