As Speech-Language Pathologists, we work with individuals from diverse backgrounds. It is no surprise that the numbers of English Language Learners (ELL) is increasing all over the United States. During the course of our careers, we will encounter students who speak many different languages. Although one of the most common languages spoken by these bilingual students is likely to be Mandarin or Spanish, there are hundreds of languages being spoken. Despite the increasing number of speech-language pathologists who can provide bilingual services, it is unrealistic that there will be a match for every student. The second best option in those instances is to work with a trained language interpreter. However, if we are lucky enough to find an interpreter, most of the time they are not trained. This post will describe best practices for training interpreters.
The ASHA Position Statement Clinical Management of Communicatively Handicapped Minority Language Populations states that interpreters or translators can be used with minority language speakers when the following circumstances exist:
Let’s begin by clarifying the distinction between an interpreter and a translator. An interpreter is someone who translates spoken language. A translator translates written documents from one language to another. For the purposes of our speech-language assessments, which are primarily oral, we would be using interpreters.
Just because an individual has knowledge of two languages does not give them sufficient skills to act as an interpreter. In order to fulfill their role successfully, interpreters must be proficient in both languages, have knowledge of different dialects, be adaptable, and remain neutral. Clinicians also have an equally important role and responsibility to fulfill when working with the interpreter. Clinicians need to pay attention to the length and pace of the spoken language. Relying solely on test results or translation of tests should be avoided. A qualitative description of the client’s communication strengths and challenges will assist in identifying areas of need. It is important to note that consulting with an interpreter is advisable but the clinical decision-making is the clinician’s responsibility.
When interacting with the interpreter, preparation is important; therefore, the clinician should follow a three-step briefing, interaction, and debriefing process to ensure a more successful outcome.
Next month, we will deep dive into specific tips on gathering information for a bilingual assessment when working with interpreters.
Karin H. Koukeyan, MS, CCC-SLP, is a Senior Clinical Consultant with PresenceLearning.