Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Interpreting and Language
The Interpreter As a Language Model
Children in all cultures learn language through social interaction in meaningful situations. Adults scaffold language learning to accommodate young learners. In order to learn, a child must have multiple opportunities to interact with fluent sign language users.
Some children who are deaf or hard of hearing enter school with language and vocabulary skills that are below those of their hearing peers. They must continue learning language, using the interpreter as a language model.
Certain problems may arise when an interpreter serves as a child’s only language model. Such problems include:
Limited language role models
Typically, children learn language from many different language models. Although parents, families, and peers are the primary models; many other adults and children provide language models as well. Having a variety of language users is essential to language learning.
A teaching level that has not been adjusted
A teacher’s language is usually a good match for the hearing students in the classroom. However, a teacher may not adjust her speech and language level for the deaf or hard of hearing student who is delayed in language.
Interpreters do not interact with students
Research shows that interaction is essential for language learning. However, an interpreter is merely a model that the students watches, but does not actually interact with. Experts do not believe that watching interpretations of language during a lecture will actually lead to significant language learning.
Some interpreters aren’t fluent
Unfortunately, some interpreters are not fluent in sign language, resulting in a language model with numerous grammatical errors and the use of simple vocabulary. Interpreters with inadequate skills do not just sign at a simpler level. Their sign language can be difficult to understand. Research has shown that often major concepts are distorted and missing, even in a 4th grade art lesson.
Language Role Models
If a child needs a language model, it is often best to have an adult who is fluent in sign language interact with the child naturally, in real conversations. Deaf adults are an excellent resource. Interaction with deaf adults allows a child to experience rich and complex language. Deaf adult signers make developmentally appropriate adjustments when communicating with children, not unlike the communication adjustments made by hearing adults with children who can hear.
The deaf adult should understand the classroom curriculum and work with the classroom teacher to provide parallel content. Of course, like hearing individuals, the deaf adult should be chosen wisely as some have better child and language skills than others.
An educational interpreter could also serve this role – communicating with the child directly, rather than interpreting for the teacher. However, it is important that the interpreter have excellent English and sign communication skills. A child cannot learn language when the adult role models are not fluent.