Classroom Interpreting

EIPA Written Test and Knowledge Standards


Interpreting requires years of specialized training, involves a great deal of knowledge and decision making, and includes standards for performance established by the field.

Technically, interpreting occurs when an interpreter conveys information following the conventions of American Sign Language (ASL) and English. When an interpreter transliterates he or she generally follows the conventions of the form of English.

There is, however, much more to educational interpreting than simply standing in the front of a classroom relaying information from the teacher to the student and vice versa. In fact, an educational interpreter must be prepared to wear several different hats, including facilitator, IEP team member, and tutor.

As a facilitator the interpreter facilitates all communication in the classroom, adapts his or her signing level to the communication needs of the student, interprets at school functions as needed and prepares for content and message delivery. He or she also assists students and professionals in understanding the role of the interpreter, ensures appropriate logistics (i.e., lighting, seating), and provides clear and appropriate information for substitute interpreters.

Many individuals assume that the interpreter works for the student, but this is not really true. The interpreter is working for the whole class, including the teacher and all students. The interpreter is also accountable to the educational team.

The interpreter also plays a vital role as member of the IEP team. His or her role on the team is to provide consultation regarding strategies to promote student independence, encourage direct communication across various interactions and interpret content and non-content areas. The interpreter also is responsible for promoting student participation in classroom discussions and activities, addressing discipline problems and procedures, as well as concerns related to a student’s needs, and educating others regarding the implications of hearing loss.

Most educational interpreters also provide tutoring services. As a tutor, the interpreter reinforces concepts and class content under the direction of a certified teacher. This portion of the job includes preparing for content, implementing instructional strategies as identified by the IEP team, reinforcing and supervising practice of skills with individual and small groups, assisting the student and other professionals in understanding the role of the tutor and providing clear and appropriate information for the substitute.

Core Standards

EIPA Diagnostic Center experts used the information presented above, in addition to the following core standards, to develop EIPA Written test questions regarding interpreting:

Process and Message

  • Interpreting is not accessing a mental dictionary.  It is not a word for word process.
  • Understanding process models of interpreting can help the interpreter analyze breakdowns in his or her own interpreting.
  • There are multiple levels or layers to analyzing a message, including lexical, phrasal, sentential, and discourse. 
  • Message equivalency is the key or goal of interpretation or transliteration.
  • If message equivalency is not achieved on a consistent basis, the student does not have equal access to the classroom content.
  • There are factors that influence message equivalency, such as the interpreter’s language ability and content knowledge, the speaker’s rate of delivery, discourse organization, communicative intent, register, etc. Therefore, preparation prior to class is imperative.
  • The teacher can provide information that will help the interpreter improve message equivalency, such as the goal of the lesson, expectations for student mastery.
  • All language has a function. Transition and relational words and phrases in both English and ASL contain important meaning and contribute to message coherence.
  • When there is not message equivalency between the source text and the interpreting product, the student may not learn the intended concept or content.
  • Encoding is not necessarily message equivalency.

Educational Team and the Individual Education Plan

  • The interpreter must know the student’s language skills both expressively and receptively, the student’s cognitive potential, and the educational goals as outlined in the student’s IEP.
  • The interpreter’s input regarding the student’s language use and comprehension should be a part of the discussion of the educational team regarding modifications made in how the interpretation is to be conducted.
  • Within the educational team, a decision may be made to modify interpreting in order to support a student’s learning, rather than providing a word-for-word tranliteration of classroom content.
  • Educational interpreters make judgments about language use with deaf and hard of hearing students based on the educational plan and language expressed by the student and by communication with the educational team, with the goal of an interpreted product that is accessible to the student.

Classroom Learning

  • Languages are shared symbol systems. When interpreters invent signs, they make the student’s linguistic system unique from that of other peers, interpreters, and deaf adults.  In addition, this may offend and alienate the deaf community.
  • Attending to classroom visual stimuli and attending to the interpretation requires dual processing, which is particularly problematic for deaf or hard of hearing students and can pose challenges for interpreters.
  • Interpreting a lesson does not necessarily make it accessible.
  • Interpreting for older students utilizes different skills than interpreting for younger students. However, one is not more important than another. Often interpreters with better skills are needed with younger students who are still developing language skills and are less capable of repairing an interpreters errors.
  • It is impossible to produce an interpretation or a transliteration product that reflects 100% message equivalency.
  • When interpreting for more than one student, decisions regarding the most appropriate interpreting product must be made within the context of the educational team and may include consluting with experienced educational interpreters outside the immediate team.
  • In order to interpret and transliterate, an interpreter must cognitively process the communication. The more the interpreter understands the concepts of the message, the better the interpreted product will be.
  • There are times when interpreters need to determine what information in the classroom is informative or may be distracting to the student as extraneous ‘visual noise’.


  • Systematic assessment should provide information that will assist in determining where interpreting errors occur and provide guidance in skill development.
  • Annual assessment of interpreted work can help other professionals view the interpreter as a professional.  It can verify skills.  It can help other professionals understand the importance of being qualified to interpret for students and understand the qualifications needed when interpreting for adults.
  • Evaluation of interpreting skills provides information skills in terms of what an interpreter can do and areas in need of development. Evaluation with one assessment tool does not mean an interpreter is qualified to interpret in all situations.

Models of Interpreting

  • In education, the model of interpreting much view the interpreter as a legally defined member of the educational team, obligated to facilitate education. The interpreter functions within the guidelines that all educational team members share.
  • The Helper model of interpreting involves concepts of pity, dependency, and paternalism. It can foster dependency, inhibit independence and identity development in students, and alienate deaf and hard of hearing students from communicating directly with their hearing peers.
  • In the Conduit, or Machine model, of interpreting, an interpreter conveys information from one language to another without a personal/cultural context.
  • Cognitive processing between both English and ASL is required by the interpreter for semantic equivalency in a Bilingual-Bicultural model of interpreting.
  • In the Ally model of interpreting for adults, decisions regarding interpreting are made within the social and political culture surrounding deaf and hard of hearing adults. The interpreter needs to make a conscious effort to be aware of power imbalances within the educational setting.

Resources & Requirements

  • Resources exist to improve interpreting skill.
  • Interpreters must have access to class materials and objectives in order to prepare to interpret effectively. This allows the interpreter to understand the concepts and to cognitively organize the content as well as learn any new vocabulary.
  • Interpreters need the support of professional peers and mentors to develop skills.
  • Interpreters should be aware of what their state requires in terms of certification and standards.

Preparation and Professional Development

  • Interpreters should have preparation time to plan for future lessons, read text book assignments, to research and learn new vocabulary, etc.
  • It is appropriate to negotiate logistics of the interpreting environment prior to beginning interpreting. Standing near the speaker or any visual display of information is highly desirable.
  • All interpreters should have a professional development plan. Resources that can help interpreters develop skills and knowledge include local RID chapters, the internet, workshops, conferences, etc.
  • Interpreters benefit in language skill development and professional development through personal as well as professional ties with the Deaf community.

Health-Related Issues

  • Interpreting over long periods of time without support can cause health-related issues, involving Repetitive Motion Injury, stress, cognitive fatigue.
  • Interpreters need to have information and resources about how to take care of themselves physically and psychologically.
  • Interpreters must have scheduled breaks for physical rest.