Deaf and Non-Deaf Research Collaboration on Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) Interpreter Training in Switzerland

By Shores, Patty; Hohenstein, Christiane et al. | Translation & Interpreting, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Deaf and Non-Deaf Research Collaboration on Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) Interpreter Training in Switzerland


Shores, Patty, Hohenstein, Christiane, Keller, Joerg, Translation & Interpreting


1. Introduction and background

Switzerland holds a unique position among the highly developed economies and democracies of Europe: It is situated outside the European Union (EU), yet strongly influences EU policies, and has especially influenced the development of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in learning, teaching and assessment (CEFR, cf. section 2).

Switzerland has one of the most progressive language legislations within Europe, recognizing four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh), yet has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN 2008-2012). In fact, Zurich, since 2005 (1), is the only German speaking canton in Switzerland where sign language, in particular the Swiss German Sign Language (Schweizerdeutsche Gebardensprache, DSGS) (2), is officially recognised, with a statement of inclusion of sign language in the constitution (Kanton Zurich, 2005, Art.12).

Moreover, teaching, training, and assessment for sign language interpreters in DSGS has been developed on an ongoing basis since 1985 towards the current Bachelor level at the HfH Zurich (University of Applied Sciences: Special Needs Education Zurich). As of 2011, both the Swiss German sign language instructor training program (AGSA) and the Swiss German sign language interpreter training program (GSD) celebrated their anniversaries of 20 and over 25 years, respectively (Haug & Shores, 2011). At the same time, a history of more than 30 years of sign language research since 1980 in the Swiss German sign language community has been realised (Boyes Braem et al., 2012).

Traditionally, DSGS introductory and intermediate level courses are offered by the Swiss German section of the Swiss Federation of the Deaf (SGB-FSS (3)). They are taught by DSGS instructors trained and qualified by SGB-FSS and HfH AGSA. Students interested in being trained as DSGS interpreters need an average of 120 introductory hours of sign language and cultural studies prior to admission to the Bachelor level interpreter education program. During the three-year full time, or four year part time program, the students continue to receive training in formal sign language and culture. Cultural learning opportunities designed to enhance further understanding of Deaf culture are also acquired through cultural internships and the interpreting training courses.

Over the past five years, lecturers from ZHAW School of Applied Linguistics specializing in linguistics, interpreting and intercultural communication have been included in the HfH DSGS interpreter training curriculum. Co-teaching has made it possible to discuss students' particular difficulties with regard to both Deaf culture and linguistic features of sign language and its use. Pragmatics of communication among Deaf and hearing people, as well as sociolinguistic aspects like register usage and politeness, were cases in point where, as an outcome of co-teaching between Deaf instructors and non-deaf linguists, the need for joint projects was recognised.

In particular, the shift toward a policy of lifelong learning and the introduction of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for language learning, teaching, and assessment necessitate new learning and teaching methods, as well as new self-assessment tools. This situation has led to a deaf-non-deaf research collaboration, the focus of which is on the introduction and implementation of sign language teaching and learning using the systematics of the CEFR.

In the following sections, we first discuss the implications of CEFR for sign language (section 2), and make particular reference to our exploratory pilot project on Swiss German Sign language (DSGS, section 3). We then relate recent insights from a survey regarding the European ECML agenda toward a CEFR sign languages (section 4). The need for further research and development projects on DSGS to better meet learners' demands is discussed (section 5). …

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