Trainers as sign-language interpreters

This is an analysis on learning outcomes in centres where Trainers are supported by sign-language interpreters against those where trainer himself/herself is the interpreter.

In the December of 2013, deaf people watching the Nelson Mandela Memorial were outraged. The reason was a sign language interpreter who shared the stage with dignitaries like Barack Obama and made gestures that did not at all match the comments being made. Such poor interpretation meant that people with hearing disabilities across the world were left out of a memorial honouring one of the greatest leaders the world has ever witnessed. There is an important point that this story sheds light on. Gaps in communication will lead to disastrous outcomes. When the speaker is different from the one who interprets the message, the probability of resulting in more gaps increases because there is a fundamental gap in understanding whether the interpreter is delivering the message as the speaker wants it to. As people with hearing impairments largely rely on sign language to understand things, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the quality of interpretation is very high to achieve the desired results. 

Interpreting is a complex process and not mere replacement of words with signs. Education and training institutes hire Sign Language Interpreters (SLI’s) to improve learning outcomes. Recently I came across an English language trainer who was trying to communicate the below to his students:

“What is your name?”

I have noticed the interpreter beside him interpreting it as, “Your name what” This is a small example of how framing and meaning can get lost in interpretation even with sentences as simple as above. Just imagine how much can be miscommunicated while dealing with more complex subjects like cognitive sciences, behaviour studies, aptitude, etc. Gaps in communication reduce the effectiveness of even the best trainers. In a survey conducted at Dr. Reddy’s Foundation about the effectiveness of training programs on people with hearing disabilities, 71% of the trainers reported that they are not able to achieve the desired learning outcomes while 53% of them said that they can’t judge if the interpretation is done appropriately. 41% informed that they faced difficulty in building rapport with students, because of the language barrier (poor sign-language skills). 

To mitigate the fall in learning outcomes fixing the gap in communication is imperative. Promoting the training of trainers in sign language skills and prioritizing the trainers with good sign language skills while recruiting might reduce the gap to a good extent and better the learning outcomes of the students. To validate this proposition of encouraging the trainers with sign language skills to better the outcomes, we have compared the data of those classrooms with trainers who are supported by sign language interpreters and those with trainers who are adept in sign language. The following are the findings:

Particulars Number of batches No. of batches with learning outcomes <50%  No. of batches with learning outcomes ranging from 50%-75% No. of batches with learning outcomes >75%
Trainers supported by SLI’s 26 12 1 13
Trainer cum SLI 26 2 2 22

The data clearly indicates that when trainer is himself/herself the interpreter, 84.6% batches have learning outcomes greater than 75% while it is only 50% when trainer and SLI are different. Data suggests that results are better in classrooms where trainers are also the sign language interpreters.    

While expert SLI’s could deliver the message without many defections, the costs associated with hiring these people will be higher. For not-for-profit organizations dealing with skilling people it becomes an increased financial burden to hire several expert SLI’s. Therefore, promoting the trainers with good sign language communication skills will prove beneficial in terms of: better learning outcomes to the students, costs associated with hiring exclusive sign-language interpreters and greater performance to the employers.


Bhaskar Babu Boda | Sr. Manager – Learning & Development

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