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Educational Interpreters:
Also see: Interpreting for the Deaf in California

Molly Phillips
March 30, 2007

Educational Interpreters


     Communication is a very important part of our daily lives. It is natural to want to understand and be understood by others. For people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf, communication with those unfamiliar with American Sign Language (ASL) can be difficult.  A sign language interpreter helps bridge the communication gap by making sure people understand each other.  This is not an easy task because there is so much to consider:   attitude, facial expressions, nuances, choice of words, etc. which can represent so many different meanings.

     For interpreters to be successful, they must have a thorough knowledge, understanding, and command of both English and American Sign Language (ASL).  For example, in a classroom setting, it is important for the interpreter to thoroughly understand the main points outlined by the instructor in order to convey this information to the Deaf student.  An interpreter should be able to convey the purpose of the lesson -- its importance and when the content will need to be remembered or when the information is review. According to information on the Sacramento Valley Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (SaVRID ) website, it is also important for interpreters to understand the cultures in which they work and apply that knowledge to promote effective cross-cultural communication.

     There are many opportunities for those interested in a career as an interpreter to become fluent in ASL.  There are now numerous universities, community colleges, adult education courses, clubs, and various local agencies that offer ASL classes, instruction, or exposure to ASL.  There are also those who are exposed to ASL from an early age because of close contact with Deaf relatives and friends.  This early exposure and acquisition of ASL is extremely helpful in obtaining ASL fluency (Clerc). 

     In addition to ASL fluency, it is highly recommended that an interpreter complete an associate, bachelors, or master's degree from an interpreter training program ( Also, interpreters need to obtain certification by the Registry of Interpreter for the Deaf (RID).

     According to information found on the Gallaudet website (, following these preparatory steps enables interpreters to learn specialized techniques and ethical considerations for interpreting in a variety of settings with people of various ages.

     Information found on the website,, explains that an aspiring interpreter should have a great deal of interaction within the Deaf community, attend Deaf/interpreting related events, and mentor as much as possible with qualified and nationally certified interpreters.  There are several CD-ROMs, video tapes, ASL dictionaries, and books on interpreting available.

     An educational interpreter works in the classroom and provides a common link between Deaf students and teachers, peers, and school personnel.  One challenging aspect of interpreting in a classroom setting is the fact that teachers often communicate at a language or cognitive level of the hearing students only.  As stated in "Classroom Interpreters -- Interpreters and Children -- Interpreting and Language", an article found on the website (, "There are many deaf or hard of hearing children who have language and vocabulary skills equal to those of their hearing peers.  There are also many deaf or hard of hearing students who enter school with language that

is delayed.  According to this article, these children need additional support.

     There are many useful techniques an educational interpreter might use in the classroom.  One technique is called scaffolding- when an interpreter provides necessary vocabulary, definitions, and background information to expand on previously learned concepts and clarify new concepts and terminology

.  According to the article entitled "Useful Tips for Education --Working with an Interpreter -- Elementary, Middle, and High School," it is important to have the Deaf student feel comfortable with his/her hearing classmates.  One idea might be to have the Deaf student introduce him or herself to the class and introduce some signs, if he or she feels comfortable doing so.

     It is also important for the interpreter to identify all speakers in the classroom by using name signs or fingerspell the name of the person commenting rather then pointing ("Classroom Interpreting--"Facilitate and Support Participation and Social Communication"). 

     Another tip for the educational interpreter, found in the same article, is to instruct the class to take turns when speaking so the interpreter can accurately convey the message to the Deaf student.  This might mean raising hands instead of many people speaking at once.  Also, students should be prepared to speak clearly and sometimes be requested to repeat themselves.

     One final important tip is for interpreters to require that hearing students speak directly to the Deaf student and not to the interpreter.  It is very important for the Deaf student to feel involved and have direct interaction with his/her peers (

     There are many skills that Deaf students need to learn for school success.  The article "Classroom Interpreter -- What Does an Educational Interpreter Do to Make Appropriate Use of Fingerspelling," finger spelling is a very important skill for students who learn through an interpreter and also is a helpful tool in English literacy.  Students, who are good finger spellers, have a larger reading vocabulary.  Educational interpreters should use finger spelling while interacting with students and also fingerspell all new vocabulary that the student will be expected to recognize in print.  According to this article, research shows that this helps vocabulary learning and helps create a cognitive link with print.

     An interpreter should monitor a student's understanding of the material or concepts being taught on a continual basis.  In the article, "Classroom Interpreters -- What Does an Educational Interpreter Do? Monitor Student Comprehension": one way to check a student's progress is during one-on-one time with the student.  During this time, an interpreter can clarify messages by altering the interpretation to match the child's language level.

     While an educational interpreter is in a Deaf student's life, there can be problems when he/she serves as a child's only language model.  One article, "Classroom Interpreters -   The Interpreter as a Language Model," lists some problems.

  1. Limited language role models-- Deaf children need a variety of language users in order to learn language.
  2. A teaching level that has not been adjusted -- teachers may not adjust their speech and language level for the Deaf or hard-of-hearing students.
  3. Interpreters who do not interact with students -- experts do not believe that watching interpreters of language during a lecture leads to significant language learning. Interaction is essential for language learning.
  4. Some interpreters are not fluent -- this results in a language model with numerous grammatical errors and simple vocabulary.  Major concepts can be distorted or missing.

     According to this article, an excellent resource for a Deaf student, in addition to a professional interpreter, is another Deaf adult a student can converse with.  It is important that this adult understand the curriculum the student is involved with and work with the student's teacher. 

     In addition to working in the classroom, legally qualified educational interpreters also may interpret for Individual Education Plans (IEP) for students, DARE or other educational programs, parent-teacher conferences, and mental health counseling sessions ("Classroom Interpreting -- The Interpreter as a Language Model")

     An educational interpreter has a difficult job with many responsibilities.  The process of becoming fluent in ASL and taking the required courses and tests to become certified, applying specific techniques and practices in the classroom, and, above all, being an advocate for the Deaf student, is not an easy undertaking, nor should it be taken lightly.  While this type of career requires hard work and profound dedication, it can also be a very fulfilling occupation, as it clearly can make a difference in a child's life. 



Works Cited


 Classroom Interpreting. "Classroom Interpreters -- What does an Educational Interpreter Do? Facilitate and Support Participation and Social Communication." 7 Mar. 2007. <>.


Classroom Interpreting. "Classroom Interpreters -- What does an Educational Interpreter Do? Make Appropriate Use of Fingerspelling". 8 Mar. 2007.


Classroom Interpreting. "Classroom Interpreters -- What does an Educational Interpreter Do? Monitor Student Comprehension." 7 Mar. 2007.


Classroom Interpreting. "Classroom Interpreters -- Interpreters and Children --Interpreting And Language. The Interpreter as a Language Model". 7 Mar. 2007. <>.


 Clerc, Laurent. National Deaf Education Center Gallaudet University. "Becoming a Sign Language Interpreter." 9 Mar. 2007. "Tips for Educators -- Useful Tips for Educators Working with an Interpreter (Elementary, Middle, and High School)." 6 Mar. 2007.


  National Association of the Deaf (NAD). "How do I Become a Sign Language Interpreter?" 21 Nov. 2002. <>. 


  Sacramento Valley Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. "SaVRID Educational Interpreter Focus Group." 7 Mar. 2007., 


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