One on One Interaction / Small Group Discussion Review

Virtual Interpreting

Video Review by Chris Wixtrom     © 1999

One-to-One Interaction: Set of 7 Videotapes, VHS, 30 min. each, $189.95
Small Group Discussions: Set of 2 Videotapes, VHS, 30 min. each, $79.95

Distributed by Sign Media, Inc.
4020 Blackburn Lane, Burtonsville, MD 20866-1167
Phone: 800.475.4756 (voice/tty)
; Fax: 301.421.0270
URL:; E-mail:

Most people who have taken up the profession of interpreting are dedicated to excellence. Like professionals in other disciplines, they benefit from frequent skills practice and varied situational challenges. Yet outside of full-time interpreter training programs, occasional seminars, and actual time on the job, interpreters have little opportunity to polish and perfect their performance. Unlike musicians who practice regularly alone with their instruments, most interpreters have no convenient means for solitary drill in professional skills. With the aid of videotape, however, "virtual interpreting" becomes a possibility.

Sign Media, Inc. has produced several high quality interpreting practice sets. Targeted for advanced-level interpreting students, working interpreters, and persons interested in preparing for certification, these videos offer valuable opportunities for situation-specific practice.

The situations presented on the tapes (listed below) provide a number of interesting and realistic settings. The length of the tapes (over 20 minutes) allows the exercise of skills for a duration similar to the demands of professional work and testing environments. The presentation of the material on the tapes is in a "you are there" style, with the camera angle putting "you" nearby the hearing clients and "across from" the deaf clients. On the tapes, the hearing clients speak, and then there is a silent period for "your" expressive sign interpreting. The length of the pauses for interpreting is established by the (off-screen, unseen) certified interpreter. Next, the Deaf clients sign, and "you" are given a real-time chance to voice interpret. (No voice interpretation is provided on the tapes.) This is about as close as you can get to an interpreting experience, with all the work but none of the pressure.

A student interpreter found the tapes quite "difficult," yet still "useful." She appreciated the opportunity to work on her techniques by viewing the tapes "a number of times" and putting together her best guesses for the signing content with "what the speaker says."

A professional, working interpreter described the video format, lighting, and limited color contrasts as elements that "matched real world experiences" more closely than what she had seen in other training tapes she had used. For her, "The action was challenging. The lively pace and the interaction among the participants kept the interpreter involved throughout the length of the tape." She cautions, though, that "a less experienced interpreter or beginning interpreter might find the pace and format perhaps a bit more frustrating than challenging." She believes that "seasoned" interpreters would be well-able "to use these tapes to their advantage in preparation for testing in a similar format," such as video testing for the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) certification exam.

One viewer commented that "there was no modeling by experienced, certified interpreters." Without this modeling, there is "no immediate resource to learn a new sign or (to) phrase something more appropriately in English." Well, a piano doesn't provide the pianist with teaching tips either, but that doesn't diminish its usefulness as a practice instrument. These videos provide realistic interpreting practice, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Interpreters serious about professional development and skills maintenance will want these tapes.

Contents of each set:

One-to-One Interaction, Set of 7 Videotapes:

Negotiating an Auto Loan; Meeting with Funeral Director; Interviewing a Prospective Tenant; Giving a Medical Case History; Meeting a Dog Trainer; Meeting with a Sales Representative; Interviewing a Real Estate Agent.

Small Group Discussions, Set of 2 Videotapes:

U.S. Post Office Safety Meeting; Planning a Protest Demonstration.

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