Classroom Interpreting

Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Interpreting and Language

Modifying Language

Adults talk differently with children than they talk with other adults. We change our speech and language for children as they progress from preschool to elementary school to middle school and high school. Researchers often call this type of modification motherese, the way adults talk with young children.

Changes to speech and language are actually important to language learning. All young children may use prosody (or intonation) and stress to help understand the meaning of what we say. Researchers believe that the adjustments that adults make to speech and language are essential to language learners, even those who can hear.

Motherese in Spoken Language

Adults change much more than just their grammar when speaking to children. They often change their stress and prosody when communicating. They also may slow down when speaking to young children, making speech more deliberate and clear, and use a greater range in prosody. For example, listen to a kindergarten teacher versus a high school teacher. The elementary teacher uses prosody to emphasize sentence boundaries, stressing specific words.

Motherese in Sign Language

Sign language also changes when adults sign to young children. Signs are slower and bigger, and sign language prosody is exaggerated in the same ways that speech can be exaggerated. Signing to children is different than signing to teens and adults.

Interpreters need to make sure that their signing style is the equivalent of the teacher’s speaking style. If the teacher is making adjustments for her young language learners, the sign language interpreter should match these modifications in the visual mode.

Interpreters and Visual Motherese

Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA)evaluations show that many interpreters who work with young children do not have a visual motherese. Their signing looks like they are talking with another adult. It is important for interpreters to develop the visual equivalent of teacher’s talk, which has many features of motherese.

Skill development for educational interpreters should include watching video examples of classroom interactions. Through these observations, educational interpreters can observe the aspects of a teacher’s talk that are intended to scaffold learning and plan how they will represent those aspects in their interpretation. For young students who are deaf or hard of hearing, it is important that they have access to the characteristics of teacher’s talk and the critical role it provides in learning.