Being able to facilitate communication between a hearing mother and her Deaf child and witness the tears of joy in her eyes as she can ‘hear’ the frustration of her child for the first time is all in a day’s job for a Sign Language interpreter. – Samuel Chew
At KUDO, we pride ourselves on having an incredibly talented network of professional interpreters. While being a crucial part of every single KUDO meeting, they are often behind-the-scenes players that are heard and not seen. In this series of blogs, we are bringing our interpreters to the main stage and highlighting them and their stories.
September 23rd is International Day of Sign Language. To celebrate, this week we are highlighting Sign Language Interpreters in the KUDO community. Today we are featuring Samuel Chew a conference interpreter with over a decade of experience in Sign Language Interpretation. Samuel shares his start in the field, one of his most memorable moments in the industry, and what he hopes the future of technology holds for Sign Language Interpretation.
How did you get into sign language interpretation?
I was an introverted science major that spent a lot of time at the lab and university library. One night, while leaving the library, I saw a poster for a sign language course. I signed up for it out of curiosity as I have never known a Deaf person in my life. After a couple of years, I became proficient in the language, which opened my mind to a very different worldview and culture. I began to appreciate visual details that I often overlooked when I was working in the physics lab. I started to interpret for my Deaf friends for various events, from weddings to divorce cases, and maternity wards to funeral homes. In the last decade, I have also worked in high-level intergovernmental meetings and for supranational organizations.
Why do you love what you do?
After dabbling with sign language interpreting, I was told that I have a flair for languages, which motivated me to become a professional conference interpreter for Mandarin-English-Malay. Interpreting intra- and inter-modality have broadened my horizons in terms of knowledge and metalinguistic awareness, which helped me know myself at a deeper level and see a higher purpose of my existence. Being able to facilitate communication between a hearing mother and her Deaf child and witness the tears of joy in her eyes as she can ‘hear’ the frustration of her child for the first time is all in a day’s job for a Sign Language interpreter.
What is your most memorable experience in the industry?
One of the most unforgettable experiences was when I was still a novice interpreter tasked to take a group of Deaf youths for their open water diving course. The end of what could have been a memorable vacation quickly turned into a nightmare when I wrongly conveyed the information in Sign Language and caused the whole group to be stranded on a remote island for missing the last ferry for the evening. We had no place to spend the night, and oh boy, I had an “earful” from the group.
Have you seen an uptick in remote sign language interpretation recently?
The pandemic years have been a boon for Sign Language interpreters working remotely. Some of us interpreted for more high-level meetings in these two years than we did in the preceding decade.
Do you have any best practices for those who use sign language interpreters in their meetings or events?
Do not hesitate to communicate your expectations and requirements with the interpreters. We are happy to build a rapport with the organizers and speakers to interpret your content faithfully and don your personality during your presentation to ensure the message is accessible to the Deaf.
What technology do you hope to see developed for sign language interpretation in the future?
I secretly hope that AI would one day be better interpreters than humans so that I can happily retire without needing to go through the emotional roller coaster of interpreting the deepest darkest matters of the heart between two people who are complete strangers to me.
Samuel Chew is based out of Hong Kong. His working languages are Malay, English, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Malaysian Sign Language (BIM), International Sign (IS), American Sign Language (ASL), Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL) and Classical Hebrew
When he is not interpreting, Samuel can be found locked up in his room writing up his PhD dissertation on sign language linguistics and occasionally belting out opera arias for his own enjoyment and for his two Pomeranians to come scratching his door for their long overdue belly rub.