Effective Collaboration with Interpreters

In our previous blog we discussed the importance of when to work with an interpreter.  Now let’s take some time to discuss some tips on how to best collaborate with an interpreter when testing the speech and language skills of students for whom English is not the first language.


We’ve broken it down into three parts:

  • Prior to testing

  • During testing

  • After testing

In all phases, when working with the interpreter, be sure you are speaking directly to the student, not the interpreter.  It is best to speak in short sentences, giving the interpreter time to translate.  Also, stay away from professional jargon – keep it user friendly!

Prior to testing

It is vital to the process that you are able to meet with the interpreter prior to beginning your testing.  You can do this on a prior day or before you start testing (we know time is never on a school-based SLP’s side).  During this meeting, you will need to walk through what you expect to accomplish during the testing session.

  • Allow the interpreter time to become familiar with the actual tests that will be administered.

  • Explain that what the student says must be interpreted as closely as possible into English, even if there are mistakes. Just as we record exactly what the student says, there will be times that the interpreter will need to record exactly what is said, even if there are errors.

  • Discuss allowable prompts and what NOT to say to the student. Ensure that the interpreter understands that we are trying to keep things as standardized as possible to get a true picture of what the student can and cannot do regarding speech and language.

During testing

Start with introductions (of course)! Make sure the student understands what each person’s role is. You may want to conduct these introductions in both the child’s native language as well as English to increase comprehension.

You may consider following up these introductions with a short conversation with the student.  This will allow the student to warm up to both of you.  Also, with the interpreter’s assistance, you may determine some valuable information regarding the give and take of conversation (including if the student responds appropriately to the interpreter).  What about with you in English? It may be a good idea to audio or videotape this.  Make sure the student knows that he or she can answer in either English or their native language.  Make note of which the student prefers.  If the student is responding in English (as many prefer to do), remind them or cue them to answer in their native language when they seem to not give an answer.  If the student struggles to provide an answer in their native language, prompt them for the answer in English.

Remember, our goal is to find out what speech and language skills the student has PERIOD – in either language!

Now you may be thinking, what language should I start testing in?

One tool we use is the student’s English proficiency which is derived from the CALP score to help determine if we want to start in English or the first language.  If the CALP score is 3.5 – 4, we recommend administering the test in English and then re-administering the missed items in the first language with the help of the interpreter.  If the CALP score is below 3.5, you may choose to administer the test in the first language and then re-administer missed items in English.  By doing it this way, you can better determine which may be considered the stronger language.

Whichever language you start with, it is a good idea to state the directions in English and then have the interpreter state the directions in the native language. This gives the student a better chance to understand the task he or she is expected to do.

When administering the test in the primary language, the interpreter would state the stimulus in the primary language.  The interpreter would write down exactly what the student says (for the expressive portions). You would probably need to take a break to review the expressive responses with the interpreter in order to determine which answers are correct or incorrect.  For the receptive parts, where the student is just pointing, the interpreter would present the stimulus and you can record the answer.

Keep in mind that testing with an interpreter takes longer so you will likely need more than one session to complete the evaluation.

After testing

Once testing is completed with the student for that session, you and the interpreter still have quite a bit to discuss! How did the student do during the initial conversation?  For answers recorded in the primary language, what did the client actually say?  What errors did the interpreter notice in the primary language?  What are the interpreter’s overall impressions of the student’s speech and language skills? How does this compare to what you have identified with their skills in English?

At this point it may or may not be necessary to arrange another time for the interpreter to come and assist in completion of testing.

ASHA provides some tips for school-based SLPs working with culturally and linguistically Diverse (CLD) students including collaborating with interpreters.

We would love to hear some of your tips for collaborating effectively with an interpreter.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will provide some tips on writing up the results of your evaluation.


How important IS that interpreter anyway?

If you ask us, pretty important!!!


We are coming across increasing numbers of ELL students in our schools – those who are bilingual or monolingual, whose first language is one other than English.  Are you noticing this where you work?

Many of us may not have access to a bilingual SLP for that student’s primary language.  Some of us may have a test normed with a Spanish speaking population, but there aren’t that many options out there…and languages other than Spanish? Nope!   Some of the students may be fluent in their native language but may tell you they prefer English.  Others may not speak fluently in either language.

