BSL interpreter

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Jane Reid is a British Sign Language (BSL) translator and TV presenter who has worked on a range of programmes from Channel 4's VEE-TV, to signing the popular Powerpuff Girls cartoon. She also runs her own translating and signing company, Zebra Uno.

How would you outline your role?

It's a real mixture. I sign and translate written scripts for TV programmes and corporate videos, as well as presenting TV shows and running my own company.

How do you do this?

In-vision signing involves studying TV programmes and then revising the scripts so that I can translate them for a deaf audience. I stand face-to-face with the camera and read the script from an autocue. There's also a TV set showing the actual programme. I then sign the spoken content of the show.

It's important that I think about what's coming up next, and that I translate what's being said simultaneously and accurately as the dialogue is played.

Do you do this live during filming?

No. I'm often 'burnt in' or added to the programme at the editing stage – that's when I appear in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.

I also spend time running the business and talking with clients about projects such as signing for corporate or training videos.

What programmes have you worked on?

I have done in-vision interpreting for a variety of channels including CBeebies, BBC1 and BBC2, as well as the Cartoon Network. I've also worked as presenter for Channel 4's VEE TV programme for nearly three years and appeared in an Oasis video for 'Don't Look Back in Anger'.

Where do you work?

I spend a lot of time in TV studios and sometimes do outside broadcasts. I also work from home quite often.

What hours do you work?

It varies. When I'm working on VEE-TV the hours are 6am to 6pm on some days. For other TV work it depends on the context of the programmes and how much research I need to do, but on average, an hour long programme takes a day to prepare and film.

What special skills or qualities do you need to be a BSL interpreter?

First and foremost you need to be bilingual in English and BSL. I also believe this is a job best done by deaf people because a deaf audience can relate and interact to them much more.

You also need to be confident in front of the camera and be comfortable 'interacting' with the programme when there is nothing for you to translate. This involves using facial expressions and other body language to show you are following what's going on.

Why did you choose this type of work?

My family is deaf and I was brought up using BSL. I attended the University of Bristol studying Linguistics and Deaf Studies, and I really believe in the importance of signing as a form of communication.

What training have you done?

Although I've not done any specific training related to my profession, my degree has helped me to develop my skills as a translator.

Do you use any tools or equipment?

The autocue is very important but getting used to it takes practice.

How do you see your future?

One day it would be great to sign a whole feature film!

What are the particular challenges in your work?

There are times when clients are apprehensive about using my services because I rely on a BSL interpreter to act as my voice and ears.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

I think more and more programmes are going to be signed, and hopefully more will also be presented by deaf people. But because there is a lack of training courses, it could be a slow process.

Jane's steps to becoming a BSL interpreter

  • Degree in Deaf Studies and Linguistics.
  • NVQ level 4 British Sign Language.
  • First job as a TV BSL in-vision interpreter.
  • Set up her own company.

Jane's tips

  • The media is a very tough area to break into and you need to be thick-skinned.
  • Training courses for this profession are few and far between, so grab as many relevant training opportunities as you can.

BSL interpreter related jobs

  • Special educational needs teacher
  • Speech and language therapist
  • Translator

Salary of a BSL interpreter

  • Depending on experience, and where and for whom you work, salaries range from £20,000 to £25,000 for staff positions.
  • Trainees should expect to start below this.
  • Freelance work is paid per contract and rates vary from company to company.

How to become a BSL interpretern

  • Entrants should have an excellent understanding of written English, high level BSL skills and an understanding of the processes of translating and interpreting.
  • Although not essential, education to degree level or equivalent, and/or relevant work and life experience is desirable. Previous training in BSL is an asset, although it is important to follow a properly accredited course.
  • The British Deaf Association can provide details about BSL training courses.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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