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ASL and Interpreting students showcase work

American Sign Language and Interpreting graduating seniors.
American Sign Language and Interpreting graduating seniors.

On May 15, a group of graduating students from St. Kate's American Sign Language and Interpreting Department shared findings from their senior research with the University community.

During their presentations, the 16 seniors — who included new ASL Honor Society inductees Quincy Craft, Megan Powell and Staci Lahr — conveyed a commitment to communication excellence in their field as well as about their field.

Here is a synopsis of their presentations:

"Discourse Markers: Transitioning into a Conscious Process"
This presentation by Anne Niska, Madeline Nilan and Heidi Wolford focused on how interpreters use discourse markers, which signify transitions and topic shifts within discourse.

English language discourse markers include particles such as "oh" and lexicalized phrases such as “I mean." The students said if interpreters are aware of discourse markers in the source language, they are able to better incorporate them in their interpretation and produce a more accurate and complete message.

The students discussed how the lack of discourse markers results in confusion and misunderstanding. An example is a long paragraph with no punctuation or breaks. To save time and keep up with the speaker, sometimes interpreters will leave out small details such as discourse markers. But without these cues in American Sign Language (ASL)—which include head gestures and eye gazes—Deaf people must rework the message.

"As our research progressed, we realized how important discourse markers are," Niska said.

As part of the students' research, they brought in two veteran interpreters to interpret narratives from two videos featuring native speakers. They documented the interpreters' use of discourse markers on video and then transcribed and analyzed the interpretations.

It's important for interpreters to think critically about integrating discourse markers into their work, the students said.

"Bringing information about discourse markers to a conscious level is necessary," Nilan said.

"Feeling Left Out? Tune-in to Intimate Register"
In this presentation, Emily Kolbinger, Tashina Good and Ashley Bueltel discussed the challenges for interpreters when people who are communicating with each other have little psychological distance or a shared experience and use inside jokes, jargon and abbreviations. The inside knowledge between the participants is typically not shared with the interpreter, but the information is likely to be referred to and affect the communication style.

One of the areas in which interpreters are often exposed to intimate register is video relay service calls.

The students said because register is part of the message, the message can be skewed if interpreters don't account for it. Power plays can occur if it appears one party is using more formal language than the other, for instance.

As part of their research, the students conducted two focus groups of six interpreters. Interpreters emphasized a top strategy for a successful interpretation in the intimate register was teaming with another interpreter.

Good said one of the most important discoveries of the students' research was the intrapersonal demands placed on interpreters who encounter intimate register—how they process panic when they're lost, for example. That type of demand was mentioned most among the interpreters in the focus group.

"An Interpreter's Portfolio: Sorting through the Confusion"
Katie Kammerer, Katrina Eisele and Megan Powell's presentation highlighted the growing importance of graduates using a professional portfolio in the job search process and the information that can set candidates apart.

The students said knowing an employer's expectations is one of the most important aspects of securing employment as an interpreter and that portfolios are especially beneficial when graduates are trying to break into the educational and medical fields.

They surveyed three employers who have a high frequency in hiring interpreters and who are well-regarded in the Deaf community. According to their research, the top three documents employers preferred to be included in portfolios are letters of recommendation, resumes and skills assessments.

"Features of job satisfaction among recent Interpreter Graduates"
This presentation by Margaret Montgomery, Andrea Boser and Billie Jo Zak studied the fulfillment of three recent St. Kate's interpreter graduates to help initiate positive changes in the field and promote retention.

Montgomery is an assistant at St. Kate's CATIE Center, one of the six centers working in partnership as the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). She quoted a recent study by NCIEC that stated 20 percent of interpreters will be retiring in the next 10 years.

The researchers identified four areas as influential to interpreters' job satisfaction: professional development, supervision, experience and compensation. All three of the participants in the focus group reported some dissatisfaction in each of those areas.

Montgomery said one of the most interesting things the students discovered in their research was how much recent graduates valued professional development, including networking with peers and colleagues at conferences and opportunities for mentoring.

"Interpreting from ASL to English: Employing compression strategies as an effective tool"
Quincy Craft, Jennifer Kaiser, Staci Lahr and Katelyn Sutlief studied how three local, experienced interpreters implemented compression strategies, which include omitting or reducing the amount of details when interpreting from ASL to English to allow for more natural sounding speech and a more accurate message.

As part of their research, the students brought in three local interpreters from a variety of backgrounds to interpret a video clip and filmed them. Their findings indicated that interpreters utilize compression based on the type of ASL expansion features present in the source message, such as utilizing 3D space or "describe then do." While English may use vocal inflection and word order, ASL uses features unique to the visual/spatial grammatical structure of the language.

Craft said not incorporating compression may result in errors and aspects of the discourse may be skewed or cultural aspects may be misinterpreted.

"It is imperative for interpreters to be aware of compression strategies and able to incorporate them into their work if necessary," she said. "This research provided me with techniques that I anticipate will benefit my work as an interpreter in the future."

Oct. 22, 2009 by Jenny Woods

See also: Alumnae/i, Arts, Liberal Arts, Students