A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

Oral Interpreting: There’s more than one way to see what’s said

In Accommodations for Deaf, ADA, Deafness, Hearing Loss, Lip Reading, Oral Interpreting, Oral Tranliteration, Speech Reading on March 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

By Michele Linder

Capitol Tour

2014 SayWhatClub Convention in Madison Wisconsin – L to R:  Pat, Donna, Steve, Vicky, Wendy, Michele, Henderson

Last year, at the SayWhatClub Convention, held in Madison, Wisconsin, those of us who signed up for the Wisconsin State Capitol Tour had the pleasure of experiencing an oral interpreter, also known as an oral transliterator. As a lipreader (lipreading is more accurately known as speech reading), I was thrilled to see firsthand how effective this type of interpretation can be.

Oral interpreting isn’t as common as Sign Language Interpreting, but it is a recognized subspecialty of interpreting. An oral interpreter silently mouths speech for the non-signing deaf consumer, using facial expressions and gestures to enhance understanding for those who read lips. Of the 360 million people in the world with debilitating hearing loss, only 70 million use sign language as their first language (there are others who know and use sign language, which makes that number slightly higher), leaving the majority to find other ways to communicate past the barrier of hearing loss. Oral interpreting addresses the needs of non-signers, as does captioning and CART (Real-Time Captioning).

Back to my experience in Madison…

The group touring the Wisconsin State Capitol met in the rotunda after a short walk from our hotel. There, we met our tour guide and the oral interpreter.  It was funny, usually I’m the one deaf person in a crowd vying for the best place at the front to lipread the tour guide, but when the entire group has hearing loss you realize every other person has the same goal, which was amusing.

The oral interpreter mouthed what the tour guide was saying while making pointing gestures toward the subject of what was being talked about, when appropriate. She also used her hands to make other motions and signs, along with facial expressions, to add meaning and clarification to what was being said.

Below is a video I took of our oral interpreter during the Capitol Tour.  As all of us with hearing loss know, when we’re aware of the subject being discussed we’re much more likely to get what is being said, so I’ve included a short premise to set the context:

The video begins with the mention of the 1904 Capitol fire and how the cold temperatures hampered the efforts of firefighters — once they reached Madison, they found the equipment had frozen and needed to be thawed. As a result, most of the building’s structure burned to the ground taking with it numerous records, books, and historical artifacts, including a mounted bald eagle, “Old Abe”, a civil war mascot for “Company C” of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment.

Also, I’ve added closed captions — I borrowed my daughter’s ears — to the video, but before you click that cc button, do try watching without the captions first to see how you do at lipreading the interpreter. NOTE: The tour guide’s speech (audio of the video) is what’s captioned. The oral interpreter’s words are not verbatim to what the tour guide is saying. An oral interpeter might substitute or omit words or phrases that are difficult to speech read, however, the integrity and intent of the speaker is maintained.

Whether you’re a lipreader, or not, it’s interesting to watch this video repeatedly.

First, after reading the premise above, watch without captions and pay attention only to the oral interpreter on the left in the striped skirt.  Second, watch again, this time using the captions to help you lipread the tour guide.  Third, watch a second time, with captions, but with your attention on what the oral interpreter is mouthing and see if you can pick up on the differences between the two.

An example of how the oral interpreter changes things up to make them more readable on the lips:

Tour Guide: “…that isn’t the worst news… back up six months from the fire…”

Oral Interpreter: “But that is not the worst… six months before the fire…”

Notice, the oral interpreter has done away with the contraction, “isn’t”.  One of the fundamental things I tell people when they speak to me is to please not use contractions. I need to hear each word. Also, the interpreter took the tour guide’s more confusing sentence structure and made it easier to understand by saying it in a different way.

These things, combined with the very logical motioning and signing, facial expression and body language, give the lipreader much more information to work with in figuring out what is said.

What a great experience it was to see what an oral interpreter has to offer those who need to see speech in a different way.  I hope all of you reading who might benefit from this type of interpreting will look into getting some firsthand experience with an oral interpreter.  Just as with sign language and CART, oral transliteration is a reasonable accommodation provided for through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  It can be used in a hospital setting, or any situation where an interpreter is appropriate.

Taking a tour with an oral interpreter meant every room we visited in the Wisconsin State Capitol was a “Hearing Room”.  I knew I could work in that picture of the “Hearing Room” if I tried.  :o)

Capitol Bldg Hearing Room

The “Hearing Room’ is located in the north wing of the Wisconsin State Capitol and is used by the legislature for public committee hearings.

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  1. It was a unique experience. I’m glad I witnessed an oral interpreter first hand because after that, I could tell people more of what they do at work. I tried to focus on the oral interpreter but I had enough hearing left the tour guide’s voice kept pulling me away. There was a slight delay between the guide and the interpreter which confused my poor brain so I ended up having to focus on the tour guide instead because I couldn’t shut down my ears enough. However, watching your video without sound, I picked up a lot more from the interpreter! Thanks for posting. More information needs to be passed around on oral transliterators. She was amazing.

  2. […] Oral Interpreting: There’s more than one way to see what’s said […]

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