Deaf Interpreter—Sign Language Interpreter, What’s the Difference?


What is a Deaf Interpreter?

A Deaf Interpreter is an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing and, in addition to having general interpreter training, may also have specialized training and/or experience in foreign sign languages and dialects, use of gesture, mime, props, drawings, and other tools to enhance communication. 


The Deaf Interpreter has an extensive knowledge and understanding of deafness, the deaf community, and the Deaf culture.  These skills combined with excellent communication skills bring added expertise into both routine and uniquely difficult interpreting situations. 


When is a Deaf/Hearing interpreting team used?

A Deaf Interpreter works as a team member with a certified sign language interpreter who can hear.  In some situations, a Deaf/ hearing interpreter team can communicate more effectively than a hearing interpreter alone. This team could be used when interpreting for:

·         Deaf youth

·         a developmentally disabled Deaf person

·         someone using non-standard American Sign Language (ASL) or gestures commonly referred to as “home signs”

·         someone using a unique dialect of ASL that is relative to a particular region, ethnic or age group

·         a Deaf person who uses a foreign sign language

·         a Deaf person overwhelmed by the pace of the general interpreting process, or

·         someone demonstrating characteristics reflective of the Deaf culture but not familiar to the hearing sign interpreter.


How does the team interpreting process work?

Using a consecutive interpreting process, the hearing interpreter will relay the message from the hearing consumer to the Deaf interpreter. The Deaf interpreter/Communication Specialist will interpret the message linguistically and culturally to the Deaf consumer in the language most readily understood by the Deaf consumer.


In even more challenging situations, the Deaf and hearing interpreters may work together to understand a Deaf individual’s message, confer with each other to arrive at their best interpretation, then convey that interpretation to the hearing party.


Understandably, this process will require a little more time than simultaneous interpreting or working with one interpreter. 


What are the benefits of using a Deaf/Hearing interpreting team?

·         Optimal understanding by all parties

·         Efficient use of time and resources


Information taken from “Preparation Strategies for Court Interpreters,” Carla Mathers, CSC, SC:L (2000); and Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, “Use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter.”


For more information:

Lorrie Kosinski, Sign Language Interpreter, CI,CT, SC:L

720.913.8487; 720.913.8484 TTY;