Classroom Interpreters - What does an Educational Interpreter do?
Use the appropriate modality and language
It often is a surprise to professionals new to signed communication that there are different forms of signing used in the schools. One of the first choices an educational team must make is which communication modality and language is the best fit for the student. In some states, such as Colorado. The IEP team must develop a communication plan that defines the communication approach used with that student. You can download Colorado’s communication plan, which has been mandated by the Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights. Choices include:
Modality: Speech, sign, or some combination of both. Many students rely on both auditory and sign communication. Others can succeed with only speech. Some need only sign language in that the speech input provides little useful information, and may be distracting to some children.
Language: Broadly speaking these are the types of sign language used in schools today.
American Sign Language: The deaf community in American has developed its own visual language that has its origins in the early 1800’s. Most deaf adults use some version of ASL and support of ASL is a strong cultural characteristic of the deaf community in the US.
It is important to note that most deaf adults are bilingual in ASL and English to varying degrees. Some deaf adults will sign using more English grammar. Often this is called Pidgin Sign English or PSE. In reality, PSE is probably a creolized language in that it is rich and complex, and is often used in complicated communication environments, such as college classrooms.
Manually-Coded English, or MCE: In the 1970’s, educational professionals developed a version of signing that tried to replicate English exactly. They borrowed signs from ASL, invented new signs, and invented signs for elements of English that do not occur in ASL. There are various versions of English signing, or MCE, used in public schools. The most common includeSigning Exact English and Signed English.
For more information, see Marschark, M. (1997). Raising and educating a deaf child . New York: Oxford University Press.
Cued Speech: A visual communication system that uses handshapes, combined with speechreading. Intended to be used in combination with speech. See the national organization’s website.
This website cannot provide sufficient information to guide educational teams and families in this important decision. However, once a communication plan has been developed and the plan includes providing an educational interpreter, there are certain guidelines.
The educational interpreter should follow the modalities and language(s) that are determined by the educational team. The interpreter is an important member of this team and may be able to contribute information that would be useful in making communication decisions. Once these decisions have been made, the educational interpreter is on the front line in implementing the IEP and should use the modalities and language(s) decided on by the IEP team. It is important to keep in mind that these communication plans often evolve.
The educational interpreter should be proficient in the language that is required. There are some big differences between ASL and MCE systems. An interpreter who is proficient in one may not be fluent in the other. The student has a right to a fluent language user – we would not put someone with 3 semesters of English into a classroom for hearing children. You should know from external evaluation whether an educational interpreter is qualified in a particular language.
The educational interpreter may be expected to implement a communication plan that includes both spoken and signed communication. For many students, spoken communication is successful in some communication situations, but not others. Often the educational interpreter must help a student gain confidence and experience in spoken communication, while ensuring that the student does not miss essential information. The interpreter should receive training to understand what expectations the educational team has for spoken communication.