Deaf and non-deaf research collaboration on Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) interpreter training in Switzerland

Shores, Patty ; Hohenstein, Christiane ; Keller, Joerg

In: The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research, 2014, vol. 6, no. 1, p. 47-59

Teaching, training, and assessment for sign language interpreters in Swiss German sign language (DSGS) developments since 1985 have resulted in the current Bachelor level at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Special Needs Education (HfH). More recently, co-teaching with Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Applied Linguistics (ZHAW) non-deaf linguists in linguistics and... More

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    Summary
    Teaching, training, and assessment for sign language interpreters in Swiss German sign language (DSGS) developments since 1985 have resulted in the current Bachelor level at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Special Needs Education (HfH). More recently, co-teaching with Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Applied Linguistics (ZHAW) non-deaf linguists in linguistics and intercultural competence training has led to Deaf and non-deaf research collaboration. At present, there are considerable skills gaps in student proficiency in DSGS- interpreting. Standards that evaluate student second language competencies in DSGS do not yet exist for those who graduate from training programs. Despite DSGS being taught by Deaf sign language instructors, socio-linguistic and pragmatic standards reflecting the practices of the Deaf community are lacking in hearing second language learners. This situation calls for community based research on the linguistic practices embedded in the DSGS community and its domains. The ongoing need for research is to adapt unified standards according to the Common European Reference Frame (CEFR) and the European Language Portfolio (ELP) describing learners’ abilities and competencies, rather than deficiencies. A pilot project compiling existing DSGS teaching materials was carried out by Deaf SL instructors together with non-deaf linguists under auspices of the Swiss Federation of the Deaf (SGB-FSS), HfH Zürich and ZHAW. The findings show at threshold level (A1- A2) a considerable amount of subjects related to pragmatic and intercultural aspects of DSGS not listed in the teaching materials, nor part of CEFR descriptors. Consequently, a community-based project including Deaf and non-deaf researchers was proposed and is under way. With the cooperation of the current European project, PRO-Sign, the project focuses on identifying those aspects of sign language where descriptors of competencies are substantially different from spoken languages. Results from this project will permit the development of unified teaching materials, of standardised assessments and provide a basis not only for purposes of foreign language learning and interpreter training, but also help to foster the development of a CEFR for Sign Languages in Europe.