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How ‘Fake’ Interpreters Lie To The Deaf

28 Sep 2015, by Auslan Stage Left in Articles

This article was originally published by Nairobian Reporter on Standard Digital News.


The world has forgotten the 52 presidents and 16 prime ministers who came to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela in December 2013. But not Thamsanqa Jantjie (circled above) the ‘fake’ interpreter for the deaf who played with his hands on live TV beamed globally, saying rubbish!


While the whole world was stunned and outraged by his act, deaf people in Kenya say they had seen too many of his type before. Irene Thuku who was born deaf says she has attended several events in the country where interpreters shamefully lie by throwing their arms about and pretending to be furiously engaged in interpretation, when they actually don’t understand what is going on.


“It is worse when you attend meetings where jargon and special language is used. Can you imagine attending a seminar on a subject like climate change and the interpreter has no idea how to convey those words? Sadly, it happens too many times,” she says.


Williams Sila, a KTN sign language interpreter acknowledges that the field is flooded with quacks looking for easy money because without an examining body, anyone can masquerade as an interpreter.


Nickson Kakiri of the Kenya National Association for the Deaf says it is now a constitutional requirement for the government to promote sign language by providing resources for research and introducing sign language as an examinable subject at the university level.


The 2009 census puts the number of people who use the Kenya Sign Language (KSL) at 340,000, half the deaf Kenyan population of 600,000. Kakiri explains that the reason not all deaf people use the language is because some parents still shy away from taking their children to school where they can be exposed to KSL.


One of the biggest misconception people have about the deaf is that they use the same language. This is far from true, because every country has a unique language. “I have visited different countries, and I struggle to understand what they are trying to communicate to me.


Even the sign language used by our neighbours in Uganda is totally different from the one we use here,” says Kakiri.


KSL has specific signs for things that are uniquely Kenyan. Names of popular politicians, food, and counties are among the many items that are special in the language. Interestingly, there is a slight variation in KSL used by people in Nairobi, western Kenya and the northern region.


However, the basics are similar, and they can effectively communicate with each other.


The language is as complex as any other. It has grammatical rules, structures, and a culture that has to be followed. While people think all you need to do is make signs and gestures, KSL requires a proficiency that takes about four years to master for those who study it in college.


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