Role of an Interpreter. A sign language interpreter conveys spoken and signed information so that all individuals can communicate fully. They sign what you say, and ‘voice’ what students sign to them.

An interpreter cannot:

  • Answer personal questions about the student
  • Interject personal opinions
  • Participate in discussions
  • Take notes
  • Assist the student with school work
  • Hand out papers
  • Attend class when the student is absent

Code of Conduct. Interpreters are highly skilled professionals who follow a strict code of conduct which requires:

  • Confidentiality
  • Rendering the message faithfully
  • Neutrality
  • Discretion
  • Mannerisms appropriate to the situation
  • Preparation
  • Professionalism

You can be assured that any private conversations you have with a student will remain confidential.

Strategies for Partnering with Interpreters. In addition to the strategies outlined in the Best Teaching Practices section of the website in regard to classroom environment, being aware of your pace, and following communication guidelines that will ensure all students’ access, consider the following strategies:

  1. On the first day of class introduce yourself to the interpreter(s).

  2. Always speak directly to the deaf/hh student, rather than to the interpreter. In particular, avoid asking the interpreter to tell the student anything, or to help with classroom instruction, or answer questions addressed to the class. Speak to the student directly and the interpreter will interpret what you say.

  3. Be aware that is the interpreter’s job to interpret everything you say, including any asides addressed to other students in the class, or to the interpreter.

  4. As with all of our recommendations, ask for advice from the deaf/hh students and the interpreter regarding their preferences for handling any confusing or complex communication issues. If you sense that the interpreter is struggling with classroom content, address this with the interpreter after class.

  5. Be patient when an interpreter voices for students. If you do not understand the student’s question or statement, ask for it to be repeated, and keep in mind that the interpreter may need time to clarify what the student has said.

  6. If access to a course website, virtual lab, or learning management system (LMS) is limited to students, include the interpreter(s) on the class list to enable him/her to prepare for class. If emails are sent to students, include the interpreter(s) in these distributions.

  7. Be aware that it is your responsibility to set-up video conferencing software (e.g. Zoom) correctly so the interpreter can be seen by both you and the students.

  8. Give interpreters co-host permissions for virtual classes so they can spotlight themselves and easily change which interpreter is spotlighted as needed.

  9. Provide interpreters with advance copies of any written materials, including printed lab procedures and vocabulary lists. This will allow them to review the material in preparation for your lecture.

  10. In a lab or studio, if a substitute interpreter is present who is not familiar with the lab’s procedures, take extra care to ensure that communication is clear regarding safety issues, pointing to equipment, describing procedures, etc.

  11.  Be aware when assigning students to work in groups, that the interpreters have to join those groups as well. Talk with the interpreters for strategies before assigning groups. There may not be enough interpreters in the room to support all of your deaf/hh students if they are in different groups.

  12. In any class that is longer than an hour, provide a break for the interpreter(s) on at least an hourly basis.

  13. Avoid using phrases like “using an interpreter in my class”. Instead use “working with an interpreter” or “partnering with an interpreter”. This will set the tone that you working as a team to provide the best access for your student. Interpreters are people, not tools.

As a deaf/HH student, what would you like teachers to be aware of regarding interpreting services? – Ana


National Deaf Center – Sign Language Interpreters: An Introduction

National Deaf Center – Sign Language Interpreters in the Classroom

National Deaf Center – Interpreters and Confidentiality

National Deaf Center – Interpreting: Coordinating Interpreting Services

National Deaf Center – Best Practices in Access: Hiring Qualified Interpreters