Tips on Using Interpreters

Working with interpreters and Deaf people is new to many people. The process is very simple and nothing to be concerned about. Some basic information is below to provide a starting point and to offer a few tips so you know what to expect.

Before the Interaction

  • Inform the interpreter of any special audiovisual equipment or technology that may be used.
  • Sufficient lighting should be used at all times so the interpreter is clearly visible.
  • Ask for input on the best location for the interpreter to be in relation to the other parties involved in the communication.
  • Be aware that Sign Language is not a word-for-word rendition of English. American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique language with its own syntax and grammar.
  • Sign Language does not always have standardized signs for specialized or technical words. Often the interpreter will need to fingerspell these words or understand the concept first in order to provide an equivalent sign or interpretation.  Providing any vocabulary lists, agendas, or handouts to the interpreters will help for a more successful and accurate interpretation.

During the Interaction

  • Relax. Speak in a natural speed and tone of voice, distinctly and at a comfortable volume and pace.
  • Communicate directly to the Deaf person, speaking to them as you would anyone else.  Try to maintain eye contact as much as possible.
  • Be aware that there typically is a lag time between when words are spoken and the subsequent interpretation. As a result, responses and questions from Deaf participants may be slightly delayed. Interpreters may need to ask you or the Deaf person for clarification on key points. Allowing this to happen enables the interpreters to do their job well.
  • Avoid walking between the interpreter and the deaf person(s) if possible.
  • Speak one at a time in group situations. When people are “talking over” each other it is not possible to provide a successful interpretation.  Choose one person to facilitate group discussion and monitor that people are speaking one at a time.  As the interpreter is often slightly behind the conversation it can be difficult for the Deaf consumer to give their input without seeming to interrupt the flow of natural turn taking.  Be sensitive to their ability to be part of the conversation.
  • In group situations, allow time for the Deaf participant(s) to look at the speaker to see who is talking before the comments are interpreted.
  • Avoid words such as “this” or “that” when referring to something being demonstrated. As the deaf person’s eyes are focused on the interpreter by the time they look at what you are referring to they will have missed it. Instead, identify objects by name(s).
  • Allow each member adequate time to review any written material or visual aids before beginning the discussion. This allows time for a shift of attention from the visual aid to the interpreter.
  • If it is a voting situation, please raise your hand to signify your vote so that all members of the committee can see the position each member of the committee is taking. Adequate time should be allowed between, “aye”, “no” and “abstentions” so that each member of the committee has time to vote and to participate in the discussion.
  • Take confidential communications outside the room or setting. Interpreters have the responsibility to do their best to interpret all communication. The same is true if the Deaf or Hard of Hearing person is signing; it is expected that the interpreter will interpret everything they are saying.
  • Interpreters will keep all Deaf client information confidential. This includes information they may know about the client from other interpreting settings. It is best not to ask the interpreter about the Deaf client. Ask the Deaf person directly and the interpreter will be happy to facilitate the communication.
  • Do not engage the interpreter in conversation while they are actively interpreting.

Team Interpreting

Interpreting assignments one hour or longer in length with continuous interpreting, will require the use of a team of two interpreters. The teaming allows the interpreters to switch roles every 15-20 minutes.  Teaming will reduce physical strain, prevent repetitive strain injury, and prevent mental fatigue which can cause the quality of the interpreting to deteriorate.  In the event a team has not been provided, take a 10 to 15 minute break before continuing.