I grew up in a time when sign language was viewed as “wrong” in the eyes of the doctors and specialists.   I had to learn how to speak rather than learning British Sign Language (BSL).  After 14 years at an oral deaf boarding school, my first BSL experience was when I was a shy 17-year-old at Chelsea College of Arts. The College booked me a BSL interpreter; I was overwhelmed and didn’t understand what she was signing at me but I pretended that I did, nodding as though I understood everything.

That experience on my first day at college ignited a determination to learn BSL. I love using sign language because it is such a beautiful way to communicate. I wanted to use my sign language skills on a broader scale so I applied to join the Sign Language Translation team in 2007. It has given me the opportunity to work with a lovely bunch of people from a variety of backgrounds and all in the surrounds of British Sign Language.

To become a translator you need to acquire a wealth of skills. Being able to process between two languages proficiently requires many things including patience and adaptability to name but a few! You may have seen us in the corner of your TV screen signing on various channels such as the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5; a lot of background work goes into us popping up on your television screen.  Here’s a look at what one day as a BSL translator is like…

After a long commute, I finally arrive at our offices in Ealing at 9am. Once in the office, I open up our work planning software to see the filming schedule for the day. This enables me to find out which programmes have been allocated to me. I can see that I will be filming two one-hour BBC programmes like The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes and then Holby City. Once I know my allocations, I check to see how much time I have for preparation before I go into the studio. Preparation for The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes takes around two hours as the programme is new to me. Prep time is crucial for us as we need to understand the context of the programme which includes the tone, metaphor, humour or idiom and any jargon or technical words. For this programme, there are lots of new signs I need to create specifically linked to the architecture of some very strange buildings. I have to give a clear pictorial representation in sign language equivalent to the English script.

Once my prep is finished, I walk over to the studios to get ready for filming. I choose an appropriate top to wear from the wardrobe that matches the programme, apply light makeup and check my hair is in order. The tech op remotely sets up everything ready for filming, sizing me up, keying me in and putting the correct background up. I also have an assistant in the studio who operates the autocue for me. After one hour of filming the ‘on air’ light goes off. My arms are shattered and feel as though they need to be suitably oiled at the joints after waving my hands around for so long. Deserved cup of tea and lunch break coming up!

After lunch I have my second programme to prep – Holby City – so the whole process starts again. There is a bit of a love/hate relationship within our team when it comes to some programmes, but in my case, I absolutely love working on Holby City. It is very important that the assistants allocate the right programmes to the right translators based on their knowledge and experience, etc. I watch Holby City regularly which helps me enormously to keep up with the storyline. After signing Holby City for the past ten years, I think I could more than earn a degree in medicine!

I finish filming my last programme at 4.30pm, wrap up a few admin tasks and then at 5pm it’s home time!

Lydia Docker, In-vision Translator, Access Services, Broadcast and Media Services

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