I came across a podcast that had a short discussion about this issue: http://yoisthisracist.com/post/55612494539/ted-lange-iv-is-back-on-the-podcast-today-as-we
I’ve thought about this a lot, mostly while learning American Sign Language. Now that I’m proficient enough to have a basic conversation, I’ve wondered if it would be offensive for me to use my ASL knowledge to help a deaf person communication with a hearing person. I am by no means a sign interpreter so I’m not in the professional position to do so. And who am I to judge if the deaf person needs help or not? The conclusion that I’ve personally come up with is that if I’m ask to help, I would definitely volunteer my efforts. If I see an apparent struggle, conflict, or discrimination as a result of the language barrier, I would offer my help (though if my help isn’t welcome, I’d willingly back off).
It’s interesting to me that I’ve never seen this as an issue with Chinese. Even though I wouldn’t consider Chinese my primary language, I think it’s still a prominent part of my language identity, enough so that I don’t feel like I’m an outsider of the language. In contrast, because I’m not deaf, I am coming into the ASL world as a guest and learner, and I feel like I need to respect their language/culture on their terms.
In the end, I think if you’re polite and not forceful about your interaction with someone, they’ll probably be more grateful than offended that you’ve offered your help.