Classroom Interpreting

Classroom Interpreters - Interpreters and Children - Learning through an Interpreter

Interpreter Errors and Learning

All interpreters make errors, even the most skillful and experienced. But interpreters with inadequate skills can make a large number of errors that can easily change the teacher’s communication into an unintelligible mess.

Recent research conducted by Elizabeth Caldwell Langer and Brenda Schick has investigated what types of classroom content are conveyed by interpreters with different skill levels. They have looked at interpreters who have scored from 2.5 to 4.5 on the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) and interpreters who are certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) The interpreters were interpreting a lesson from a 4th grade classroom. All interpreters made mistakes, but interpreters who scored 4.0 or higher on the EIPA and RID-certified interpreters did best, although both missed significant classroom content.

All interpreters were better at communicating the teacher’s language that was mostly about facts and directions. Disappointingly, many had a great deal of difficulty communicating the more complex concepts that the teacher talked about. It seems the more complex ideas are not conveyed as much as less challenging information.

No doubt, access to the teacher’s and peers’ talk is highly dependent on an interpreter who has an EIPA score of 3.5 – 4.0 or who is RID-certified.

Interpreter errors place a heavy burden on a student with hearing loss. We know that even hearing students have difficulty recognizing when a message is not comprehensible. It is not realistic for the student to be responsible for identifying when an interpreted message did not make sense and ask for clarification. Interpreter errors increase the cognitive learning task for the student who is deaf or hard of hearing. As one deaf adult said, “When the interpreter doesn’t make sense, I have to think, did the teacher say it that way? Or did I learn it wrong from the book? Did I misunderstand this concept?” While the hearing peers are simply learning new information and can focus all of their thinking on the new information and concepts, the student with hearing loss is also forced to think about whether to “believe” what the interpreter signed.

It is essential for educational interpreters to be highly qualified. An interpreted placement with an unqualified interpreter is not a free and appropriate education.