On Sept 23 of this year, the world observed the sixth International Sign Language Day. The date also marked the third anniversary of the establishment of the sign language studio at Nanjing Polytechnic Institute, in East China's Jiangsu province.
The studio's founder is 22-year-old Chen Xin, the first certified sign language interpreter in China from the post-00s generation.
Chen's journey into the world of sign language began in 2017 when he witnessed some hearing-impaired college students struggling to communicate when trying to settle the bill. Chen approached and helped them. This experience alerted Chen to the significant need for social care and assistance among the hearing-impaired community, sparking his interest in learning sign language.
While Chen was still in the second year of senior high school in 2018, he would commute over an hour by bus each day to Nanjing Normal University of Special Education to learn sign language from hearing-impaired college students. In the same year, with the support of his parents, Chen became the youngest certified sign language interpreter at the time.
One defining moment in Chen's career came in February 2020 when he volunteered to interpret for a 75-year-old hearing-impaired patient at Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through countless video calls, he not only translated the medical condition of the patient accurately but also conveyed the doctors' encouragement, ultimately aiding in the patient's recovery.
Expressing sound-based elements such as tone, volume, and pauses are crucial in conveying information and emotions. This poses a unique challenge for the hearing-impaired.
To bridge this gap, Chen combines sign language elements such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language to convey these nuances effectively. For example, he uses the intensity and speed of gestures to convey volume, employs pause gestures or maintains stillness to signify pauses, and amplifies the emotional aspects of tone through facial expressions and body postures. But still, achieving a perfect equivalence between spoken and sign languages is not always possible.
"When faced with fast-paced dialogues or situations where translation cannot be directly equivalent, sign language interpreters have to make choices and prioritize certain aspects of expression," Chen said.
The path to mastering sign language translation is full of challenges because sign language expressions are intricate, demanding strong observation, memory, and comprehension skills, Chen noted. In addition, sign languages need to exhibit regional and cultural variations, further complicating the learning process. And with the development of social media, many internet terms and neologisms have found their way into sign language.
"The journey of learning sign language translation is never-ending. Only by maintaining a continuous attitude of learning and enthusiasm can one adapt to the ever-evolving sign language culture and modes of expression," said Chen.
For example, when communicating with younger members of the hearing-impaired community, he would incorporate new meanings of words such as "like" and "share", effectively conveying information and the particular sense of the words.
Chen's role as a sign language translator has not only made life easier for those he helped, but also changed his own life.
"It has transformed my introverted personality into an extroverted one, making me more willing to engage in communication with others," Chen said. "Through assisting the hearing-impaired community, I have obtained a tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment."
His career goal is to become a professional sign language interpreter, acting as a bridge between the hearing-impaired and the hearing community, facilitating the integration of more hearing-impaired individuals into the world of spoken communication. "I hope that more young people will take the initiative to understand and learn sign language, becoming a significant force in aiding disabled communities and propelling our society toward greater inclusiveness and equality," he said.