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.