Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Cognitive/Social Development and Educational Interpreting
Early Elementary Years – Ages 6 – 8
During the early elementary years, children begin to develop important aspects of self-concept. At this age, children begin to make social comparisons and these comparisons help them understand who they are.
Theory of Mind Skills
Perspective-taking skills or Theory of Mind skills are crucial to the development of a self-concept. Children must understand that different people have different perspectives and these perspectives reflect our personalities and access to information. Their early abilities in Theory of Mind serve as a foundation to see their teacher and peers as different individuals.
Developing a Sense of Self-Confidence and Mastery
Another important development during early childhood is a sense of mastery - that they can learn something. As children develop, adults expect more and more from them. As children meet the new challenges of school, they begin to develop self-confidence in their ability to learn and grow.
These changes in the development of self-concept and of perspective-taking skills also lead to the development of self-esteem, which emerges during early childhood.
An Interpreted Education and Cognitive Skills in the Early Elementary Years
There are several aspects of an interpreted education that require special consideration given the student’s major cognitive development in the areas of self-concept, mastery, and self-esteem. Aspects requiring special consideration include:
Access to peer interaction
Peer interactions are the building blocks for the development of self-concept and self-esteem. Even adults who are deaf report that interacting with hearing people through an interpreter can be difficult. A child at this age must have access to peer interactions, but he/she may not know how to use an interpreter to participate in a conversation with his/her peers.
An educational interpreter will likely need to help both the deaf or hard of hearing student and his or her hearing peers understand how to manage communication with an interpreter present. The interpreter should be explicit about the rules. For example, hearing peers should be told, “If you want to talk with Carlos, you can tap his arm to get his attention.” Similarly, a child who is deaf or hard of hearing might need to know how to make a bid for a conversational turn.
Of course, because peer interaction is so important to development, deaf or hard of hearing children should have access to peers during recess, lunch, and after-school activities. Children talk to each other differently than they talk when an adult is present. All children need to learn and experience this peer group communication.
The importance of representing the speaker’s personality
Children’s growth in self-concept and self-esteem is dependent on learning the personality traits of others. During these years, children learn to compare themselves socially.
For the educational interpreter, this means that all aspects of a speaker’s communication are important, not just the words and grammar. In spoken language, there is often a great deal of information about the speaker’s personality and intentions in the tone of voice. This aspect of language is often called prosody or intonation.
In sign languages, intonation shows up as changes in facial expression and how the body moves. In a sense, the speaker’s voice ends up on the interpreter’s face.
Research using the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) has shown that educational interpreters have particular difficulties using prosody and intonation. Often, with less-skilled interpreters, there is little intonation and it is hard to know the speaker’s intentions. Was the teacher joking? or excited? Or disappointed? The educational interpreter communicates the words and sentences, but the personality and intentions of the speaker are not conveyed.
It is important that educational interpreters work to include all aspects of the speaker’s communication, including those parts that give insight into the individual’s personality and intentions.
Teaching hearing peers to sign
Hearing children are actually good at learning sign language and they enjoy it. There are many positive reasons to teach hearing classmates sign languages, including:
Benefits the hearing students
Learning a second language is a good thing for the brain. In many states, high schools and colleges offer American Sign Language (ASL) as a second or "foreign" language. There are substantial career opportunities for individuals who sign fluently. There also is research to suggest that signing helps hearing students learn spoken language.
Teaching students how to sign also helps foster direction communication. It allows the child who is deaf or hard of hearing to interact with peers and vice versa. Children’s language during play is not complex at this age. Even learning minimal or basic sign communication can benefit student-to-student interactions.
Teaching sign language communicates a sense of acceptance to the child who is deaf or hard of hearing, which is critical to emerging self-esteem. It is also important for hearing children, as well as for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn about hearing loss. It helps when all children in a classroom understand how hearing loss impacts communication.