Sign language interpreting in international conferences & high-level meetings: Pioneering work at Heriot-Watt University

By Jemina Napier

Click here to see blogpost in International Sign

In December 2019, the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland and the Heriot-Watt University BSL team (SIGNS@HWU) had the privilege of hosting a curriculum development meeting to discuss a potential pioneering new Masters programme in Sign Language Interpreting in Conferences and High-Level Meetings, as well as the delivery of a ‘taster’ course in 2020 in order to boost the number of International Sign interpreters currently working in these contexts.

Participants included representatives from key stakeholder Deaf community and sign language interpreting organisations, including the World Federation of the Deaf, World Association of Sign Language Interpreters, European Union of the Deaf, European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters, Overseas Interpreting, the AIIC Sign Language Network and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf-Rochester Institute of Technology; as well as independent experts with experience as deaf and hearing International Sign interpreters and interpreter educators.

Participants at the development meeting, December 2019

The curriculum development project has been part-funded by the Directorate General for Interpretation (SCIC) at the European Commission, with support for staff time from the Heriot-Watt University School of Social Sciences and Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS). 

The project has been established in recognition of the increasing demand for sign language interpreters to work at international conferences and high-level meetings, and also to increase the numbers of International Sign interpreters accredited through the WASLI-WFD International Sign interpreter accreditation system.

SCIC recognised Heriot-Watt University as being the ideal university to develop a new Masters programme, as LINCS been offering courses in Conference Interpreting since 1970 and is one of only four UK university departments that have been granted membership of CIUTI, an international body which brings together universities which specialise in translating and interpreter training. LINCS is also a partner with the Magdeburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany and HUMAK University of Applied Sciences in Finland in the delivery of the European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI). Thus, we will draw together our expertise in training both spoken and signed language interpreters to deliver this pioneering course. It is hoped that the new Masters programme will commence from September 2021

2020 intensive course

The first step in the curriculum development project is to offer an intensive ‘booster’ course in June 2020.

The intensive 5-day course on sign language interpreting in international conferences and high-level meetings (SLIC) for professionally qualified national sign language interpreters focuses on strengthening International Sign skills, enhancing awareness of relevant European and international institutions, as well as practical translingual interpreting skills, working between primarily English and International Sign but also other spoken and signed languages.

This intensive course has three goals:

(1) To prepare interpreters to apply for WASLI-WFD International Sign interpreter accreditation.

(2) To boost the number of International Sign interpreters working internationally, but particularly in Europe to meet needs at the European Commission, the European Parliament, at United Nations Geneva, and also for academic conferences and political meetings.

(3) To trial curriculum content for a potential new Masters programme in Sign Language Interpreting at Conferences to be offered through Heriot-Watt University LINCS.

  • The overall aim of the intensive course is to work towards readiness for applying for accreditation either with WFD-WASLI, or for EU or UN accreditation.
  • Completion of the intensive training course is no guarantee of accreditation or offers of work as an International Sign interpreter

Course content

The final course content and delivery will be finalised once the language combinations of the participants have been confirmed. Overall, using a case study approach, the 5-day course will include discussions and practical sessions on:

  • The International Sign/ multilingual interpreting landscape
  • EU and international organisations
  • Enhancing translingual skills
  • International Sign ‘therapy’
  • Applied interpreting skills
  • Unilateral interpreting
  • Bilateral interpreting
  • Relay interpreting
  • Critical reflective practice
  • One-to-one structured feedback on interpreting
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Professionalism and ethics

Our state-of-the-art digital interpreting and sign language labs will be available exclusively for use by students on this course, as well as access to bespoke visual software for recording and annotating sign language interpreting work.

The course will be delivered primarily by leading sign language, deaf studies and sign language interpreting researchers, educators and practitioners at Heriot-Watt, including:

  • Professor Jemina Napier: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Associate member, Registered Qualified BSL/English interpreter, Accredited Auslan/English interpreter, expertise in research and teaching on sign language interpreting
  • Professor Graham H. Turner: Sign language policy and Interpreting Studies academic, co-founder of the EUMASLI and Heriot-Watt BSL UG programmes, expertise in research and teaching on sign language interpreting and BSL policy
  • Dr Annelies Kusters: Deaf Studies academic, expertise in research and teaching on deaf ethnographies, professional mobilities, translanguaging and International Sign
  • Dr Robert Adam: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, Registered Qualified BSL-ISL interpreter, Registered Qualified BSL-English translator, expertise in research and teaching on sign language contact and sign language interpreting. (joining Heriot-Watt staff in April 2020)
  • Dr Stacey Webb: Certified ASL/English interpreter, expertise in teaching sign language interpreting and research on sign language interpreting pedagogy
  • Andy Carmichael: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Associate member, Registered Qualified BSL/English interpreter, Accredited Auslan/English interpreter, Chair of the board of Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (ASLI UK), in-house interpreter at Heriot-Watt, expertise in training and mentoring sign language interpreters
  • Christopher Tester: Accredited WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter, AIIC Full member, Certified ASL/English interpreter, PhD student at Heriot-Watt, expertise in training sign language interpreters

In addition, further input will come from LINCS academics who are experts in teaching multilingual, spoken language conference interpreting, and external collaborators with expertise in International Sign and International Sign interpreting.

Who is this course for?

  • This intensive course is targeted at sign language interpreters from any country who have not yet achieved WFD-WASLI International Sign interpreter accreditation, or are already accredited but do not feel that they have previously received sufficient training and would like more professional skills development. Priority will be given to applicants who are not yet accredited.
  • Applications are particularly encouraged from interpreters who are deaf, female or from ethnic minorities.
  • A quota of places will be offered to European-based interpreters due to the part funding of the course by the European Commission.

Course dates

Date: 8th-12th June 2020

Venue: Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Campus, Scotland

Applicants for the intensive course must meet the following essential criteria:

  • Hold a national sign language interpreting qualification (or equivalent)
  • Have a minimum of 5 years post-qualification (or equivalent) experience in national sign language interpreting
  • Have extensive experience of national sign language interpreting in conference or high-level meetings (minimum of 50 hours)
  • Evidence of IS conference interpreting experience (minimum of 20 hours)

Applications from deaf or hearing interpreters from countries that do not have established undergraduate sign language interpreting programmes, or professional infrastructure will be considered on a case-by-case basis for the equivalent knowledge and experience.

How to Apply click here to get more information and how to apply

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