Interpreters in the classroom
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INTERPRETERS IN THE CLASSROOM. LANGUAGE & SPELLING. American Sign Language is a separate language from English. The interpreter is not signing word-for-word signs that correspond to English words. Instead he/she is interpreting the content and intent into a functionally equivalent message.

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Interpreters in the classroom


Language spelling


  • American Sign Language is a separate language from English. The interpreter is not signing word-for-word signs that correspond to English words. Instead he/she is interpreting the content and intent into a functionally equivalent message.

  • The interpreter will have to fingerspell important vocabulary and names for which there is no one sign. It is helpful for the teacher to write technical vocabulary and names on the board so the student and interpreter can see the correct spelling.

Interpreter preparation


  • To help the interpreters prepare for providing the most accurate interpretation possible, before that class try to share with them your:

    • Lecture notes,

    • Slideshow presentations,

    • Handouts/worksheets, and

    • Spare copy of the textbook.

  • This will help them to interpret the concepts, to spell words correctly, and to activate knowledge of key vocabulary that the student needs to see fingerspelled in English.

Processing time


  • There will be a delay between what is said and what is signed because of “lag time” or processing time.

  • Therefore, you should increase your wait time when calling on the deaf student to answer.

  • By the time the interpretation is rendered, you may have already pointed to a diagram or made a meaningful motion that the deaf student missed because of the delay.

  • Try to prolong your pointing and gesturing so the deaf student can have time to watch the interpreter for the message then look over at the board/diagram/screen.

Interpreter placement


The deaf student needs to have a good line of sight to see the interpreter, the teacher, and the board or screen.

Kushalnagar (2008) suggests that the deaf student needs the interpreter to sit to the right side of the teacher because research shows that ASL users are better at spotting movement in their right sight field and that the left hemisphere spots and processes things on the right faster.



Line of Sight

Deaf student

Kushalnagar, P. (2008). Proceedings from the annual Texas Society of Interpreters for the Deaf Conference: Understanding the deaf student’s brain: Challenges in the Mainstream Classroom with Interpreters. Houston, TX: TSID.

Interpreter s role


  • The interpreter follows a Code of Professional Conduct and adheres to the role of communication facilitator.

  • The interpreter is not there to make comments, give advice, or participate in the class.

  • It is distracting when attention is called to the interpreter or signs. This disrupts the flow of interpreting and may embarrass the student.

How to use an interpreter


  • When using an interpreter, make eye contact with the deaf student and speak directly to the deaf student. Do not say, “Tell him this…” or “Ask her…”

  • An interpreter is ethically bound to interpret whatever is said. She will interpret even when you say, “Don’t tell him this…” or “You don’t have to interpret this.” Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the deaf student has equal access to communication through the interpreter.

Team interpreting


  • You may have two interpreters in your classroom at a time. Both team members are actively engaged – one interpreting, one providing feedback or supporting cues.

  • They will switch discreetly every 20 minutes on average to avoid repetitive motion injuries and to keep their mind fresh. The mental processes of interpreting can be taxing for prolonged periods of time.

  • Having two interpreters work together increases the accuracy of the message and reduces errors.



  • If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us before or after class or to send us an email. We’re happy to answer questions!

  • Do understand that we will respect the student’s autonomy and right to privacy, so we may redirect you to the student to answer personal questions.


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