Frequently Asked Questions


I’ve been reading about the ‘Fake Interpreter’ at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Does that have anything to do with this website?

Yes. The Real Interpreter site is a response to the fact that the Deaf community was not given the opportunity to pay tribute to Mandela at the memorial service. A sign language “interpreter” stood onstage next to presenters at the memorial and made meaningless gestures with his hands, not once delivering information that the Deaf could actually comprehend. Here, we commit to delivering the speeches about Mandela in real sign languages.



Do all Deaf people sign in the same language?

"Each country has one or sometimes two or more sign languages, although different sign languages can share the same linguistic roots in the same way as spoken languages do." Deafblind people also communicate in tactile sign language.

Source: WFD



Is International Sign a real language?

"International Sign (IS) is the result of contact between different sign languages and is therefore not a full language, It does not always convey the richness of meaning that can be expressed in a full language, nor is it as efficient as a natural language."

Source: WFD-WASLI IS Interpreter Statement



Are other sign languages real languages then?

Yes! “Linguistic research has confirmed that sign languages are complex natural languages and part of the Deaf culture at all levels from local to national." (WFD) It is important, however, to note that devised or derivative sign languages that were invented to represent spoken language, such as ‘Manually Coded English’, ‘Signing Exact English’, and ‘Linguistics of Visual English’ are not languages, but modes of communication. “They are used in classrooms and do not spontaneously spread to a wider community or to a broader employment in everyday communication.”

Source: WFD



There was only one interpreter at the Mandela memorial. How many interpreters should there have been for a 4-hour event?

While there is no one official policy for interpreting time limit, it is common practice to switch interpreters after about 20 minutes, or if the event is longer than an hour, to have a team of interpreters.

How do I know if a sign language interpreter is authentic?

You can check to see if the interpreter is certified by an agency, such as Registry of Interpreters Database (RID), but it's always a great idea to ask for referrals from WFD, interpreting agencies, and your community.



Are there certificated International Sign interpreters?

For IS interpreters, there is no international certification/accreditation system yet in place. Currently, a task force has been set up to assist WFD and World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) to prepare an accreditation system for IS interpreters. Until that is in place, WFD and WASLI can assist in identifying professional interpreters with international experience. Not all interpreters who have previously interpreted in IS are suitable for UN level meetings. In the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, no decision should be made without consultation with persons with disabilities."

Source: WFD-WASLI IS Interpreter Statement



How many people use sign language?

"There are about 70 million deaf people who use sign language as their first language or mother tongue. It is also the first language and mother tongue to many hearing people and some deafblind people (tactile sign languages)." And there are many more hearing people who sign!

Source: WFD