How to Work with Interpreters and Translators

Henriette_Langdon  Langdon_WWIT  Terry_Saenz

By Henriette W. Langdon, Ed.D., FCCC-SLP and Terry I. Saenz, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, authors of Working with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists

Our world is increasingly heterogeneous. English is no longer the only language spoken in the United States, England, or Australia. French is not the only main language spoken in France and neither is German the only language spoken in Germany. Immigration caused by political and economical changes has dispersed many people to other countries in the world in search of better opportunities. Consequently, communication between these individuals and residents of the different countries is often disrupted due to the lack of a common language. This challenge has existed throughout humankind, but it seems that it has increased in the last century or so. There have always been people who knew two languages that needed bridging, but now this urgency is more pronounced. The need for professionally trained interpreters was first noted following the end of WWI when the Unites States was first involved in world peace talks alongside many nations with representatives who all spoke a variety of languages. This historical event eventually led the League of Nations to the foundation of the École d’Intèrpretes in Geneva, Switzerland in 1924. Since that time, many other schools that train bilingual interpreters to participate in international conferences have been established. The AIIC [Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (International Association of Conference Interpreters)] Interpreting Schools directory lists a total of 87 schools worldwide: The reader can gather information on which specific language pairs are emphasized in the various training schools; for example, Arabic-English; French-Spanish, Chinese-English, and so forth. Thus, interpreting for international conferences is a well-established profession today, offering specific training and certificates. However, interpreting is necessary not only for international conferences, but also to assist in bridging the communication in everyday contexts such as medical or health, judicial, educational (schools) and the community at large. Training and certification in areas such as medical and judicial have slowly emerged and are available to those who need them in various states throughout the United States. Legislation has been the primary force in the establishment of certificates in the areas of medical and legal interpreting. However, training in other areas where interpreting is needed such as education, and our professions, speech pathology and audiology, are notoriously lacking. There are some situations where medical interpreters can assist speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists in a hospital or rehabilitation center, but even those interpreters may not have the specific terminology and practice or procedures to work effectively with our professionals. Working with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists is a second revised and expanded edition on this topic that provides SLPs, audiologists, and interpreters who collaborate with them some concrete tools and strategies on how best to conduct interviews, conferences, and assessments when the client and/or family does not speak English fluently.  The proposed process is based on information gathered from other interpreting professions. The research, and some personal interviews with audiologists in particular that were conducted to assemble this information, indicate that the process is conducted haphazardly at best.  The literature available on the collaboration between SLPs and interpreters indicates that both parties are not secure about procedure and must learn how to work together by trial and error. Often the SLP does not trust the interpreter and the interpreter does not follow suggested procedures, such as failing to interpret all that is being said, conducting a side conversation with a parent during a meeting, and giving the child unnecessary cuing during testing (if tests are available in the child’s language, which is primarily Spanish). Literature on working effectively with audiologists is almost nonexistent; therefore, the first author resorted to several personal interviews with audiologists, a specialist of the deaf and hard of hearing, and professors of audiology throughout the country. Often individuals who perform the duties and responsibilities of the interpreter and who are hired to do this job are not fully bilingual; they may speak the two languages, but may not be able to read or write the language they are using to interpret. These interpreters are often not respected, are not treated as professionals, and their pay is very low.

Analysis of the necessary skills of an effective interpreter goes beyond being bilingual.  There are some suggested ways in which the pace of an interaction should occur, specific rules of discourse that need to be orchestrated between the interpreter and the professional. When an assessment in speech-language pathology is to take place, that interpreter is in the “front seat.” He or she is the one directly involved in the interaction with the client while the SLP watches both the interpreter and the client. Necessary preparation must take place before the interaction and the interpreter should remain after the interview, conference, or assessment to discuss observations, analyze the client’s responses, transcribe a language sample, and converse about the steps to follow next. This process is called the BID (Briefing, Interaction, and Debriefing). Therefore, working with an interpreter cannot be done at the last minute, and not having a trained interpreter is unfair and unethical to all parties, the individual acting as an interpreter, the professional involved, and, of course, the client and his family. A student–teacher wrote the following words about a recent interpreted conference conducted by a bilingual teacher who tried to assist in interpreting an IEP: “I attended my first IEP meeting this week. The parents spoke Spanish so one of the teachers was translating and it was very frustrating! For example, the teacher and the mom would have a five-minute conversation and then the teacher would summarize it in like one sentence for the rest of us. I felt that the mom and the English-speaking members of the IEP meeting were at a disadvantage because there was not an official interpreter present.” This case illustrates the fact that being bilingual (teacher) is not sufficient to being an effective interpreter and, furthermore, when not done appropriately conveys a deep sense of unfairness to those present at the IEP meeting, and the family involved.

It is time that interpreting in the school setting, especially when working with SLPs and audiologists in particular, receives needed respect and attention. Not doing so violates basic human rights. Perhaps the next step is to work with legislators to implement specific laws to advocate for training of the person working as an interpreter in specific situations and context such as the one mentioned above. Also, more attention and research needs to be initiated to document best practices. We cannot continue to neglect this important area of our professions. Every student completing a degree in Communication Disorders needs to receive training on how to collaborate with interpreters and those interpreters working with us need to be trained as well. Working with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists provides many important pieces to begin such training and collaboration for both the interpreter and the communication disorders professional. The information is illustrated in five video-clips that provide both the interpreter and the communication disorders professional some concrete examples on how to utilize the concepts described in the guide. Part I of the guide includes information addressed to the SLP and audiologist, whereas Part II is directed toward the interpreter. But the entire content may be of resource to both members of the team.

And, let us all come together in the following two areas: (1) An interpreter is someone who transmits information from one language to the other orally and a translator is someone who does the same but in writing; and (2) We should avoid saying the phrase “using an interpreter or a translator,” instead “collaborating with an interpreter/translators, or using the services of.” An interpreter/translator is not a tool, he or she is a person and one who should be highly respected for the many assets they need to perform a very complicated job.

About the Authors

Henriette W. Langdon, EdD, FASHA, CCC-SLP, is an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, ASHA Fellow, and professor of communicative disorders and sciences at San José State University in San Jose, California. She has forty years of experience working with bilingual students who have a variety of speech, language, communication, and learning challenges, and she has lectured and presented workshops locally, nationally, and internationally on this topic using English, Spanish, and/or Polish. Dr. Langdon has published numerous articles, book chapters, and books related to bilingual assessment and intervention, including how to collaborate with interpreters and translators in the fields of communication disorders and special education. Being fluent in Spanish, French, and Polish, she has also provided professional services to students and their families in those languages.

Terry I. Saenz, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a professor of communicative disorders at California State University, Fullerton. She is the author of several journal articles on bilingual/multicultural speech-language pathology and coeditor with Dr. Henriette W. Langdon on Language Assessment and Intervention with Multicultural Students: A Guide for Speech-Language-Hearing Professionals. Dr. Irvine Saenz is the 2015 recipient of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Diversity Award.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *