Considerations For Interpreting With Children

Mar 16, 2022 12:00:00 AM | Considerations For Interpreting With Children

Information for Considerations for language Interpreting with Children

Global Interpreting Services specializes in medical, mental health, legal and educational interpreting. We provide all sorts of interpreting services but in those 4 areas, we provide most of our services and have during our 25 years of operations.


Educational Interpreting, or specifically, interpreting to children in general, is, in my opinion, a very specialized area and needs to be highly skilled. I have interpreted in the K-12 setting, elementary, middle, and high school, and by far the elementary school was the most difficult place to interpret. I had to interpret preschool gym. Let me tell you, I would prefer to interpret college statistics or an engineering workshop (both of which I have successfully interpreted) rather than preschool gym…all day long!!! Why would you think that would be? Children do not stay still, they do not pay attention, and their language skills are not fully developed (all children, not just children with a language barrier or disability).


Let’s not talk about just the field of Education, but Interpreting for Children in general…after all, children are everywhere. They go to the Doctor, could be part of legal action, have mental health issues, they are part of everyday life.


Children, in general, have short attention spans. They do not want to pay attention to the teacher, Doctor, Parent, Counselor, whoever is speaking to them let alone an Interpreter. An Interpreter must develop a relationship with the child in order to get them to respond and pay attention. If a child is not paying attention or not behaving to the person speaking to them, do not expect the Interpreter to be the disciplinary person. When the Interpreter has to become the “authority” in the room, it ruins the dynamic of the relationship we need to have with the child. We need them to pay attention so that we can do our job (and you can do yours), but it’s difficult if we have to step out of our role as the Interpreter and in into the role as an authority figure and tell them to “pay attention and behave”. We will interpret your direction to the child, but you must be the one to levy it if they are not behaving or doing what they need to do.


With regard to Deaf children; only 10% of Deaf children come from Deaf parents, 90% of Deaf children come from hearing parents. This means that most likely, not always, but oftentimes they do not have a good language model until they reach school age. Adults learn language slower than children do, it’s physiological. As we grow older our brain’s ability to learn language decreases. When children enter school and are surrounded by Signers, their language will increase significantly, and quickly. Now, with all children, however, have you ever truly listened to any child speak? Any language. It is never grammatically correct. They are still learning their native language. This is expected. They may not understand everything that an Interpreter says to them, they may not ask questions, so the Interpreter doesn’t know they don’t comprehend, and there is a disconnect. The Interpreter may not understand them right away and have to ask questions to clarify what they are talking about, which can frustrate the child. It’s not the Interpreters lack of skill, but the child’s lack of ability to communicate in their language most often that causes this issue. If we had stronger communication in those homes right away to develop better language skills, there may not be as many “language and communication bumps” in those early years. Understanding that this occurs, is key to realizing Interpreters have difficult jobs with young children. Much like I was frustrated in preschool gym, interpreting the activities to a bunch of active youngsters who were excited to be out of class and looked like little pieces of popcorn bouncing all over the room…impossible to corral and get their attention, and when I did, the only way to explain the activity was to show them.


How do you talk with children? Like I explained above, sometimes it’s best to show them. I call it playing charades. What’s important is that communication happens, not how you communicated it. Draw a picture. Do whatever you need to do in order to get the child to understand what you are saying. I’m the type of Interpreter who doesn’t give up until I figure out a way to get it across. Use their native language, then move to something else if that doesn’t work. If the Interpreter you have doesn’t seem to work, get a different one. Not every Interpreter is meant to work with children. Some people just can’t break information down in a way that children can understand. There is a certification that is available for Sign Language Interpreters specifically for the K-12 setting called the EIPA, the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment. This test was created with the idea that children are not grammatically correct and that their language has not been developed yet. The test uses children in its videos for the test and during the scoring process, it specifically looks for issues that concern children and the educational process. This test shows that Interpreters know how to work with children and are prepared for the educational setting.


If you have a legal situation involving children, you might want to ask how much experience the Interpreter has with children, especially if they are young children. If you would like a quality interpretation this would be my highest recommendation. Children will also of course communicate better if they are comfortable. Using an Interpreter, they have used before would be preferable. They know how the Interpreter communicates and the Interpreter knows how the child communicates. This will make for a more accurate and effective situation. This same technique should be used for mental health situations. Mental Health and Legal situations can be very scary for anyone and especially for a child. Its often emotional, personal, and full of anxiety. A familiar face and form of communication can ease all of that and help the process move forward.


If you notice an Interpreter becoming too close with a child, it may be time for that Interpreter to move on. Have a conversation with staff and family and the Interpreter about how long they have worked with the child and the dynamic of the relationship. Although what has been said about comfort is true, it can also be a hindrance to the child. At some point in the educational process, you want the child to become used to different Interpreters and types of communication. It will help their language growth and aid in their maturity.


Working with children is never easy. Every child is different and every situation is unique. To sound completely cliché though, “They are our future”.


Global Interpreting Services has been doing this for over 25 years. Seeing a child grow through the educational system from preschool to graduation and on to college is rewarding. The child deserves all the credit, we just enjoy watching the journey

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan