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Why do so few men study sign languages or become sign language interpreters?

This research project looks at the question ‘why do so few men study sign languages or become sign language interpreters?’ and provides answers to this question as well as recommendations as to how more men can be encouraged to pursue the career of sign language interpreting. The 2021 census for sign language translators & interpreters in the UK, by the Association of Sign Language Interpreters, found that 82% of registered interpreters in the UK were female. The literature has shown there are many different reasons for sign language interpreting being a majority female profession, such as: the traditionally low wages of the profession, the lack of career progression and men are less likely to enter a female dominated field. While there is research investigating interpreter experiences in ASL (McDermid, 2008 and Macdougall,2012) and Finnish Sign Language (Valentin 2019), there is a gap in research that looks at the experiences of male interpreters, and as a result, this project looks at this through a minority-male perspective. This study analysed the results of two qualitative surveys, the first was completed by sign language interpreters and found that that the answer to the proposed question is not clear-cut that it is an ‘issue with many layers’. The second survey was completed by university students on language courses and showed that exposure to a language is critical for developing interest and that for many people this largely takes place in schools. The study finds two over- arching themes. The first is that BSL and it is accompanying interpreting are viewed differently to other languages and interpreting professions, due to the deaf community being viewed by wider society as disabled. The second is a reduction in the prestige of sign language interpreting due to the feminisation of the profession and it being considered a ‘gendered’ role. The project concludes by stating that incorporating sign language into school curriculums will increase the exposure of young people to sign language and may influence the number of those who choose to become interpreters. As well as, that use of male privilege to enhance the promotion of deaf culture and sign languages to a hearing society which in turn will mean that they are seen as more valid career choices.