Chicken or egg – guest blog

In The Gambia, there are four Gambian Sign Language Interpreters, for about 39,000 Deaf people.  In 2013, as there was no government funding to pay interpreters, and no interpreter development programs, I started a project to employ and develop the skills of these interpreters.

In 2017 Deaf Gambians asked our project to train more interpreters, and so we are currently raising the £26,000 we need to be able to do this.  (We’ve raised 25% of our target so far). 

But I now have something of a chicken and egg problem. 

In order for us to train more interpreters, we need Deaf GSL teachers to be able to teach hearing Gambians GSL, quickly.  And that requires them to understand curricula, lesson planning, assessment methods, differentiation and progression, and so on.  But they don’t, yet. 

The three connected reasons for this are: first that most Deaf people in The Gambia have had very poor access to education; second, as a result of that, have no or very limited literacy; and third, for both of these reasons, and due to the shortage of interpreters, Deaf Gambians haven’t been able to do adult teacher qualifications.

This knowledge and deficit gap could be addressed by Deaf or hearing teachers of English fluent in GSL.  But there aren’t any, yet.  Or it could be addressed by using interpreters.  But there aren’t enough, yet.

So, in a nutshell, we need more interpreters for Deaf people to access the training and development they need in order for Deaf people to be able to train the interpreters they need in order to be able to access the training …

We haven’t cracked this yet, but are working with Deaf Gambians, interpreters, and with support from Gary Quinn, Deaf Sign Language lecturer from Heriot-Watt University, we hope to do so.  Three new initiatives we are supporting and experimenting with in order to build Deaf teachers’ skills and confidence include:

·      English literacy development workshops for Deaf GSL teachers, led by two Deaf teachers who teach in Deaf schools. 

·      Deaf led GSL fluency development sessions, using recordings of Deaf people using GSL in conversation and telling stories, to improve the fluency of potential (hearing) interpreting students.

·      Deaf GSL teachers meeting regularly as a group to share resources and knowledge, and develop their skills. 

If you’d like to help us deliver this training, and increase access for Deaf people, you can make a donation, or become a monthly supporter, here:

If your organisation may be interested in becoming a corporate sponsor, please contact Darren directly (

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For more information visit:

Darren Townsend-Handscomb is a BSL/English interpreter of over 30 years, trainer, positive psychology coach, runs the DeafATW resource and campaign, and the Gambia Interpreter Project.  He is also vegan, which Gambians find very odd.

NAQAA (The National Accreditation and Qualification Awarding Association) is the national awarding body in The Gambia, and is developing a Gambian Sign Language curriculum (GSL).  Signature has supported this by sharing their resources with NAQAA.

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