American Sign Language Fluency: A Foundational Competency for Future School Interpreters

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Johns Hopkins University
To become effective interpreters between American Sign Language (ASL) and English, students in interpreter education programs must first demonstrate a high degree of fluency in both languages. However, many graduates of interpreter education programs still have gaps in their ASL fluency after completing their academic study, yet find employment as school interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing children and youth. Many factors influence the ASL fluency of interpreting students, ranging from factors at a broad societal level to others closely connected to a student’s approach to learning. Through the lens of systems thinking, I examined the ASL fluency of graduates of a four-year interpreter education program in the United States and the corresponding contributing factors. A mixed methods needs assessment revealed 64% of 2015-2020 graduates did not meet the program’s ASL fluency expectations. The salient factors contributing to this problem of practice included the students’ self-awareness of their own fluency, their amount of Deaf community involvement, the type and quantity of ASL assessments in courses, and faculty’s level of expertise. The second part of this study was an intervention with current interpreting students, with the goal of increasing their awareness of their ASL fluency. Six student participants took part in the pilot study intervention by completing a formative assessment, the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment, followed by a guided feedback session. I then conducted a mixed methods study to explore the implementation and proximal outcomes of the intervention, ultimately finding a correlation between the intervention and increased self-awareness of the student participants regarding their ASL fluency. Further, leaders within the program acknowledged how the data on students’ ASL fluency and self-awareness could be used to make changes to the curriculum.
American Sign Language, ASL, School Interpreter, Interpreting, Education, K-12, Deaf Education, Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Special Education, Bilingual Fluency, Interpreter Education Program, Interpreter Preparation, Educational Interpreter, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Interpreter for the Deaf, Related Service Provider