Sign Language Resources, Inc.

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Educational Interpreting

"If communication goes awry, it affects the intellectual growth, social intercourse, language development and emotional attitudes, all at once, simultaneously and inseparably.”
        Oliver Sacks, Author: Seeing Voices


Sign Language Resources, Inc. knows and understands the certification and continuing education requirements of educational interpreters. SLR has access to many interpreters who are interested in this area of interpreting, and who have invested themselves in continual education and training to allow for optimal services, thereby increasing the student's potential success in any educational program. Our goal is to allow equal communication footing in the educational setting for every individual to the maximum extent possible.


American Sign Language (ASL) is a manual language distinct from spoken English, with its own syntax and grammar. Information expressed is not with combinations of sounds strung together in a liear fasion, but with combinations of hand shapes, palm orientations, facial expressions, and constantly changing body movements in more of a circular fashion, or arranged in space.


Sign Language is not a visual representation of English, but rather a language in and of itself. This fact is often confusing to people who assume that because Sign Language is occurring in a country in which the majority uses spoken English, that it somehow represents English. This is most definitely not the case. It is perhaps useful to consider that a sign represents a concept in the same way as a word represents a concept. A sign does not represent an English word.


Although not a language, there is a system called "Signed English", which at times can be useful in the instruction of the English language. A competent interpreter will primarily use American Sign Language. It has been found through studies that students learn most effectively when exposed to a model of ASL, a language that is clearer conceptually than Signed English, and which allows for the natual exchange of ideas and concepts essential to learning all subjects. A skillful interpreter will primarily use ASL in the classroom, and will add "fingerspelling" (a form of language "borrowing" that exposes the student to the English vocabulary) and Signed English when necessary, sometimes switching back and forth moment to moment depending on the material for the greatest clarity,


K-12 or Post-Secondary Education

Interpreters must have a basic familiarity with the subject they are interpreting, and be willing to do their homework and preparation daily. By keeping in close communication with the classroom instructor, they can prepare the most efficient way to relay the material. They transmit in-depth educational information in science, mathematics, history, language, the arts, etc. on a K-12 level, and advanced subjects such as physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, and other complex couses on a college or university level. As an individual team member, interpreters’ signing skills and collaboration with students, teachers and colleagues, increases the chances of success for the Deaf student.

Students who do not have access to appropriately qualified interpreters, a student’s ability to learn is hampered, and achievement is limited. In regular classrooms, hearing students generally communicate by speaking and listening. For many deaf students, however, interpreters are needed to facilitate communication with their teachers and classmates. Having a knowledgeable and skillful interpreter allows the Deaf student to reach their full potential not only in academic performance, but in socialization as well.

As more Deaf people enroll in higher levels of education, appropriately qualified interpreters able to work at that level becomes increasingly more essential. It is now a well-accepted practice to provide Sign Language interpreters to enable Deaf students to access their post-secondary or graduate level education.

Characteristics of an Educational Interpreter

The interpreter will be working hard to ensure the full participation of the Deaf student in the classroom. The better the educational level of the interpreter, the more understanding of complicated material, the more accurate and helpful their interpreting is likely to be. In addition to professional qualifications, to be a successful educational interpreter it is necessary to have a number of personal attributes as an important aspect of the dynamics.

  • excellent concentration skills

  • well developed short and long term memory

  • the ability to accurately extract meaning from text

  • the ability to think rapidly, laterally and predictively

  • the ability to shift between a number of tasks simultaneously and seamlessly

    Roles of the Educational Interpreter


    To provide communication access to students who are deaf or hard of hearing by faithfully and accurately representing the classroom instruction, teacher/student dialogue, and relevant sound information in the mode of communication used by the student


    To bridge cultures between the deaf student and hearing members of the class


    To serve as language role models to students


    Play a significant role in empowering the student into self-advocacy as the student progresses from pre-school through to high school and beyond


    To make sure the goal of the lesson is clear regarding concepts, terminology, and assigned work


    To facilitate and support participation and social communication


    Monitor student comprehension during delivery of the interpretation, and if necessary adjust one's interpretation, seek clarification from instructor, or suggest ways the student can get outside help


    >Educational interpreters must NOT be expected to perform as the notetaker for Deaf students while also interpreting



    Educational interpreters must NOT be delegated the role of disciplinarian for the Deaf student or others


    Educational interpreters must NOT be expected to act as an aide for other students



    Helpful Hints

  • The interpreter is in the classroom to facilitate communication for both the student and instructor. The interpreters should not be asked to run errands, proctor exams, or discuss the student's personal issues. He/she should not participate in the class in any way independant of the student or express personal opinions.

  • Captioned films or videotapes are strongly recommended to allow the student direct visual access to the information. However, if you are planning to show a movie or use other audiovisual materials without captioning, inform the interpreter beforehand so that arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.

  • When a student uses a sign language interpreter, the interpreter and student will discuss where the interpreter should be located in the classroom to provide the greatest benefit for the student. Keep lines of sight free for visual access to information.

  • For interactive situations, circles or semi-circles work best for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Familiarity with the subject matter will enhance the quality of the interpreted message. If possible, meet with the interpreter to share outlines, texts, agenda, technical vocabulary, class syllabus, and any other background information that would be pertinent.

  • Alternative test procedures may be needed by some students. If a test has a written format (essay, multiple choice, or fill-in-the-blank), the student may prefer to have the interpreter read and translate questions into sign language. Arrangements for this kind of testing should be made by the student and instructor before the student takes the test. Additionally, the interpreter may need extra time to prepare for the reading and interpreting of test questions.

  • Because the interpreter is in the classroom to facilitate communication for both the student and instructor, speak directly to and maintain communication with the student. The interpreter may request clarification from you and/or the student to ensure accuracy of the information conveyed.

  • It is helpful to have technical terms or jargon relating to a particular discipline or concept to be spelled or written out, either on the chalkboard, an overhead projector, a class handout, or with some other visual aid.

  • Interpreters normally interpret with a time lag of one or two sentences after the speaker because interpreters must first process the information before relaying it. Speak naturally at a modest pace, keeping in mind that the interpreter must listen and understand a complete thought before signing it.

  • Use personal references such as "I" and "You" when communicating with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Avoid speaking of the individual in the third person; phrases such as "ask her" or "tell him" can be confusing and distancing.

  • It is important that only one person speak or sign at a time. The interpreting process only allows one person to communicate at a time. Therefore, encourage students to wait before speaking or signing until you recognize them.

  • The student cannot read and watch the interpreter at the same time. Avoid talking while students are focused on written work or overhead projections/multimedia presentations.

  • It is difficult to take good notes while lip reading or watching a sign language interpreter. Therefore, a notetaker to assist the student who is deaf or hard of hearing may be both a helpful and reasonable accommodation.

  • During class discussions or question/answer periods, give the student an opportunity to raise his/her hand, be recognized, and ask questions through the interpreter. Making time for questions allows the interpreter to finish interpreting for the current speaker and enables the student who is deaf or hard of hearing to participate in class.

  • When questions are asked, be sure to repeat or paraphrase questions before a response is given. Likewise, responses should also be repeated or paraphrased.

  • Plan periodic breaks so that both student and interpreter can get a rest from the rigors of interpreting. For the student, receiving information visually without breaks can be tiring and cause eye fatigue. For the interpreter, relaying information to the student while simultaneously processing new information from the speaker can create mental and physical strain. For classes longer than 50 minutes in which only one interpreter is available, a 5-10 minute mid-class break is essential.

    Also see


    Also see NTID, Harry Lang Article


    Also see NTID, Access to Post-Secondary Education Through Sign Language Interpreting