"They could never understand the lyrics. That’s what I can give them.” Laura Schwengber

"I never thought it would become such a big success.” Laura Schwengber

She knows how to play the recorder, to sing and how to dance. She likes many different styles of music and would love for everyone to have the possibility to enjoy it. Laura Schwengber is a sign language interpreter. She mixes all her talents to translate music videos to deaf people. With her hands and fingers she translates the lyrics of a song in sign language as she moves rhythmically to the music. Laura: “I want to give deaf people access to this world too.”

The 23-year-old Laura is an interpreter for German sign language. The 80.000 registered deaf people in Germany might be grateful to her – because without Laura’s help they would miss out on a lot. Thanks to Laura’s gestures, her facial expressions and here quick hands, the songs become understandable to deaf people. Laura: “Deaf people like to go to concerts too, to enjoy the light shows for example, or to feel the bass when they stand close to the stage. But they could never understand the lyrics. That’s what I can give them.”

Laura started studying sign language in 2010 in the city of Magdeburg. About six months later she moved to Berlin to study ‘Deaf Studies’ at the Humboldt University. Laura started to use sign language more and more in her everyday life. “With most of my friends I would talk in sign language. When we went out to concerts or clubs for example, we would communicate with signs, just so we wouldn’t have to shout in each others ears because of the loud music.” Laura liked the combination of dance and sign language. “I thought to myself; I can do something with that.”

Laura didn’t need to wait long. In 2011, on the occasion of the ‘day of the deaf’, radio station N-joy was looking for a sign language interpreter. The DJ’s wanted to translate some songs for deaf people and post these video clips online. Laura liked the idea. “They had been searching for someone for almost a year when they approached me. Two weeks later we recorded the first video. I never thought it would become such a big success.”

In her video clips Laura has become a real performer. She learns all the lyrics by heart and works out a choreography for each song. Sometimes she needs to be creative when it comes to translating certain metaphors or images. That can be a challenge: “You can’t literally translate every word of course and also aesthetically, it needs to look good. I really have my own style.”

Laura has become quite a popular sign language interpreter in Germany. Some of her videos have been viewed on YouTube over 10.000 times. Usually sign interpreters don’t operate as prominent in the foreground. Laura: “With my regular translating work I shouldn’t be to present. I wear black clothes, no jewelleries and little make-up. As a normal sign language interpreter your individuality and personality shouldn’t be visible.”

So far, Laura has done about 50 videos and has received many positive reactions. “Sometimes people write me that they cried because of my clips. That is great. One time a deaf woman wrote me that her children, who can hear, would always talk about all these songs that she couldn’t hear. Because of my translations she could now finally understand what her kids were talking about.” Laura laughs: “In her letter, the woman told me she now for sure thought the music was bad.”

But Laura’s performances don’t go without criticism. Laura: “Not everyone likes my dancing for example. In the beginning I didn’t move too much – I kept I it very sober. But the rhythm lacked a bit there I think. So I started to dance more so people could feel the song better.” Not everyone liked that change, but it doesn’t get Laura down: “I figured I just need to do whatever I feel is right. There will always be people who don’t like what I do.”

Laura has many plans for the future. Next year for example, she wants to travel to the United States to learn about English signs, as she wants to translate English songs too. “English sign language is very different from the German signs,” she explains. “Even German signs differ a lot per region.”

But for now Laura will continue to translate German songs. She has done hits from artists like ‘Tim Bendzko’, ‘Revolverheld’ and ‘Xavier Naido’. Sometimes she accompanies German bands on stage. “These singers need to be a bit tough, especially during the first ten minutes when people are so intrigued by what I’m doing.” She laughs, “I draw all the attention to me.”

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