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Volume 24, Number 11 — December 2017

Sign Language Interpreter Sees Job As A Ministry

M.J. Light signs as she performs her part in
M.J. Light signs as she performs her part in "The Firebird." (Photo by David Crigger|Bristol Herald Courier)

By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | October 12, 2008

*** This story was published Oct. 12, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. ? For M.J. Light, joining the cast of "The Firebird" at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre was a serious challenge.

At 22, the Bluff City woman has been working for five years as a sign language interpreter for East Tennessee State University and other schools. She also serves on a team of interpreters at the Celebration Church of Blountville, Tenn.
Light developed an interest in sign language a few years ago while being home-schooled. She met a deaf woman and studied sign language. She also took courses at ETSU and earned a national interpreter's certification.

"I felt the calling into it kind of as a ministry as well as a profession," Light said.

This year, Light decided to accept the volunteer role of the "Signing Princess" ? using sign language ? in the [Jonesborough Repertory Theatre] production of "The Firebird."

With this, Light could use her interpretive skills. In turn, she could also use a script ? a much "easier" task than following the rhythms of real-life conversation. "It has been easier," Light said. "You knew what was coming. So you could actually prepare and articulate what you were going to be signing."

At work, Light has found that understanding a client's personality becomes her biggest challenge. "The sign language is just like a dialect ? from the north or from the south," Light said. "So, you have to get acclimated with each client."

Unlike using a script, Light also finds herself challenged to simply keep up with the flow of conversation. "As you're listening to one conversation, you are translating in your mind and processing it," Light said. "It just takes training. And it's not always perfect."

Interpreters, by nature, always run about a sentence behind. They'll hear a sermon and continue to make the gestures of sign language for what was said 10 seconds ago ? all while the preacher continues to talk.

And if you make a mistake? "You keep going," Light said, smiling. "You get the concepts across."

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Shared Stage: Theater Stages Two Plays At Once ? One For The Hearing And One For The Deaf