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Religious Interpreting

Religious Interpreting




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Religious interpreting typically occurs in settings which are spiritual in nature. These settings can include worship services, religious education, workshops, conferences, retreats, confession, scripture study, youth activities, counseling, tours and pilgrimages, weddings, funerals and other special ceremonies, all of which Sign Language Resources, Inc. has extensive experience with.

Interpreting in a religious setting, to be effective, requires an understanding of liturgical terminology of that particular religion. Interpreters also need to be aware of the consumer's cultural expectations and preferences. Preparation for a religious setting becomes increasingly necessary in proportion to the projected psychological/historical content of the text and of the event. Access to all the materials, along with the order of each event/ceremony, with sufficient time to prepare appropriately, is central to the interpreting function. Preparation would also include information and detailed attention as to what is or is not acceptable, permissible to (or not to) interpret and appropriate attire.

Interpreters in religious settings should also have access to and familiarize themselves with:

  • Specialized vocabulary both signed and spoken that relate to the specific setting
  • Texts specific to the setting (Torah, Bible, Qur'an, Tao Te Ching)
  • Written materials to be used during service
  • Belief system(s), doctrine(s), creed(s) and ceremonial prayer(s)

  • Interpreting is a distinct role, requiring an interpreter's complete attention. It is not possible for a person to both participate and interpret at an event. Thus, it is not practical for a parent, relative or friend who is attending a function also to serve as an interpreter. A third party is needed to allow all to participate fully.

    Competence is essential for an interpreter. Competence includes necessary fluency in Sign Language and in the language being spoken (English, Spanish, etc.), adherence to the RID Code of Conduct, and knowledge of religious vocabulary, and the signs used to convey such language. Knowledge of key concepts within the practice is crucial.

    Interpreters perform a professional function and have professional training, and therefore have a right to compensation. Paying interpreters is the responsibility of the sponsoring church, synagogue, temple, agency, or institution, but not the deaf individual, the family or guardians. Compensation rates vary from place to place and usually vary with the interpreter's level of certification and experience. Some situations may require a team of interpreters, who will rotate approximately every 20 minutes, with the newly "seated" interpreter providing collaboration and support.

    The interpreter usually stands or sits in front of the congregation, and if possible in front of a neutral background. Reserved seating for deaf persons in front is usually appropriate. Some situations, such as working with a deaf/blind individual, require one-on-one interpreting. In such cases, the interpreter and participant need to be sitting across or next to one another, and space up front allows the best hearing vantage to the interpreter.

    The interpreter should be given a copy of, or informed of where to obtain, all texts used in the service in advance, including readings, petitions, lyrics for all songs, commentary and anything that may be referred to. Translation of any foreign language text (Ex. Latin or Hebrew) should be made available as well. An interpreter may wish to have a music stand during the service to enable quick reference to a prepared text or agenda.