Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Learning through an Interpreter
What Affects Learning Through an Interpreter
How well a student can learn in an interpreted classroom depends on many factors. It is easy, but incorrect, to think that the interpreter’s skills are the single most important factor in a successful interpreted placement. The interpreter is only one part of a complex setting. Although there is very limited research on K-12 students and interpreting, we can predict that the following issues are important to consider:
- The teacher’s style of teaching and communication: In general, an interpreter can more successfully interpret a teacher who is well organized, systematic, and who has clear communication.
- Classroom rules for interaction: Some teachers permit students to spontaneously comment and talk in class. Others have more formal rules for when students can speak. In general, an interpreter can better represent classroom discussion when there are clear rules for when students can participate.
- The pace of teaching: Interpreters will have more difficulty representing classrooms where the pace is fast, with little pause time. Teachers with a slower pace, and who frequently pause, will make interpreting the message easier.
- The amount of visual information: Visual aides are a wonderful teaching tool for all students, not just those with hearing loss. But a student who uses an interpreter must also look at the interpreter, making it difficult to coordinate visual attention.
- The amount of class discussion: Student engagement in discussion is a great learning tool, but it can be very difficult to interpret.
- The availability of teacher lesson plans and materials: Interpreters perform best when they are prepared in advance.
- The interpreter’s language skills in sign language and in English: Interpreting requires fluency in two languages. While many interpreters are highly competent in both, there also are many interpreters who lack the language skills to interpret effectively.
- The interpreter’s skills in interpreting: Interpreting is a complex cognitive process that requires strong skills and intensive practice to do well. Even individuals who have graduated from an interpreter training program may need years of practice to become competent.
- The interpreter’s knowledge of the information being taught: It is much easier to interpret topics that you know and understand. Interpreters need to understand the concepts, vocabulary, and lesson content in order to interpret effectively.
- Lag time: The fact that interpretation is always delayed means that the student using the interpreter is typically a bit behind the other students. This can be a problem when the teacher depends on class discussion as a learning tool, a common approach in most classrooms.
- Language and vocabulary skills: If a student is delayed in language and vocabulary compared with the hearing students, it will make learning more difficult. The teacher will use language and vocabulary appropriate for the hearing students, which may be too advanced for a student with significant delays in language skills. If a student is delayed more than 1.5 – 2 years, an interpreted placement may not promote the kind of learning needed to make adequate progress and other placements and supplements should be considered.
- Prior knowledge of the topic and vocabulary: All students learn best when they can relate the material to something they already know. Some deaf and hard of hearing students may lack the background information that is necessary to understand new concepts and content presented in class.
- Ability to hear: Students who are able to understand spoken English may be able to fill in some of the information that is missing from the interpretation. They may be better able to understand some of the classroom communication directly.
- Reading ability: Students who have better reading skills may supplement class instruction with information learned through reading. If a student does not have the reading skills necessary to understand the textbook, he/she may be dependent on the interpreted classroom information for the majority of their learning.
- Level of engagement: All students learn better when they are engaged in learning and when they participate in classroom discussions. Some students become more isolated when using an interpreter, especially when the classroom teacher views the student as “belonging” to the interpreter. A student who is isolated may not be engaged in learning.
- Cognitive skills: All students differ in their ability to learn and deaf and hard of hearing students are no different. Some students need more explicit teaching, more redundant lessons, and a great deal of practice.