Sure, Assistant Professor of American Sign Language- English Interpreting (ASL-EI) Brian Cerney puts “ghost interpreters” to work in traditional courses.
But there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Cerney’s”ghost interpreters” are his ASL students, who attend a traditional class and take turns signing for one another. The practice is one of many employed by Cerney, who directs numerous elements in the discipline. Cerney works with fellow Keuka faculty to give ASL students real-life opportunities to “ghost interpret” traditional classes, such as those in psychology, English or other unrelated fields. With permission of the teaching instructor, a trio of ASL-EI students, for example, will rotate signing through the course lecture of a willing professor, switching every 15-18 minutes. The seated ASL students will check the interpreter’s message for accuracy.
Because no deaf student is dependent upon the interpretation, “ghost interpreting” becomes practice without risk, Cerney said. Added benefits for instructors and non-ASL students are that they can become comfortable with interpreters in the classroom.
“Dr. Cerney provides valuable first-hand opportunities that profoundly enrich students’ understanding of their chosen field– the epitome of experiential learning,” said Dr. Anne Weed, vice president for academic affairs.
Cerney initially hoped for five non-ASL faculty members to make a course and classroom available for ASL students to ghost interpret but received 20 volunteers, representing courses in organic chemistry, anatomy, English literature, and occupational therapy, among others. Students have also signed at special events and church services.
Ruthanne Hackman, assistant professor of social work, has welcomed student ghost interpreters to her Social Work Ethics and Diversity course. She said her own social work students get to experience what it might be like to attend a conference workshop with an ASL interpreter.
“In addition, in learning about diverse populations, we discuss reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and ethical issues regarding working with interpreters for people with language isolation or English as a second language. Students can directly pull from their experiences with the ASL student interpreters, then expand the conversation to compare and contrast to populations with other disabilities, culture, or language needs,” Hackman said. “I look forward to having [ghost interpreters] in my class this coming semester.”
According to Cerney, an ASL student is not allowed to practice interpreting in one of the courses he or she is registered for credit. Senior ASL students complete 36 hours of ghost interpreting, as well as 15 hours of “shadow” interpreting, when students follow the two primary campus interpreters who voice lectures for deaf instructors Sharon Staehle and Dorothy Wilkins or sign voiced meetings as interpretation for either instructor.
“It’s a restricted set of opportunities which is why it’s a smaller number of hours,” Cerney explained. As students observe the work of the professional interpreters, if and when it makes sense, they may be pulled into translation with the professional, he said.
According to Dr. Doug Richards, chair of Keuka’s humanities and fine arts division, the ghost interpreting provides ASL-EI students “invaluable practical experience in ‘live/real world’ signing, and as a side benefit exposes a wide range of Keuka students to ASL signing – a win-win.”
Cerney concluded: “The Keuka philosophy of learning by doing is alive and well in the interpreting program.”