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How Our Personalities Shape Our Interpreting - Cultural Competencies (Part 4)

June 18, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Judy Beldon-Feldman CSC, NIC-M - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

*Personality Traits

*Personal Bias

*Personal Values/Morals

*Cultural Competencies

We are discussing Cultural Competencies for part 4 (the last one) of this series:

There are many definitions of what makes up culture. For the purposes of this blog, we will highlight five important aspects of Deaf Culture in which interpreters should attain competency.“Culture consists of language, values, traditions, norms, and identity” (Padden, 1980).


In Deaf culture, language refers to the native visual- cultural language of Deaf people, with its own syntax (grammar or form), semantics (vocabulary or content), and pragmatics (social rules of use). Competency in American Sign Language (ASL) used by Deaf people will improve by observation, clarifying, and appropriate usage.

When learning language, the native user of the language, the “model”, is witnessed by a second person, “the observer”. The observer compares their knowledge to what they are witnessing. Ideally, there will be other models to compare the use of ASL too, so that it will confirm the appropriate use of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. The skill of observing and incorporating appropriate usage continues over the lifetime of a second language learner.


The most important value in Deaf Culture is to understand and to be understood. This is where the appropriate usage of ASL is not only part of the language but also carries the importance of value. The importance of the use of hands and eyes is implied which also includes eye contact.


Social activities that include athletic events, Deaf clubs, school reunions, and religious gatherings are revered. We also see much more use of art forms that promote Deaf culture which includes paintings, drawings, film, storytelling, and poetry.


Deaf culture has its own unique acceptable norms. One example is for getting someone’s attention you might try gently tapping a person on the shoulder, waving at the person within their line of sight, or flicking a light switch.


One of the most dominant cultural patterns in Deaf culture is collectivism. The goal when first meeting another Deaf person is to see what friend or background is in common. This begins the shared experience between both people. However, not all people who are deaf or hard of hearing identify with Deaf culture. Some fully embrace Deaf culture and others may marginally, and others not at all.

Have a GREAT day!


Padden, C. (1980). The deaf community and the culture of deaf people. Sign language and the deaf community. Silver Spring: National Association of the Deaf

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