Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Need Some Information About Interpreting

So anyone out there ever have experience with interpreters in a mainstream setting? Any mainstream interpreters? I have some specific questions and would appreciate some opinions. I disagree with someone and am trying to understand their perspective.

How many interpreters did the student have? If more than one on an alternating schedule why? If only one full time again why?

What are the pros and cons of a student having two interpreters alternating two weeks on, two weeks off) every two weeks?

Thanks for taking the time to comment


  1. In my experience, interpreter scheduling has been mainly based on what works out for the interpreter coordinator. Make all the puzzle pieces fit. My district always puts one interpreter with a student full-time, unless they don't have enough full-time interpreters. Last year, some kindergarteners had one terp four days a week and another terp just on Wednesdays. Surprisingly, it worked out fine, because they had similar signing styles. Both very ASL (you'd think ASL would be a given for ASL interpreters! sigh). We had enough carryover between myself (SLP), the TOD, and the paraeducator that we could answer those "what did she sign for pattern?" type questions.

    The reason my district like to have one person full-time is a.) payroll/HR reasons (one full-time vs two part-time), and b.) consistency of the way things are conveyed (especially with math and science). It shouldn't be this way, but I think reason a is the main reason.

    I haven't heard of alternating interpreters two weeks on, two weeks off. I'm curious what their rationale is.

  2. Usually, if the interpreting assignment is more than 2 hours long, they use two interpreters to alternate because interpreting for some interpreters is quite mentally draining and they need breaks. Granted, there are some interpreters that may be able to do a full school day singlehanded, but the majority of the time, (without disrespecting any interpreters in general as they have a hard job to do) the quality of the interpreting often deteriorates over time if they do not have any breaks or do not alternate.

    I have always believed that a significant pro of alternating interpreters allows the student to empower themselves further by being able to rely on a variety of interpreters as opposed to relying on just one interpreter. If they rely on only one interpreter, it may be generally harder for them to be able to use other interpreters as they get older in life.

    However, the most important aspect of educational interpreting is actually the skill level of the interpreter. I have heard way too many stories about kids having educational interpreters whose skill levels are quite low. In my state, educational interpreters can actually get a PCED certificate as opposed to a EIPA certificate in which a novice interpreter can get whereas EIPA recommends that they be level 3 or higher.

  3. Thanks, so the issue here is a student who has been using interpreters since the age of 2 1/2 in a variety of settings. He goes to an art school where they have 140 minute classes with specific language for theater, art, dance, math, history, science and moving image art.

    The district assigned two interpreters to work two weeks shifts alone. I asked that they change it to one full time person with support for days when it is a 140 minute lecture. I also asked for the interpreter that had a background in theater be full time.

    The problem happens at the transition after two weeks. The classes have ongoing projects and areas of study that build over time. The interpreter that arrives after two weeks off is not familiar with the language or concepts presented the weeks before. Can you see where this might be an issue? Both are full time employees.

    The first reason they gave me was they didn't want him to become dependent one one interpreter. I argued that he is very skilled with interpreters and this is not an issue addressed on his IEP. I had reasonable proof this was not a concern. They then said it was a reason they couldn't tell me about. Then they tell me he can have another interpreter pulled full time. I pointed out the one I requested has been at the school with my son for over a year and already has an established language as well as a theater background. There would be no fiscal impact and it would eliminate problem. I am really confused.

  4. Thanks again for the comments! I really want to try and understand the districts stance.

  5. Valhallian's right. Here, if a meeting is over an hour long, the agency will send two interpreters and they spell each other off every 20 minutes or so. Where the skill levels vary, one interpreter will help the other with a particular sign.

    In the workplace, I get different interpreters all the time and the work-related jargon is definitely mangled each time. I usually had to get by using lipreading assisted by the mangled sign.

    It's true that interpreters get tired and the quality of signing goes down.

    What is worse is that the DEAF person gets tired, too, of fixiating on an interpreter across the room especially in subdued light. After about 45 minutes nothing is sinking in.

    The answer to this also benefits hearing people: break up the lecture every half hour with a different type of input such as movies, filmstrips, demos, Q and A, etc.

    Not every situation is open to this, though, and it might be good experience to tough it out occasionally as preparation for worse in college courses.

  6. I heard that interpreters get burned out and their interpreting start to slack over time when that happens.

  7. when you are referring to the ongoing project, I would imagine it is the, to use a word that dianrez said, "jargon" that could present difficulties if the replaced interpreter does not know the appropriate signs for the jargon that is used in the specific projects.

    However, you mentioned that both interpreters are full time interpreters so I would imagine that it could also be a possibility that they switch between different students whose parents might both have the same preference of the same interpreter? and the school is trying to satisfy both parents? They may not be able to reveal that information for privacy reasons or the educational equivalency of HIPAA if there is one.

    Considering that if they simply worked two weeks and then took two weeks off and repeat that, they would not be full time interpreters.

    But I can tell you one thing tho, there is a severe shortage of interpreters all across the country for community and educational interpreting and its difficult to try to please everyone in that matter if that is the case.

  8. Thanks this really helps.

    So he does get tired in long lectures but that is just something he deals with. The cool thing is the staff is very receptive and willing to work with him to make things more accessible.

    I hadn't thought about the burn out issue. That could be a reason. I am told the job is really fun and district interpreters all want to work there but that by the end of the day they are wiped out.

