Sign language interpreter training focuses on Middle Eastern culture

By Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office DLA Aviation

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Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s Equal Employment, Opportunity and Diversity Office hosted a Federal Interpreter Training Workshop April 8 in Chester, Virginia. 

Dr. Adan Penilla, from Colorado State University, facilitated the training, which focused on  Middle Eastern culture, history, vocabulary and religion and emphasized differences in how other cultures communicate, not just through spoken words, but through sign language.

Sign language interpreters from other federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Food and Drug Administration, National Reconnaissance Office, Department of Homeland Security, as well as interpreters from Chesterfield County Public Schools attended the event. 

 “Sign language is not universal,” said Charlotte Bell, who is a sign language interpreter in the DLA Aviation EEOD Office.  “Just as spoken words are different across different languages; this is also true of sign language.  Whenever you know the history of why a sign [language] is done a certain way in a different culture and the history of it, it better helps to understand signing in that language – sometimes signs originate due to the shape of the land, visual aspects of a building or world leader, and even historical events, they can all play a part in the creation of a sign.” 

The DLA Aviation EEOD Office came up with the idea to host a federal conference after Bell attended an interpreter conference in June 2015, in which Penilla conducted the same type of workshop.  “I thought it would be truly worthwhile for DLA to take a turn at hosting an event closer to home for the federal and other certified interpreters,” said Bell, who did the research and coordinate the event.

Bell said after reading some reviews from the workshop, she knew holding the event was a success – especially since it was attended by so many agencies.  “The majority of the comments were the same. There were many thanks to DLA for holding the workshop and participants stated the event needed to be an additional day, and they asked us to bring Dr. Penilla back,” Bell said. “It feels good to know that DLA supported the efforts to hold the training and that my chain of command took a genuine interest in being part of something so important.”    

Bell said because of important vocabulary differences in the Middle Eastern regions, these workshops provide information that help prepare interpreters in delivering the best interpretation possible to the diverse clients they serve. 

“Knowing the historical reasons behind the signs and how they are established within the deaf community helps to clarify sign origin and helps to make sense of things occurring today.  It’s vital, as interpreters dealing with this topic, that they are prepared and ready for anything that may come up during an assignment,” said Bell.

Jennybeth Delbane, interpreter coordinator for Chesterfield County Public Schools, said she was thrilled to be included in the event and was able to bring a few of her certified staff interpreters to the training.  At the completion of the workshop, Delbane remarked on the importance of this type of training to the students and staff of CCPS, and expressed gratitude for members of CCPS to be invited and included in the workshop.

“These types of training events and workshops are important to the interpreting community in keeping them ‘razor-sharp,’ so that they may continue keeping communication lines open. Sincere thanks to Charlotte Bell for her continued support of the EEOD services.” Delbane said.

From this workshop, I now have a much greater appreciation for the level of knowledge interpreters have for spoken language, and the complexities of sign production in American Sign Language,” said Cathy Hobson, DLA Aviation, EEOD Affirmative Action chief, who also attended the workshop.