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English Language Learner Issues Part 3: Tips for Gathering Information with an Interpreter

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how to determine when a bilingual evaluation is necessary and best practices for working with an interpreter. In this third and final installment, we will deep dive into specific tips on gathering information for an interpreter. These tips are applicable whether you are using an interpreter for an assessment, at an IEP meeting, or during a therapy session.

Thoughtful planning prior to the session coupled with specific strategies during and after the session will ensure a successful experience in working with interpreters. Interpreting is a dynamic process and clear communication is key.

Prior to the Session

It is important to meet with the interpreter in advance to allow adequate preparation time. You should begin by establishing a rapport with the interpreter. You can use this time to learn greetings and appropriate pronunciation of names in the family’s primary language. You should review the goals and procedures of the test and/or treatment materials. As the clinician, ensure that the interpreter understands your confidentiality policies. In testing situations, you should be specific with your instructions and clearly explain that the interpreter will need to limit non-verbal cues, such as hand gestures and vocal variation, that may impact assessment results. Discuss the importance of consistent and appropriate methods to cue the student. This is the time to review test validity and reliability to ensure that the interpreter understands the need to avoid unnecessary rewording of testing prompts. For the language sample or any written portion of the assessments, it is a good idea to instruct the interpreter on when to interpret verbatim and when to interpret for meaning. Remind the interpreter to take thorough notes on the client’s responses.

During the Session

Begin by introducing yourself as the clinician and then introduce the interpreter in the client’s native language, if possible. Describe your roles and clarify expectations at the onset. While the session is happening, ensure that the interpreter is taking written notes. When giving instructions, use short, concise sentences and pause frequently to allow the interpreter to translate the information. Be sure to allow enough time for the interpreter to organize the information for effective translation. Periodically check with the interpreter to see if you are speaking too fast or too slowly, too softly, or unclearly. Understand that words of feeling, attitude, and qualities may not have the same meaning when directly translated. Be aware of non-verbal body language and gestures that may be offensive to the client’s culture. You should be speaking directly with your client while the interpreter translates. During meetings with parents, it is important to provide written materials in the family’s native language whenever possible and avoid oversimplification of important explanations. Remember that interpreting takes time, so plan accordingly during your session.

After the Session

After a therapy session or an assessment, spend some time with the interpreter to review the client’s errors. The interpreter should report the client’s actual responses as well as the anticipated responses. During this time, it is helpful to avoid use of professional jargon and focus on discussing all the data that was gathered. You should make note of any difficulties in the testing process as well as interpretation process. Likewise, following an IEP meeting, review the interpreter’s notes and identify any areas where further communication or clarification is needed.

In conclusion, working with interpreters can help bridge the communication gap between families and practitioners. There are a variety of situations in which providers might interact with interpreters including assessments, IEP meetings, and treatment sessions. Thoughtful planning, clear communication, and careful interpretation will ensure a successful outcome during this dynamic process.

Karin H. Koukeyan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a Senior Clinical Consultant with PresenceLearning

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