SummaryDecide what your primary objective is: to entertain, to inform, or to educate the target group? Check what background knowledge your target group has, and find a balance between making sure everyone understands, and being boring or patronising. Make sure your objective is relevant for the target group & make sure everyone involved in the production is aware of, shares and supports the objective.//
What exactly do you – or the person or organisation who commissioned you to make this production – want to accomplish with this video, what is the objective?
A video that is meant for information, shows viewers what has happened somewhere, sometime, it shows an original story, or a translation of a printed text or book. The purpose of the video is to give the viewers access to this information.
Education & instruction
An educational or instructional video, on the other hand, wants to teach, to instruct. It explains, provides additional information, and shows examples that (some) viewers require to really understand the video. It may even include quizzes to get viewers actively involved in learning.
A video that is meant for entertainment wants the viewers to enjoy the production.
The objectives of most signing books productions are a mix: producers want to entertain, inform, and educate their viewers. However, for your production, you must decide early which of these objectives weighs more heavily than the others. This will help you with many of the myriad of decisions you’ll have to make, before your production is finished.
Making sure viewers will understand...
The balance between information and education – do you want to inform your viewers, or do you want to or need to educate them as well? - is especially important, because Deaf people in many countries grow up with limited access to information. The world-knowledge of many Deaf people is therefore different from what is generally accepted as ‘common knowledge’ in a given country.
In many countries, (subgroups of) Deaf people still grow up with limited access to language as well, both sign language and printed language. They may not be familiar with certain words, signs, or concepts that will be used in your production.
If you want to include all Deaf people in your target group, and if you want all of your viewers to really understand your production, it may therefore not be enough to just give them access to information – you may have to add some, or lots of education, e.g. by providing additional information, demonstrations, explanations, examples, etc.
... or being patronising?
In discussions with production teams, this dilemma often surfaced, with on the one hand statements such as: ‘(other) Deaf children/students/adults will not understand this’, and on the other hand the conviction that: ‘it is patronising to think (other) Deaf children/students/adults will not understand this’.
The general guideline is that for each production, you should check what background knowledge is ‘common knowledge’ in your target group, and what needs to be explained or illustrated. Find a balance between making sure everyone understands the video, and being terribly boring or patronising.
A team decision!
Many of the other choices you will have to make during the production of your video will depend on what the objective of the production is, how well you have defined it for yourself, and how well you can explain it to the members of your production team.
Problems in production teams are often caused by the fact that the objective was not clear from the beginning, because the objective kept changing, or because (some members of) the production team had different objectives from yours – or from whoever commissioned the production.
In many countries, fairy tales and fables have been translated into sign language. For some productions, the main objective was for Deaf children to have access to these fairy tales, and for them to enjoy these stories in the same way that hearing children do.
For these productions, the fairy tales were translated on a conceptual level, and little or no attempt was made to keep intact typical ‘mainstream’ fairy tale constructions (e.g. once upon a time…), or vocabulary (e.g. stepmother). In one case, traditional stories were even rewritten with Deaf characters in the main roles – so Deaf children will find it easier to identify with the story and to relate the content to their own lives, and feelings.
Other producers want to use the fairy tales (also) to teach Deaf children about the mainstream traditions of storytelling, and about the language and expressions the children will come across when they watch a mainstream film or video of the story, or when they read the fairy tales themselves in a book.
Both are valid objectives – but the two end products will be distinctly different. The one will be a fairy tale freely retold in sign language, presented from a Deaf perspective, possibly with Deaf characters. The other will be a fairly literal translation in sign language, as close as possible to the original text. It will probably introduce vocabulary, concepts, and expressions whose meaning and possibly form are new to Deaf children and will have to be clarified and explained for the viewers – either implicitly or explicitly.
SIH Läromedel (SE) solved the ‘information’ vs. ‘education’ problem in an ingenious way in the Satslära CD-ROM. This CD-ROM informs Deaf and hearing students about the syntax and structure of sign language. The program doesn’t teach Swedish Sign Language, it introduces users to the linguistics of sign language. The main text of the CD-ROM uses very complex language, presented by two signers.
In the right-hand corner of each screen is a ‘teacher-button’. Clicking on the teacher button opens a window in which a teacher (a different person from the presenters of the main texts) gives background information, explains new concepts, signs, etc. In this production, users are not being patronised, because each user gets only the help that s/he needs (or more accurately: only the help that s/he asks for).
Translation or explanation?
In the Netherlands, Vi-Taal produced Meer dan een Gebaar : a SLN synopsis of a high level, abstract report for the Dutch Government on the costs and benefits of recognition of the Sign Language of the Netherlands. The entire printed report is written in abstract,‘government-ese’ language. The printed synopsis then summarises the main arguments and conclusions, in a very compact way. This synopsis was translated into sign language by Vi-Taal – as it was: no additional information, no explanations, no visuals to support the content. Many viewers found this video very difficult to understand.
Vi-Taal, however, had not been asked to produce a video that explained the conclusions of the report. They had been asked to translate the synopsis so that Deaf people in the Netherlands would have access to the main conclusions of the report in their preferred language, the Sign Language of the Netherlands.