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Friction and Smoothness in Remote Educational Interpreting

Marjo-Leea Alapuranen / 5.4.2024

The sudden shift to online environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected the field of sign language interpreting. Several domains and settings shifted into the digital world, and interpreters had to rapidly adjust their work accordingly.

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In my MA thesis, I documented the multimodal practices that interpreters employ when an educational setting where visual aids are being used overlaps with the remote environment and virtual platform.

My primary data set included recordings of seven experienced professionals interpreting the same source text in a simulated remote educational setting. I conducted a multimodal analysis to identify how the interpreters utilized the slides (which were available to them in advance) both as preparation material and during the task on their screens. Additionally, I conducted retrospective interviews with the interpreters to gain insights into their previous experiences, skills and knowledge, and their understanding of the task, as well as on their preparation process.

The study confirms that, even though meaning is constructed and communicated multimodally in online and offline environments, the remote environment has distinctive features. Practitioners and trainers need to be aware of these features and adapt their working practices accordingly.

The constraints arising from the visual and spoken source texts, along with the remote environment, can lead to ‘friction’ as interpreters make fast decisions. They make judgements on the readability of the slides and decisions based on the delivery of the spoken source text, and adjust their work based on their understanding of what the end-user sees on their screen.

However, interpreters also demonstrate ‘smoothness’ by transferring familiar practices (e.g., body shift, classifier constructs, pointing) from onsite to online environments. They also modify and adapt those practices to fit the remote setting and its affordances, for example, by merging the physical space they are located in and the virtual space in which the shared content and their video frame exists on the screen.

Further information

Marjo-Leea Alapuranen’s MA thesis "Incorporation of visual aids into sign language interpretation in a remote educational setting" examines the multimodal practices that interpreters employ in their work. It was part of the European Master in Sign Language Interpreting (EUMASLI) programme, a collaboration between Humak University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Heriot-Watt University (UK) and Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences (Germany).

The thesis is available on the Theseus database.