Best Practices for Communicating Through an Interpreter
Meet with the interpreter beforehand.
Interpreter translates orally for parties conversing in different languages so clarify unique vocabulary, technical terms, acronyms, jargon, seating arrangements, lighting, etc…
Provide interpreter with any written materials ahead of time.
Reserve seats for the deaf and hard of hearing participants. Deaf or hard of hearing participants may still choose to sit elsewhere.
Provide a clear view of the speaker and interpreter. The interpreter should be stationed for clear sight line by the deaf participants. This helps the participants to pick up visual clues and the speaker’s facial expressions.
Use as many visuals as possible (board, powerpoint, graphics).
Provide paper copies of your presentation for the deaf participants.
In small group discussions, consider using a circle or semi-circle seating arrangement instead of a theater style arrangement.
Provide good lighting so the interpreter can be seen.
If lights will be turned off or dimmed, be sure the interpreter can still be seen clearly (use spotlight or small lamp to direct light toward the interpreter).
Do not stand in front of a window as it throws your face in shadow and makes your face hard to see.
Adjust blinds and drapes for best light.
Talk Directly to the Deaf/HH Person
Maintain eye contact with the deaf or hard of hearing person.
Avoid directing comments to the interpreter (i.e. “Tell him…” or “Ask her…”), respond directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person. Talk through the interpreter.
If you do not understand the deaf person, ask the interpreter to voice what the deaf person said.
Speak at your normal or slightly slower pace.
Interpreters will ask you to slow down or repeat if necessary.
Stay in one area. Avoid pacing. Face the audience. Use overheads instead of the blackboard.Interpreters listen for concepts and ideas, not just words, to render an accurate interpretation.
Do not cover your mouth.
Avoid Private Conversations.
Whatever the interpreter hears will be interpreted.
Do not ask the interpreter to censor any portion of the conversation.
Ask the deaf or hh person directly if they are following the conversation.
Only one person should speak at a time.
An interpreter can only accommodate one speaker at a time.Encourage the group to follow this rule.
If you are facilitating a group discussion, be aware that the interpreter will be several seconds behind.
Pause before recognizing the next speaker to allow the interpreter to finish with the current speaker.
Avoid Asking the Interpreter for Opinions or Comments Regarding the Content of the Meeting
Interpreters follow a code of ethics which requires impartiality and confidentiality with all assignment related information.
Do not assume the interpreter has prior knowledge of the deaf person or will be interpreting future appointments.
Provide a Short Break Every Hour, Particularly if the Interpreter is the Sole Interpreter
Interpreting is mentally and physically taxing.
Do not expect the interpreter to interpret during these breaks.
The consumer needs an “eye break” as well.
Interpreter Availability at the Event and Using Them
If an interpreter is available at the event, use them when you are talking to the deaf person. Even if you interact with the deaf person without sign language in everyday situations, it is culturally appropriate to ask the interpreter to meet with you and the deaf person to ensure comfortable and stress free communications. This is especially true at all deaf events where you might be the minority. There are cultural norms of expected behavior and communication and it is considered courteous to make use of the interpreter.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 1st August, 2011 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness