An interview with the new EFSLI President

efsli_twitterL’EFSLI (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) est l’organisation européenne représentant les intérêts des interprètes en langue des signes. C’est un lieu d’échanges où sont partagées les bonnes pratiques professionnelles, une instance qui oeuvre à une meilleure reconnaissance du métier d’interprète en langue des signes et qui organise des sessions de formations spécialisées pour ses membres.
En ce mois de Mai où nous allons bientôt voter pour renouveler le parlement européen, je vous propose une interview (en anglais) par Josefina Kalousova – rédactrice en chef d’EFSLI Newsletter – de son Président Peter Llewellyn-Jones récemment élu à ce poste.

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Why/how did you become a sign language interpreter?

I originally trained as a social worker with Deaf people or, as it was called in those days, a ‘Welfare Officer for the Deaf’. The ‘Deaf Welfare Examination Board’ was established in 1928 and its Diploma was still recognised as a social work qualification in the UK until the early 1970s. Looking back, what was extraordinary was that to pass the Diploma, as well as passing the social work elements, you also had to pass an interpreting assessment. This means that although the Register of Interpreters in the UK wasn’t established until the early 1980s, there had been a formal sign language interpreting qualification since the late 1920s.

In those days it wasn’t a full-time college course. Instead we worked under supervision in our local Deaf associations for three years; going to a polytechnic college in London every few months for a one-week residential block of theoretical lectures and seminars. There were no formal sign language classes in those days so, as I didn’t know sign language (I was one of only two students during my time who didn’t have Deaf parents) I had to attend all the Deaf clubs in the area which meant I was taking part in Deaf community activities every day of the week.

By the end of my training I had realised that I liked interpreting far more than the social work part of the job so I started to specialise in interpreting for meetings, conferences, short courses; in fact, anywhere interpreters were needed. As soon as I qualified I went to work as a ‘national officer’ for the British Deaf Association and I was then interpreting for events and courses all over the country.

What do you value most about the profession?

Looking back, I couldn’t have chosen a more satisfying career. On the one hand I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with people from all walks of life and, on the other, I quickly realized that interpreting is far more complex than simply being able to use two languages. From 1979 to 1981 I was fortunate enough to spend three years at Bristol University researching interpreting cognitive processes and, although I’ve been involved with researching and thinking about a range of difference facets since then, that original interest had never waned. That is one of the reasons I am so pleased the Belgian Association of Sign Language Interpreters has chosen ‘Mind Tricks’ as the topic for the 2014 EFSLI conference.
Interpreting is always a source of fascination, whether because of the range of settings or the complexity of the processes.

What are your duties and responsibilities as EFSLI president?

As President I am ultimately responsible for the governance of the organisation; that is ensuring that we work within the constitution and meet the legal requirements of a formally registered, democratic, non-profit international association. I also have to ensure that any activity or campaign we embark on is within the spirit of the organisation, i.e. that it meets the aims of furthering the interests of its members and contributes in a positive and constructive way to the lives of the people who use interpreting services, both from the Deaf and hearing communities.
On a day-to-day level I’m responsible for the ‘international department’ of EFSLI, which entails developing and strengthening its working relationships with other European organisations that share our goals or complement our work, e.g. the EUD and EULITA. Most recently I have been representing signed language interpreters at the first meetings of the new European Public Service Interpreters and Translators Network (which is due to become a formally constituted European organisation at a meeting in Alcala, Spain, later in March) and holding discussions with Deb Russell, the President of WASLI, about formalizing a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with WASLI (see the most recent ‘EFSLI in Brief’).

I also, of course, chair the EFSLI Board meetings. Although each board member has her or his own areas of responsibility, there is so much to do that we work, as much as possible, as a team.

What is the biggest challenge for you as EFSLI president?

The main challenge over the last five months has been learning how EFSLI works. It has so many procedures and hosts so many events that I have had to rely on the knowledge and advice of previous board members and a host of individuals who have been working with EFSLI over the years.

The other challenge has been finding the time to keep on top of the EFSLI work whilst giving enough time to my own work as an interpreter trainer in the UK. Luckily I run my own company so my time is flexible but it is still a challenge.

What is your vision for EFSLI for the future?

This is something that we, as a board, are only now beginning to think about. All of us have been busy getting up to speed and it has taken us this long to really understand the complexity of the organisation and the diversity of its activities. What is obvious is that EFSLI’s structure, procedures and resources will need to be strengthened if it is to continue to grow as an active and influential European organisation. I will be proposing that we embark on a consultation exercise, involving full members, existing committees and long-term individual supporters, to develop a realistic yet visionary five-year plan. Only by taking a step back and looking objectively at how EFSLI currently operates will able to see how we can gear ourselves up for the challenges of the future whilst retaining the spirit, openness, supportiveness and friendliness that makes EFSLI such a special organisation.

© EFSLI newsletter – Josefina Kalousova, Editor – spring edition – april 2014

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