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Interpreter helps connect deaf, hearing communities

Kim Davis, Reprinted with permission from the Scarlet, a publication of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL)
sign language intrepreter (Spring 2001) - Watching Frances Beaurivage translate a presentation in sign language is mesmerizing. One can't help but think, "How does she do it?" Once it's revealed she is a child of two deaf parents, it becomes obvious.

Beaurivage, UNL's interpreting coordinator, began developing her dual language skills when she was just a baby.

"Sign Language is my first language," said Beaurivage, who converses verbally with just as much enthusiasm and eloquence as she has when she's signing.

The oldest of four siblings, Beaurivage grew in to the role of family facilitator at an early age.

"I was probably the most proficient (at sign language) growing up. My brother tended to depend on me, he would typically come and get me for help," she said.

Living in southern California, Beaurivage's father worked as a Linotype operator for a local newspaper, while her mother stayed home with the children. Beaurivage says she had a typical family with a great sense of humor.

"We would do cruel things like when (mom) was vacuuming, we'd go unplug the vacuum and see how long it took her to realize it," Beaurivage recalls. "That was how humor happened in my house. That was really funny. All of us kids would just roar. My Dad would too."

Beaurivage's experiences growing up with two deaf parents drew her to a career working within the deaf community.

"It's a very closeknit community," she said, "and to be a part of that makes me feel like I'm part of a closeknit family."

In 1995, Beaurivage came to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln to coordinator interpreting services for students with disabilities. She interprets nine to 10 courses a semester, a variety of speeches and presentations, as well as plays and theatrical performances.

It's almost as hard to understand what it takes to be a good interpreter as it is for Beaurivage herself to explain the skill.

"You're listening to English, at the same time I am analyzing it for the semantics," she said. "As I am analyzing it, I am also thinking of the appropriate signs I need to use to construct the message into ASL (American Sign Language), but I also have to consider the consumer and see if there are cultural things that I need to consider. Like, deaf people don't know phrases about radio. If you talk about NPR, that would be unknown to them, so culturally I have to expand the information so that they can understand it, because they don't have the same experience that we do."

Learning how to interpret sign language well required Beaurivage to take special courses in the ethical and professional aspects of signing, on top of having a strong language base and vocabulary.

"I learned the language from communicating with my parents. I had to take course work to learn to interpret," Beaurivage said. "As a kid, I would just listen to what the person was saying and when they got done talking, I would give my mother the meat. But a professional must have a lot of perception about implicit and explicit information in messages too ... If I'm hearing something that is implied, then I need to make it translate."

That takes concentration, quick thinking and lots of energy. Beaurivage said interpreting two recent theatrical performances of The Diary of Anne Frank took its toll.

"I worked four hours on Saturday and although we had a half hour lunch break and I was working with a team member, I was mentally exhausted."

Sometimes long hours and a very short supply of qualified interpreters nationwide mean extended vacations and sick days are rare. But Beaurivage says this career means more to her than just helping the hearing impaired. It's family.

"I think we provide an excellent service, I really do," she said. "I see these students come in and they have the opportunity to get an education if they are supported with communication. To leave here and function and be satisfied as adults like all of us want, then I think it's important for me to do this."

Looking back over her career, Beaurivage says she has dedicated her life to communication, in one form or another. After high school, she joined the Air Force and was stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as a translator.

After three enlisted years, Beaurivage moved to Denver where she met her husband. After they were married, the newlyweds made their way to Nebraska where her career in sign language interpreting began.

Before joining UNL, she was a translator for the Lincoln Public Schools and the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"I enjoy my work greatly," Beaurivage said. "I will always work with the deaf community."

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