Tips for Using Sign-Language Interpreters

What is the role of the sign language interpreter?

An interpreter's role is to facilitate communication between signed and spoken languages. Interpreters sign everything that is spoken and voice everything that is signed. They also abide by a strict Code of Professional Conduct. They are to transmit the message by maintaining the original intent and meaning of the speaker to the receiver. Interpreters are to remain neutral and do not share personal opinions or advice. Furthermore, interpreters are obligated to respect confidentiality.

Working with an interpreter: Some Tips

  • Before the class starts, it is helpful to meet with the interpreter(s) to explain what will be covered. Provide the interpreter(s) with a copy of the course syllabus and/or other print materials for review and to follow as the class progresses.
  • Provide a location for the interpreter. The Deaf student needs to have a line of sight to view the professor or lecturer, overhead or Power Point presentations, and the interpreter.
  • Speak directly to the deaf student, not the interpreter. For example, say "Do you have your homework?" rather than "Does he/she have his/her homework?"
  • Direct eye contact. While direct contact is valued particularly in one-to-one interactions, direct eye contact on the part of the Deaf individual is not always possible, as the Deaf individual will need to watch the interpreter, as he/she signs.
  • Try to face the class when you speak. Some Deaf students prefer to follow a lecture through lip reading and use the interpreter as a backup when they cannot understand.
  • Repeat other students' questions. This will allow the interpreter to make sure he/she does not miss the questions especially if they are asked in the back.
  • Speak clearly, in a normal tone, and at a normal pace. If there is a problem with keeping up, the interpreter or the Deaf student may ask the speaker to slow down or repeat a word or sentence for clarification.
  • Ensure deaf students' participation. Remember that the interpreter is a few words behind the speaker. Therefore, allow time for the Deaf student to obtain all the information and ask questions.
  • When there are audio-visual presentations, allow the Deaf student time In order to follow along with the presentation, the student will need time to watch the instructor, as well as to look at what is being displayed visually. If possible, provide "advance copies" of the visual presentation to the Deaf student prior to the presentation.
  • Give the Deaf student sufficient time to read any written materials before you speak.Deaf students receive their information visually. If you speak while they are reading, they will not be able to watch the interpreter and read simultaneously.
  • Use overheads or handouts. This is especially important when you will be reading extensive passages aloud. Rather than having to watch the interpreter, the student can read the passages in print. If you cannot provide written materials or cite a page number in the students' text, remember to speak at a normal pace. Most people speed up when they read written materials aloud.
  • Permit only one person to speak at a time during group discussions. It is difficult for an interpreter to follow several people speaking at once. Ask for a brief pause between speakers to permit the interpreter to finish before the next speaker starts. It can be helpful to ask people to raise their hands and wait to speak after they have been recognized. This allows the Deaf student to see who is commenting.
  • Provide good lighting for the interpreter. If the interpreting situation requires darkening the room to view slides, videotapes, films, or overheads, auxiliary lighting is necessary so that the Deaf person can see the interpreter. If a small lamp or spotlight cannot be obtained, check to see if room lights can be dimmed or a door or window shade can be opened to provide enough light to see the interpreter.
  • Interpreters work in teams. The interpreting process requires continual short-term memory usage and conceptual processing. To maintain a high level of interpreting, teams relieve one another. Both are working throughout the class session. The "off" interpreter provides support and feedback to their team.

For additional information or further assistance, please contact:

Disability Programs & Resource Center (DPRC)
Tel.: (415) 338-2472 (voice/TTY)
Fax: (415) 338-1041

Partially based on an original document courtesy of the San Francisco Mayor's Office on Disability