Assessing Interpreter Intercultural Sensitivity (Dissertation Research)
Chapter 5. Results, Conclusions, and Recommendations
Overview to Chapter 5
In this study, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) was used to measure the intercultural sensitivity of sign language interpreters. Linguistic and demographic background information gathered from the study participants was used to determine if the interpreters level of intercultural sensitivity (IDI scores) differed based in terms of basic background demographics, credentials, motivational factors that lead toward becoming an interpreters, and linguistic and cultural exposure. This chapter presents a summary and discussion of the findings and data analysis, the contributions to the field, and the strengths and limitations of the study. The chapter ends with recommendations for future research.
Statement of the Problem
Interpreters facilitate communication between individuals who have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. As such, interpreters need both linguistic and intercultural sensitivity to provide an effective and efficient bridge. Research pertaining to linguistic competencies is ongoing, but very little research has been conducted on the topic of intercultural sensitivity as it pertains to sign language interpreters and sign language interpreting.
Review of the Methodology
The study was exploratory in nature in that it investigated carefully defined degrees of intercultural sensitivity in a new population. The study also explored potential correlations between stages of intercultural sensitivity and population descriptors, such as demographics. This study was conducted using a quantitative, descriptive, and inferential
design and targeted adult, self-identified, working sign language interpreters who interpret, either full or part-time, between ASL and either English or Spanish.
The primary research question was: What is the range of intercultural sensitivity found among practicing sign language interpreters?
The secondary research question was: Is there a correlation between the intercultural sensitivity stages of groups of practicing sign language interpreters and certain demographic and background variables. These variables included basic demographic descriptors, measures of language and cultural exposure, interpreting credentials, as well as motivating factors that lead to becoming an interpreter.
Two web-based instruments were used in this research study: the IDI and the LDS. The IDI is a psychometric instrument that empirically measures worldview orientations toward cultural difference (Hammer & Bennett, 2001). The secondary data collection instrument was the locally developed LDS. See Chapter 3 for further details.
The Developmental Orientation (DO), a continuous variable acquired from the IDI, was the primary variable of interest and was used as the dependent variable throughout this study. All other variables, whether acquired through the IDI or the LDS, were considered independent variables and are delineated in Chapter 3.
Discussion of the Results for Research Question 1
With regard to the first research question, the wide range of Developmental Orientations for sign language interpreters (from Denial through Adaptation) found in this study highlights a lack of consensus as to how the individuals in the sample population try to make sense of and adapt to behaviors in cultural differences and commonalities. In other words, these individuals are using both monocultural and
multicultural mindsets to try process cultural differences and commonalities. They are quite likely to find it difficult to achieve a shared vision and focus for meeting the needs of a culturally diverse environment.
The individuals in the sample population showed a Perceived Orientation (PO) of Acceptance (see Figure 21). The PO is where these participants, as a whole, place themselves along the developmental continuum. Acceptance is an orientation that recognizes and appreciates patterns of cultural differences (values, perceptions, behaviors) in one’s own culture and in the culture of others.
The individuals in the sample population showed a Developmental Orientation (DO) of Minimization (see Figure 21). The DO reflects these individual’s primary orientation toward cultural differences and commonalities along the continuum as measured by the IDI and is the orientation they are mostly to use when trying to bridge cultural differences and commonalities. Minimization reflects a tendency to emphasize or draw attention to commonalities across cultures. This orientation can camouflage important cultural differences in values, perceptions, and behaviors.
Figure 21. Intercultural Development Continuum. This figure shows the DMIS stages mapped on the continuum and indicates the DO and PO for study participants.
There is a signification between the PO and DO of the individuals in the sample population. This Orientation Gap (OG) means that these research participants
overestimate their intercultural sensitivity. They may be surprised at their lack of success in certain culturally sensitive situations. Or, they may not be focused on acquiring additional skills that could help them be better prepared to deal with certain cultural sensitive issues. (See Figure 22)
Figure 22. Orientation Gap. This figure shows the OG between participants’ PO and DO. A gap of 7 is considered significant.
Because the dominant mode of their DO score is in Minimization, when the research participants do share a common focus, it is an ethnocentric (monocultural) viewpoint. This is typical of American society (see Chapter 2, Intercultural Communication). Regardless of whether the language and interpreting skills where acquired under the mentorship of the Deaf or through credentialed programs, sign language interpreters, as a group, do not have the skill set that will allow them to move out of an ethnocentric worldview and into a multicultural perspective.
Interpreters working for this worldview orientation mask the underlying differences between themselves and their clients/consumers by assuming that their clients/consumers are fundamentally the same as themselves. This can be a major obstacle for interpreters as it prevents them from fully understanding and/or fully respecting the worldviews of the people for and with whom they are working. Further, as
noted by Peterson, Ladd, Cokely, and others in the literature review for this study (see Chapter 2, ASL/Deaf Studies), this particularly places the Deaf at a disadvantage.
