Mastering the Art of Voicing

Jun 4, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Sandy Mahoney, CSC, MBA, BSBA - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

Why is Mastering Voicing so Elusive?

Traditionally, Interpreter Training Programs have focused on interpreting from English into ASL. Historically, there were less opportunities to practice voicing, though technology has changed that. As a result, conversations are less one sided. The rules of ASL grammar and syntax have not been systematically taught to members of the Deaf community, but that is also changing. Spoken languages have been more standardized because of educators teaching the written form and because of the use of English in mass media.

Interpreter Feedback on the difficulties of Voicing

Watching ASL is like putting a puzzle together. You need to figure out the borders (context) and then fill in the pieces (the meaning). ASL is not linear. Interpreters often say they understand what's being said, but they do not have enough time/memory to interpret it into English unless they stay on top of the message. Foreign Language interpretations into English often sound stilted because English is not their native language, but that's not the case for the majority of ASL interpreters (CODAs are an exception). So why is it so hard?

The Fear of Voicing

When interpreting from English into ASL, interpreters use a variety of strategies when they encounter an unfamiliar word. They might invent a sign with the client, mouth the word, and try spelling it. When going from ASL into English, they usually try to figure out the word based on context, and may ask for clarification and/or eliminate the word but, in most environments, interpreters are aware that spoken errors are more obvious than signed errors. ASL users use three dimensional space and classifiers to neatly express meaning in a few signs, while English requires lots of words.

Meeting the linguistic and paralinguistic demands of an assignment

Fluency in the Source and Target languages is the secret. You must have an adequate database of English words to draw from. Every signed word(s) in ASL should immediately produce a list of possible English word choices that produce an equivalent conceptual message. Interpreters are often afraid to give themselves adequate time to review their word choices and to produce the signed message into English. Your goal is to interpret for meaning, not to produce a word for word translation. Trust your memory. Let your eyes see the message, allow your phenomenal brain to process it, pick out the cultural and linguistic equivalents and then to say it in English. Don't be afraid to use your prediction skills. The environment, context, participants, time of day, and purpose of the meeting help you make good predications about what is coming next and about the meaning. Contextualization ensures a more accurate message and helps you remember it.

What are you responsible for when voicing

You are responsible for how the message sounds in English. You can control the words used to convey the message and cultural equivalence. You are not responsible for how the Deaf person signs it, the meaning of the message, or the appropriateness of the message.

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