Armchair Critic's View: The Case of Television Programs Interpreting
Television program interpreting is among the oldest and most 'professional' forms of Sign-Voice interpretation in Kenya. It is probably second to church service interpreting. For those who remember programs like Joy Bringers - it had two or three interpreters in the tiny box to the right bottom of the screen. The parliamentary debates have been the longest televised interpretation for the Deaf in Kenya. This too has gone through a lot of transitions and changes with various interpreters offering their services. I almost forgot the Sign News by KTN in the late 90s - it was a welcome relief to have news round up followed by the language lessons. KBC crowned it all with the Kiswahili Kitukuzwe show that had some Kenyan Sign Language to it.
Those were the days.
Then come the UNDP, Ford Foundation, Uraia sponsored talk shows - Agenda Kenya and the likes. It is almost impossible to think about interpreting on television without thinking about Agenda Kenya. Many programs have tried to emulate the good small box used by KBC for the interpreter and it almost seems to be the standard even in this digital age.
One of the greatest challenges for television program interpreting is the restrictive small box. Many of the editors I have talked with seem to think that it is the standard and would not think of the strain for the viewer. Others do not care they do willing ling splash the text over the interpreters' face and rarely pay attention to the rule of captioning.
For the interpreter many time you are alone with at least two to three people speaking at the same time. Worse so when they decide to air music - one of the hardest things to interpret while seated is music and many broadcasters do not realize that it is virtually impossible to do strapped in a studio chair with lighting and heat.
There is never a moment to get the scripts in time for the interpreter to gloss through and many time you are closed up in a small room boiling from the lighting, trying to battle claustrophobic thoughts. The few media professionals who understand translations and interpreting challenges will look out for your good and make some adjustments.
With this background I wish to point out several key notes for any interpreter, broadcaster and media houses that would help them become better service providers.
- Request for a contract, read, understand and sign it, know your roles and responsibility - just as the the anchor, editor, reporters have distinct job description so the Interpreter should have a signed contract.
- Get the script of the program, questions, comments, names of guests and topics of interest about the program you are about to interpret. Ask, Insist and Obtain these from the producer of the program.
- Negotiate your pay before your sit in front of the camera. Any discussions after the recording will not be to your advantage.
- Wear comfortable, appropriate clothes, jewelry and work with the make up artists - forget the flashy anchor they only sit and talk, you will move a lot, you will sweat, you will be thirsty do not let anyone else determine for you the comfort you need to do your job.
- Know your content - practice names, places, events as you get your script familiarize yourself with themes in the program.
- Get a bottle of cold water - yes they will say no food and drink to the studio, insist it is good for you to have it. If not the producer will have to deal with a fainting interpreter which is not good for the show. Be gentle but firm.
- Work in teams of two or more. It is standard practice to have at least two interpreters to work in intervals of 15-20 minutes on tasks that are 2 hours or more. This enables the interpreters to refresh, to provide quality and for health reasons - your brain does not concentrate interpreting for long periods maximum 30 minutes and fatigue, misinterpretation and blank mind syndrome kicks in and you are done. Give each other feedback - debrief before and after sessions.
- It is appropriate for a balance of male/female balance in interpreting settings where the speakers are varied. For instance for the best fit and match for a male president would be a male interpreter same for a female minister would be best interpreted for by a female interpreter - this carries the spirit and heart of the message. It is however never possible in real life - as it is we have more female interpreters than male ones.
- Know your code of ethics and practice it. Remember the basics - keep time, dress, diligence, keep secrets, forget as soon as you interpret resolve conflicts as soon as possible and your client is King/Queen.
- Keep learning. Read, watch, hear and learn accents, technology, acronyms, jargon, politics, religion, law, business, current affairs....
Broadcaster and Media House
- Develop and follow your policy on contracting interpreters. Contracts, rates, taxes, insurance, fees etc should never be a surprise.
- Read and be familiar with the PWD Act 2003 the revised and current provisions, clauses on disability in the bill of rights.
- Your clients are key consumers of your service - listen to their feedback and meet expectations.
- Verify your pick of interpreter(s) work with the Kenya National Association of the Deaf, Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters Association, Kenya Sign Language Research Project to vet, 'qualify' your selection, to provide quality checks and feedback.
- Know that Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) is a language with its own syntax, grammar and phonology. Beware of interpreters using foreign signed languages, signed exact English or word for word renditions. Refer to 4 above for guidance.
- Break from tradition - empower your editors and producers to allow for the interpreter to be visible bigger, clearer each time on the screen. The tiny box is restrictive and old. Technology has given ability to split screens, cue and Tx works better now than they did 10 years ago. Do not cover the interpreter with text, if using closed captioning make it clear and readable. FYI most (Deaf) children learn English and other languages better as they see it over and over again and can associate the words and the images thus you achieve two goals inform and educate at the same time.
- Work with the interpreter during the editing process. Enable your editors to know when to insert adverts, scrolling texts, transitions etc
- Encourage feedback on interpretation services - criticism, comments and recommendations make television programs better and accessible.
- Employ a multi discipline interpreter (s) for the media house if possible - it is rare to find an interpreter who is able to interpret medical, legal and religious interpreting all in one person most interpreters are comfortable in two or three settings or fields. Just as you have political editors, medical journalists, legal or medical reporters interpreters too have a specialization.
- ASK ask ask ask the consumer, the interpreters when stuck.
In Kenya interpreters are often, in many cases volunteers, family members or social workers or even teachers who at a certain level have mastered some sign language and have found themselves in an interpreting situation. Using my own example and experience - I began interpreting as a volunteer at a church then slowly I transitioned into a professional interpreter with a lot of peer education and exchange, self learning and support from a few Deaf friends.