Language difference does not equal language disorder!

There are also a variety of normal processes related to second language learning. Some of the students brought to our attention are just in the process of learning English.  As SLPs, we certainly want to identify if the student has a language impairment; however, we don’t want to place them in special education if their primary language is within normal limits and they are learning English typically.

So when is it necessary to collaborate with an interpreter?  Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not.

For the student who uses very little English, you would typically use an interpreter (if a bilingual SLP is not available) – kind of a no-brainer.  For the student who speaks some or quite a bit of English, you have to determine in which language he is stronger; how well does he understand and speak English?  One thing to look at is his CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) level.  A student can receive a score of 1-6 (negligible-very advanced).  In our experience, a CALP score of 4 (fluent) or lower, would necessitate working with an interpreter for some level of testing in the first language.  If the CALP score is above 4, the individual should have enough English to take standardized tests; however, it is possible the student has some language skills in the first language that are not present in English – collaboration with interpreters can help you discern these skills. Also, the student may still be demonstrating some of those normal processes of second language acquisition we just talked about!

Gaining background information and a case history from the parent(s) is also vital to making accurate determinations with ELL students. You may need an interpreter when doing this – whether through questionnaires or interviews.  The answers to some of the questions can help point you in certain directions during your assessment. For example, maybe there are other siblings in the household and parents indicate that this child did not develop language at the same rate as the other child(ren).  That’s a big red flag.  But it doesn’t automatically mean this student is disordered in their first language and lead you to believe that you don’t need an interpreter!

Think of the role of the interpreter and the purpose of your testing. You need to determine if the student has a language disorder. You have to tease out if what the student demonstrated difficulties with is due to second language acquisition or due to a language impairment. The interpreter will be invaluable in helping you through this process.

Certified interpreters are definitely the best for this process! They are specially trained to work with professionals in administering assessments. Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will discuss some tips on effective collaboration with interpreters.

How do you determine when to call in an interpreter? Comment below

Proving your value as a school-based SLP

A post by Elissa…

teacher appreciationletter

During my first year as a speech-language pathologist, a CF, in the school system, I had an interesting conversation with a classroom teacher. I was walking down the hall one day (who knows where I was headed- to pick up a student, to attend a meeting, to talk to a teacher…). She was standing at the door and commented, “I wish I could walk around all day…how do I become a speech teacher?”

I’m sure the look on my face was priceless and I took in this statement and calmly responded as non-condescendingly as possible. I don’t remember my exact words but it was something to the effect of, “Well after I completed my undergraduate degree I spent 5 semesters getting my Master’s degree including practicum experience in about 5 different settings…”

Silence, wide eyes…and, “Oooooohhhhh, maybe not”

That was the first (and definitely not the last) time that I had to justify my worth and the value I add to the students, the teachers, the classrooms, the school.

It’s frustrating, right? Who really understands what we do?

“why does he go to speech; he talks fine”

“you can’t pull him from reading, it’s really hard for him”

“why do you need bigger room?”

Even better “why do you need your own room?”

So whose job is it to show everyone what you have to offer? Only you can!!

Most non-SLPs are really never going to fully understand your role but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

Some ways I’ve done this include:

  • Trainings for staff (and parents) on communication disorders:

highlight the relationship between language and the curriculum

highlight the relationship between articulation/phonology and phonemic awareness/reading

share the impact of a social language impairment

teach about the communication impairments associated with some of the common syndromes or disabilities

invite administrators to observe some of your sessions-I know they’re busy but keep trying to get them in there

  • Go into the general education classrooms – even if you pick one room, one teacher…word of mouth is powerful and good news travels fast!


  • Be seen in the school – don’t hide out in your room; eat lunch with staff; get in on their conversations about struggling students – give suggestions to show what you know


  • Give your students tools to be successful in the classroom so they can show what you are capable of – and share them with the teachers


  • Take on an extra responsibility in your school – I know you are already SO busy but even a small effort can make a huge difference. You may be pleasantly surprised by the things that get offered to you after that – and of course you can say no!

What are some of the ways you have had to advocate for yourself and show your value in the schools you serve? Comment below…