In terms of the spread of the range of orientations, the results are extremely informative. The study participants showed a wide range from Denial through Adaptation. Basically, this means that members of each group are going to want to approach the discussion and resolution of cultural differences and commonalities from a different perspective. While it is clear that slightly more than one half of the study participants are in Minimization, the rest are almost equally divided between a monocultural worldview and a multicultural worldview. When the individuals in the sample population do get together to try to establish a shared vision of what is and what should be, approximately one-quarter of the population (those in Acceptance or Adaptation) are going to want to talk about differences, while the remaining quarter, coupled with those in Minimization (at least 75% of the population) are going to want to talk about sameness (commonalities). This lack of consensus is going to make it very difficult to arrive at a shared vision.
Discussion of the Results for Research Question 2
In addition to investigating the IDI development scores of interpreters, this research study also tried to determine whether or not there were significant differences in the intercultural sensitivity of various interpreter groupings in terms of demographic and background variables. The study examined a myriad of factors based on the following themes: Basic demographic descriptors, interpreting credentials, motivational factors that lead to becoming an interpreter, and linguistic and cultural exposure factors. Out of all of those factors, the only ones which proved statistically significant dealt with Age of
Acquisition categories. Age First Learned (Age of Acquisition within the Linguistic and Cultural Exposure factors) was chosen as the ultimate model because it offered the most granular representation of the data.
Age First Learned (Linguistic and cultural exposure) proved significant for Age 13-15. The respondents in this category were positively correlated with DO. Just when the literature on second language acquisition suggests that learners are likely to become increasingly less able to learn a language natively, but at an age when children may be beginning to define themselves within a larger social context, this study reveals that some individuals are in an exploratory mode (which may be supported by other second language acquisition factors such as motivation or attitude). While the data clearly indicate significance, there is, at this time, no explanation as to why only such a small age range would be affected. Only further research can determine what the specific factors may be.
The literature is full of evidence that shows how difficult it is to immerse one’s self in Deaf culture. On the other hand, the literature does show that codas (see Chapter 2, ASL/Deaf Studies) and those who are very young when they first acquire signed languages (Hintermaier, 2007) are more acculturated to the Deaf community.
Age First Learned (Linguistic and cultural exposure) proved significant for Ages 0-2 and Ages 3-5. The respondents in this category were negatively correlated with DO. In other words, the codas and others who learned sign language at a very early age have a lower DO. While this may seem counter-intuitive at first, it is certainly in line with the literature surrounding the DMIS and the IDI which states that members of non-dominant group may use Denial and Defense as means of preserving their culture (see Chapter 2,
Intercultural Communication). Denial serves to protect one’s traditional worldview from changes. For members of non-dominant groups, Defense serves as a protection from absorption.
It may be that respondents in these age of acquisition categories (Age 0-2 and Age 3-5) have become acculturated to the Deaf community and are responding in a manner that serves to protect and preserve their Deaf culture and, albeit consciously or unconsciously, their own identities as members of the Deaf community. Moreover, although conjecture based on such a small sample size of Deaf participants (n = 3) is not advisable, the data show that the bimodal bilingual Deaf person exhibited a lower DO than the two visual unimodals Deaf individuals. Only further research, conducted longitudinally, would be likely to offer insight as to whether or not these two groups would coalesce or diverge.
Contributions to the field
Because interpreters serve as bridges between linguistically diverse and culturally diverse populations there is a great need for interpreters to examine and reflect upon their own worldviews toward difference. Acceptance of and adaptation to cultural differences is a critical factor if interpreters are going to be able to work effectively with diverse populations. If interpreting associations and organizations, interpreting educators and mentors, and individual interpreters are truly dedicated to providing effective communication and cultural mediation, then an interculturally competent workforce is imperative. However, the results of the study show that sign language interpreters as a group tend to function within an ethnocentric worldview, with the majority being in Minimization. Minimization, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, as shown in
the study individuals who function within the worldview of Minimization run the risk of overestimating their own intercultural sensitivity.
The wide range of DO values captured by this study indicates that a one size fits all approach of teaching intercultural sensitivity is not going to prove effective or efficient. Rather, a tailored, individualized approach to progressing along the intercultural development continuum, is far more likely to prove effective and efficient.
Professional associations and organizations could support intercultural development by encouraging members to pursue their own personal assessment and by providing guided developmental activities in group settings (i.e. workshops, trainings, continuing educations units, etc.) focused on the skills necessary to move toward a more ethnorelative worldview. Interpreter Training Programs (ITP) or Interpreter Preparation Programs (ITP) may want to call attention to the current levels of intercultural development, support the need for stronger multicultural programs, as suggested by the NMIP (see Chapter 1), and build more explicit awareness of the paradigm shift that moves the Deaf from beneath the umbrella of disabled and into the realm of ethnic community. Cultural activities in the classroom could be augmented by projects that help the learners complete tasks that specifically target progression along the intercultural development continuum. For those interpreters who are already working in the field, they may want to use the IDI to establish their own personal baseline and then tailor a continuing education plan to their specific needs. The results of the study may also encourage spoken language interpreters to assess and examine their own ranges of intercultural sensitivity.
