Classroom Interpreting

Regular Education Teachers - Classroom Discussion

In a typical classroom, there are two factors that work against each other, making it difficult for the deaf or hard of hearing student to learn and to participate:

  1. Good interpreting is delayed compared to the original language − The interpreter often needs to hear whole sentences before he or she can interpret them. An effective interpretation may lag one to two sentences behind the speaker’s language.

  2. Teacher/student dialogue occurs at a fast pace − Good learning environments involve teacher and student dialogue, which often happens at a fast pace. Teachers ask questions, students answer, and everyone moves on.

These two factors make participation much more difficult for a student learning through an interpreter. By the time the student sees the teacher’s question in its interpreted version, another student has likely answered the question. Many deaf students report feeling frustrated and isolated because of this. This frustration often leads to the student becoming a passive learner, not an authentic member of the class.

A middle-school student who uses an interpreter said during an interview, “Sometimes, when I try to raise my hand, and I want to give an answer, the hearing students beat me to it. It’s hard for an interpreter to keep up so that I can also keep up with the hearing students.” *

The educational interpreter, the teacher, and the student must work together so that the student is able to participate in class discussions as a member, not an observer. By communicating with the interpreter, the teacher can learn more effective ways to structure discussions so that the student who is deaf or hard of hearing becomes an active participant in the classroom.

* From Kim Brown Kurz and Elizabeth Caldwell Langer publication - Student Perspectives on Educational Interpreting: 20 Deaf and Hard- of- Hearing Students Offer Insights and Suggestions, In Elizabeth Winston, editor, Educational Interpreting: How it can succeed. Gallaudet University Press, 2004.