hispanic family

Engaging Families When an Interpreter is Needed

Written by Sheena Jennings and Maria Zuluaga

It is important for early interventionists to ensure a family’s participation on the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team throughout all aspects of the program including: referral, evaluation and assessment, intervention planning, ongoing provision of supports and services, and transition.  The importance of the family’s role as partners and decision-makers in the early intervention process should be reflected in the information we provide as well as our actions.   Parents’ active involvement and understanding of the program will enhance their family’s ability to meet the needs of their infant and toddler.  For families who speak a language other than English or who use another mode of communication (e.g. sign language), conveying this message and ensuring their participation on the IFSP team and during intervention sessions can present some challenges.  Communication between the interpreter and early intervention staff is very important, and this starts with identifying the role of the interpreter during each visit.

Below are some tips for working with interpreters in an early intervention setting:

  •  At the beginning of a relationship with a family, always clarify the family’s preference for receiving verbal and written communication.  What is their native language or mode of communication?   If they speak a language with dialects, confirm which dialect is most familiar.
  • Introduce the interpreter to the family, describe each person’s role, and clarify mutual expectations.  This includes informing the family that interpreters hold the same standards for confidentiality that you do.
  • Always address your communication and remarks to the family or child (not the interpreter). Remember, the interpreter is your voice with the family and child.
  • Make eye contact with the family and observe their nonverbal communication.  A parent’s body language tunes you into his or her comfort level with the interaction.
  • Take responsibility for the communication of your message and manage the content –
    • Use positive tone of voice and body language that conveys respect for and interest in the family.
    • Be cautious with body language – you can say a lot without speaking a word.
    • Speak clearly and more slowly if needed (not more loudly).
    • Limit your communication to a few sentences at a time.
    • Take appropriate pauses so that information can be interpreted with accuracy.
    • Avoid technical jargon, idioms or slang.
    • Avoid oversimplification and condensing important explanations.
    • Give instructions in a clear, logical sequence.
    • Periodically check on the family’s understanding by asking them if they have any questions.  Allow time for them to think and answer.
  • Remember that the interpreter is there to interpret everything said during the session – so if you do not want it repeated, do not speak it out loud.
  • Be patient and be prepared for the additional time that will most likely be required for careful interpretation.

Adapted from ‘Tips or Working with Interpreters’, Illinois Early Intervention Program

Use of a professional interpreter is a must when there is a need to meet a native language requirement according to Part C of IDEA (IFSP meetings and procedural safeguards).  It is also best practice and is recommended when discussing sensitive or complex content. During other interactions with families, such as intervention sessions, careful consideration should be taken when using informal supports, such as family members or friends.

Resources and Links Related to Use of Interpreters

ASHA – Collaborating with Interpreters and Translators

American Translators Association – Interpreting Getting it Right

Tips for Working with a Sign Language Interpreter

Developing and Implementing IFSPs, Issues to Consider When Working with Interpreters– Maryland Department of Education


2 Responses to Engaging Families When an Interpreter is Needed

  1. Maggie Panther July 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Very useful overview – thank you!

    • Julie Higginbotham July 18, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      You’re welcome – glad it was helpful!!

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