kilpatrick-accentsJames Kilpatrick says he became interested in sign language for the deaf during high school after encountering several classmates who were deaf.

“I began to check out sign language dictionaries from the library,” the associate professor of Spanish at Missouri Southern State University recalls. “I would memorize signs from dictionaries, and then I would ‘try them out’ on my deaf friends. I learned signs from a mixture of textbooks and the school of hard knocks. If I signed things incorrectly, my friends who were deaf would correct me.”

While going to college, he worked as an interpreter for deaf/hard of hearing students in public schools.  He had to pass a state exam for Sign Language Interpreters. Dr. Kilpatrick is permanently certified in Kansas and Missouri.

Late last year, he attended a conference in Salt Lake City on the Interpreter’s Code of Ethics within the court and medical arenas. The conference also examined the role of tri-lingual interpreters.

“We work with deaf Latinos and, for them, we have to understand their signs and then voice their needs in Spanish.”

“I am certified to sign with deaf clients who use American Sign Language, Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE), and/or Signing Exact English (SEE),” he says. “Deaf individuals in the U.S. are raised using either American Sign Language (ASL) or they are raised/educated in CASE, Signed English (SE), and/or SEE.

Dr. Kilpatrick says that, with two exceptions, the biggest challenge in interpreting for the deaf is that each country has its own sign language.

“The deaf/hard of hearing from the U.S. and from Great Britain cannot understand each other very well,” he comments. “The British system requires a person to use two hands to produce the alphabet.  The U.S. system (ASL) only uses one hand to produce alphabet letters.  So, fingerspelling a word is a completely different experience in England versus fingerspelling a word in the U.S.””

One exception is the U.S. and Canada both of which use American Sign Language. Another exception exists when American missionaries and other teachers share ASL with the deaf in developing countries.

“One example that I saw with my own eyes was in Barbados,” he says. “The local deaf in Barbados were using American Sign Language. I suspect that educators or missionaries introduced ASL to them decades ago”.

Although Spanish is spoken in over 20 nations, many words and phrases differ in meaning from country to country.  Dr. Kilpatrick says this poses a challenge for interpreters.

“When a patient comes to Joplin, and seeks medical attention the interpreter may be from a different Spanish-speaking country than the patient,” Dr. Kilpatrick explains. “There is an opportunity for misunderstandings to occur.  For example, the word popcorn is rendered ‘palomitas’ in Mexico, but as ‘cotufas’ in Venezuela, ‘cabritas’ in Chile, and ‘choclo’ in Ecuador.”

Dr. Kilpatrick says MSSU offers two advanced classes in Medical Interpretation as well as a senior level Translation class. These classes are for “hearing” Spanish speakers and translators.  MSSU began offering interpretation and translation courses after making an agreement with Mercy Hospital five years ago. The students must take two of the three classes offered, as well as work as medical interpretation interns under Colleen Brooks, coordinator of interpreter services at Mercy Hospital, Joplin.

“She allows our interpreter interns to shadow her while she interprets, and watches and mentors our students while they do the interpreting,” Dr. Kilpatrick says.

“These are the things that students work on in class with me. Then, as interns, they get to try those skills in the real world while working under a mentor.  Once the Interpreter Coordinator has seen sufficient progress on the part of a student, she starts to send our student to be the “sole” interpreter in the room.  It is an unpaid internship, but it is very valuable in a market that is driven by real-world work experience.”