Interpreter Tom Skinner Helps FHN Students


Credit to Lauren Price

By Jake Price

A student walks in the classroom and sits down in his desk. He looks up and notices a man standing in the far right or left side of the classroom. He is moving his hands in strange ways. This man is interpreter Tom Skinner, and he was translating in sign language.

Sign language is a language created for deaf or hard of hearing people, and is communicated by using one’s hands to perform different movements that stand for words, rather than saying them.

“I love being an interpreter,” Skinner said. “I like being able to facilitate communication between hearing and deaf people.”

Skinner is an interpreter who doesn’t speak in an ordinary language. He has the ability to speak fluently in sign language. He works at the Francis Howell School District and Sorenson, a video relay service allowing deaf individuals to conduct phone calls through video chats with sign language interpreters. His job is to make sure that deaf people and students understand what hearing people are saying.

“One of the best things about being an interpreter is meeting new people,” said Skinner.
When Skinner was young he used to watch the TV program called The Miracle Worker. He watched people signing and gained an interest. He really got interested in sign language when he was in college; he befriended a deaf student who tutored him in sign language and eventually Skinner took classes.

“At first I just sat alone reading ASL dictionaries, but when I started talking to other deaf people, that’s how I really learned to sign properly,” said Skinner.
Skinner currently works at FHN. He interprets mainly for two students. One is freshman Marcus Carpenter, who is accompanied by Skinner for most of the day. He learned sign language in eighth grade.

“[Skinner] is very funny, he gets the teacher’s attention, and he helps me with my work,” said Carpenter.
Another one of Skinner’s students is senior Alexa Wilson. She has Skinner for third-hour class only. Skinner has been Wilson’s interpreter for two to three years. Wilson is fluent in sign language since she learned it when she was 3-years-old. Wilson said that Skinner is one of her favorite interpreters she’s ever had.

“He helps me with my school work, and he socializes with me since I can’t really talk to other students,” said Wilson.

According to Skinner, sign language can be tough. Memorizing the different signs is a difficult aspect, with over 2,000 different signs to learn. Skinner said remembering them is hard, but not impossible. Many interpreters forget signs all the time.

“It can be tough at times, but usually memorization is not the problem,” said Skinner. “Competing with surrounding information is the issue.”
Sign language is a very unique language since people who can speak in sign language, like Skinner, and other interpreters or deaf people, don’t use their voice. Learning sign language allows people to talk to others who don’t understand what people are saying.

“[Sign language] is its own visual language, and it doesn’t equate with the English language,” said Skinner.
Skinner really wants more people to be interested in sign language. In fact, he sponsors the sign language club at FHN. People don’t have to be deaf to learn sign language, or they don’t have to want to become an interpreter. Sign language is like any other language; one just had to want to learn it.

“Take classes, study, and socialize with other deaf people if you want to become an interpreter,” said Skinner. “It’s fun and enjoyable.”