Limitations of the study
The strength of the study is that it provides an accurate measure (baseline data) of where the individuals in the sample population are in terms of their intercultural sensitivity. Additionally, it reviewed and eliminated myriad linguistic and demographic factors thought to have been covariant with intercultural sensitivity. The factors that were examined were chosen because either the literature alluded to them as being covariant with intercultural sensitivity or they were chosen based on my interaction with the Deaf community over a period of thirty years. The study provided some groundwork for improving the field of sign language interpreting. However, the findings of this study should be interpreted with care.
There were several potential sources of bias which could not be totally eliminated and should be considered when reviewing the data. For example, regarding the usage of Deaf vs. deaf, although the distinction has been well documented in the literature and one might expect interpreters who work with D/deaf consumers to be cognizant of that difference, the distinction may not have been internalized by all study participants. Another example, from the linguistic sector is that languages come in a variety of forms. When one identifies any language one runs the risk of over generalizing or under generalizing. Additionally, all languages, including signed languages have regional variations. With ASL, because so many Deaf people learn their language later in life, the Deaf community tends to accept a wide variety of communication systems that exist along a continuum.
From the response of the codas to the question of whether or not they are minorities in their own country (acquired from the IDI), the answer is clearly no, but if
this question was to be rephrased to ask more about their status and the status of their parents as members of an underrepresented population might it prove to be enlightening.
This study represented a snapshot in time and therefore cannot infer how the situation may (or may not) change over time. In particular, the influence of historical events (i.e. watershed events) cannot be identified or isolated.
As expected, finding sufficient lay interpreters, proved difficult. Many lay interpreters are not affiliated with professional agencies or organizations, yet frequently, in smaller, more rural communities, may be the only interpreters available. A future study, using a snowballing strategy to identify lay interpreters should be considered.
The interpreters in this study were all self-identified working interpreters became, primarily, from the United States and Canada. The results may not be representative of all sign language interpreters. The sample size was dominated by hearing interpreters. While this reflects the current status of the interpreting profession low number of Deaf participants (n = 3) may have disguised any differences in scores between Deaf and hearing interpreters.
Upon reflection, a number of factors might have been better explored as continuous variables rather than discrete or coded variables, i.e. age. However, the study was limited by the number of factors it could explore based on the very practical limitation imposed by the amount of time it would take a participant to fill out the survey.
Recommendations for Further Research
Further research should be conducted along two plans of action: First, with regard to items that proved significant, further research should attempt to confirm and find
causality. Second, a longitudinal study of the progress of the research participants would be of interest.
This study explored a number of linguistic demographic factors which turned out to be non-significant with regard to intercultural sensitivity. However, for a few of these demographics, the determination of non-significance was surprising (i.e. are intuitively the wrong conclusion) and may warrant further examination in a different experimental study which seeks to decompose those demographic into different underlying factors and reexamine those factors against intercultural sensitivity. For example, one might decomposed the motivational responses coded as offer or invite into a different set of factors and compare those to IDI scores, one might gain new insight into intercultural sensitivity of sign language interpreters.
Future studies could be designed to explore the intercultural sensitivity of spoken language interpreters who work within a common language family and closely related cultural communities (i.e. Romance-Romance language/culture or Dano-Norwegian language/culture) vs. languages that do not have as close a relationship either linguistically or culturally (i.e. a Romance language/culture vs. a Sino-Tibetan language/culture). Looking at those results and comparing them with the results of sign language interpreters who work across language families, would also make for a fascinating study.
In the future, a more granular examination of the specific types of cultural exposures (along the lines of travel, international study, time spent in other communities, etc.) could help us learn a great deal. If such a study could also be designed to capture
data on the reflective practice, it could provide even more insight into how one becomes interculturally sensitive.
Lastly, there were several instances where age of acquisition categories had more than one peak in the data distributions (see Figure 6, Box plot of DO vs. Age First Interpreted, which compares the Developmental Orientation (DO) score with the Age First Interpreted. Figure 8, Age First Learned; Figure 10, Onset of Bimodal-Bilingual Language Use;Figure 11, ANOVA of Bimodal-Bilingualism Onset; Figure 12, Age First Socialized; and Figure 17, Age First Learned ANOVA). Clearly, the data suggest that there is more going on. However, the correlation analysis done in the course of this study did not identify any single variable that clearly explained the differences in DO within an age group. The next step might be to investigate refactoring to support a multivariate analysis in an attempt to isolate the (age of acquisition) factors that gave rise to the multi-peaked data distributions.
This study, having achieved a substantial number of participants (N = 189), provides a solid baseline with regard to intercultural sensitivity for sign language interpreters. The individuals in the sample population are normally distributed in their Developmental Orientation (DO) scores and the distribution is centered at Minimization. Although normally distributed, the distribution of DO scores is wide and stretches from Denial through Adaptation. Age First Learned for Age 13-15 is positively correlated with DO; a negative correlation to DO was seen for those whose Age First Learned was under the age of 5. The causal nature of these correlations could not be determined from the study as designed and requires further research. Additionally, the study results
167eliminated a large number of other linguistic and demographic factors from further consideration.