A day in the life of a signer

04/12/12
Hand slapping, face slapping and two fingers in the air!

No, I am not committing some form of GBH; I’m actually attempting to describe what I am signing in British Sign Language in a written form (easier said then done). It is simply “I went to bed at two”.

The person waving their hands about in the corner of your TV screen in the early hours of the morning on Sign Zone is me. My job is what’s called an ‘In-Vision Signer’. And apart from the hand gestures and funny faces, there is a lot of skill required to be that 'person in the corner of your TV screen'.

So, in case you’re curious, I thought I’d share with you a brief glimpse into the ‘typical’ day of an In-Vision Signer.

10AM – It is the start of my 8-hour shift, and first up is a well-known and loved drama series – Holby City. I watch the programme via special software which is used by our subtitling team and it enables us to view media alongside subtitles. When watching the programme I make a mental log of all the characters that appear in the episode and try to get a good idea of the overall story line. This information is crucial to the clarity of my translation as within British Sign Language you have to set up a ‘visual timeline’ so the sequence of events is clearly understood.

Once I am familiar with the story line - Researcher hat off, Medical Professor hat on and with my Google search bar at the ready - I am an expert on human anatomy! Being au fait with medical jargon helps, as this will enable me to point to the right body part when it’s mentioned - placement is an essential part of sign language.

11.30AM – In the green room I browse through the wardrobe with a selection of plain, block coloured tops. This is because anything too patterned or loud equates to visual noise. All jewellery is removed and my hair is tied back for the same reason. Final check in the mirror, then I am good to go.

11.45am – I’m in the studio with an assistant who will be autocuing the script word for word and controlling it simultaneously to the audio in the studio. This is a very useful tool as I cannot hear what is being said, but can read what is being said, and my translation is dependent on the timing of the autocue. Once the Technical Operator has sized me and placed me on the right hand corner of the TV screen, I am ready to go. I put my translator/actor hat on and instantly have the ability to change sex, age and sexual preference to reflect the different characters on screen.

1.00PM – CBBC programmes are up next. Unfortunately some children’s programmes can be tough to translate. As a Cultural and Linguistic Mediator – someone who helps to bridge the differences between the Deaf and Hearing cultures - it can be challenging at times, especially as TV programmes are primarily aimed at hearing audiences. Conveying certain concepts from one language to the other can prove difficult. For example, puns based on phonetics or phonology can be challenging to convey visually.

4.30PM – I’m in the studio all geared up for two kids’ programmes. I regress to my childhood and adopt a smiling face; it’s time for my Children’s Television Presenter hat! It’s amazing how many people learn sign language from these types of programmes.

5.30PM – Finally, I check the next day’s allocations. I see I have Horizon; no doubt I’ll need my Professor hat on for that programme. And yes, the green room, also known as the Milliners, is where my array of hats is stored!

6.00PM – Signing out. No pun intended!!

Do you have any questions about what it's like to be an In-Vision Signer or about British Sign Language in general? Let me know in the comments below.

Clara Allardyce, Production Manager - Signing