    I do know both interpreters share the same two students. The other is in elementary in general ed. The other student is fluent but does not have a need for a interpreter the has an arts background. I am also told the district has a good pool of people to pull from. So maybe it is trying to make us both happy?

    An example of the jargon might be the time he was learning to preform"Jabberwocky" or different styles of art and math terms. He would better explain it.

    It is so funny we are so grateful for we he is getting in terms of education and the quality of interpreters compared to some stories that I hear from other parents but this one thing seems so easy to fix. I guess if I could get a reason that made sense I could accept it but they keep changing the reason.

  9. I am having a series of interpreting issues as well. :( I mainly have experience with one full time interpreter in the mainstream setting.

    I suppose the disadvantage of having interpreters alternate every two weeks would be for them to constantly have to become familiar with the concepts and language presented from the previous weeks. The transitioning would be tough, I would think.

    I agree with you in that they should not be so concerned about your son being dependent on one interpreter. Like you said, he has been using interpreters since he was two.

    I hope you will figure something out with them!


  10. What does your son feel? Does he has a preference?

    Both my kids like to keep their interpreters consistent; they always had daughter would say that she needs time to adjust to new interpreters, and she dislikes doing that in middle of a semester, especially since her school has an accelerated 4x4 schedule with 90 minutes class. One day of class is equivalent to one week of class.

    That could be something to think about...

    I am not sure if I am answering your question.

    Both my children have had "same" interpreters more than a few years. They are not a part of a DHH program, so hiring "different" interpreters year in and year out wasn't feasible for the district.

    For a long time, the district had one staff and one from the local interpreting referral agency. They finally wised up and hired another after they upped the pay rate.

    Good luck...


  11. One possible reason is because interpreters get bored. Some interpreters may experience burnout from going to the same job, location, and client day after day after day. Alternating every two weeks could give them a refreshed feeling each time they switch.

  12. Hey thanks (e. I saw your post about one issue. Ugh that drives me nuts.

    Marla thank you so much. My son is the one who brought up the concern. He hates the transition days and gets so frustrated tying to catch up the interpreter.

    Your kids had two full time? It is the best case scenario that Haddy has a team full time. He is also in a unique program. It is really intense and the interpreter has to be focused all day with a short lunch break and breaks between classes.

    Hey I jumped over to your blog real quick. I am going to read it all after I finish putting the kids to bed. Will you be writing more?

  13. Anonymous, good point but this school is like the movie "Fame". Interpreters want to work there. I have had several interpreters I know tell me they would love this job. The last deaf kid two years ago had the same interpreter for the whole seven years from what I hear. The typical mainstream class in general ed is full of rote memorization, state mandated testing rituals and very little creative teaching which would be easy but boring. Also the district tells them where to go they have no choice.

    This is a good point though. We need a person who is invested and interested. An interpreter is not a robot.

    Thanks for your input

  14. when ya say jabberwocky, it brought to mind that it wasn't too long ago where I saw an interpreter interpreting Ted Nugent's "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" not too sure if you'll ever see any two interpreters that have never seen others signing this song would all sign the jargon there the same way, heh now that's theater! ;)

  15. So, I am a terp in an educational setting. I work at a deaf cluster site, also a middle school. We have six interpreters, two DHH teachers, and a variety of students ranging in language use from MCE to ASL.

    We set up their schedule to best match their language needs with the skill of the interpreters, and then we try NOT TO CHANGE IT AT ALL. Consistency is extremely important in the educational setting. As you well know, interpreters and students will often "set-up" specific signs related to specific content area terminology, and it is disruptive to have an interpreter use different signs or perhaps not fingerspell the terminology, leaving the student lost. Also, when it does come to that nasty state-mandated high-stakes testing, we make sure that the interpreter that interprets for the student in that subject area interprets their test.

    It is also beneficial to a student's socio-emotional development to have consistency at that age. Look at the standard educational practice of hiring a long-term substitute teacher if the regular teacher is out for any length of time (maternity leave, surgery, etc.) They would never dream of switching teachers on and off every two weeks. The classroom interpreter is an integral part of a deaf student's school day, and in my experience the hearing students feel most comfortable with the same interpreter because they too use the interpreter and can know what to expect.

    Students crave consistency and like to know what to expect. If your seventh grade son is telling you that he stresses about the interpreter transition period, then he is actually really stressing about it, which any middle school administrator should recognize. Again, I really do not know that many seventh grade boys who would openly admit they are stressed about anything.

    If they are concerned about dependancy, or if the interpreters are concerned about burnout, perhaps they can consider working half-day shifts. One interpreter before lunch, one interpreter after. That way, Haddy will have consistent interpreters for each CLASS and will not have to worry about the transition period of catching the terp up on terminology or classroom culture. I mean, can they remember student's name-signs or their names to indicate who is speaking after two weeks? Distributed classroom discourse is ESSENTIAL for student's cognitive development, and in fact contains a large amount of classroom content.

    I have to say, as a professional, I am shocked that the school system is doing a two-week on, two-week off system for no particular reason. Also, as a professional, I have every confidence that the interpreter with less of a theater background will strive to develop conceptually accurate signs and become familiar with the topic if she is interpreting for him in those classes on a daily basis.

    Thanks for your time! Feel free to email me, I can write a letter or something if you think that would help.

  16. Roan513 you are awesome! Thank you for your insight it is so helpful and thanks for taking the time to comment at length. I would be grateful if I could email you. My email is

    again big thanks