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Training Sign language interpreters in China-Bridging the gap

by Xiaoyan Xiao & Wei Lu


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Despite China having the biggest Deaf population in the world, there is a huge gap between the increasing demand for accessibility from the 20 million Chinese Deaf people, and the provision of qualified sign language interpreters.

In this presentation, the authors will share two sets of data from their continuous research over the past 11 years, focusing on the sign language interpreting (SLI) market and the SLI education respectively. Examining and comparing data from both market and education helps reveal the existing issues, probe into the causes, and formulate solutions. Our data show that many of the issues observed in the market (e.g. Deaf people and interpreters don’t understand each other’s signing) can be attributed to how the interpreters are trained in the SLI programs. The current 4 SLI programs in China are all housed under special education colleges, lacking input and expertise from fields such as interpreting studies and language acquisition. Through our classroom observations, interviews with trainers and survey of graduates, we find that there is a lack of understanding of how a signed language is acquired, how an interpreter is trained, or what the SLI market really needs, as reflected in the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and selection of course materials in these programs. Though Deaf trainers are hired in 3 of the 4 programs, their role has mainly been restricted to language teaching.

As an attempt to improve reality, the authors and their teams have already embarked on endeavors to bridging the gaps. A much closer collaboration between the signed and spoken language interpreting communities are in place. Work is in progress toward reforming the SLI textbooks, the training of trainers and assessment issues (including setting up a national certification test for SL interpreters). The Chinese SLI community can take full advantage of the improving legislation and funding support for accessibility and usher in the best practices in SLI education.

Participants will be able to:

  • Share data about the current status of SLI in China which has the largest Deaf population in the world with the international community;
  • Identify problems in SLI training in China which other countries may have been through or may encounter;
  • Shed light on the solution of issues under the Chinese political-cultural circumstances which may be of reference to some countries .

A Chinese woman with long black hair wearing a light blue shirt smiles at camera in front of a  white tile wallXiaoyan Xiao is a professor from Xiamen University China. She has a Phd in linguistics and has been training spoken language interpreters for over 25 years and investigating sign language interpreting in China for over 10 years. She has published interpreting textbooks and journal papers and and has received grants from China’s National Social Sciences Foundation.

Wei Lu  (Bio and picture coming soon)