Working With an Interpreter

Working with a Professional Interpreter makes good business sense!


  • Miscommunication
  • Serious Liability
  • Confidentiality Issues
  • Loss of Precious Time

Interpreting IS…

The Interpreter’s job is to facilitate communication.

Interpreting is a complex process requiring native-like fluency in at least two languages (American Sign Language and Spoken English) to bridge the communication gap. The interpreter must understand the meaning of the message being communicated in one language and determine how to convey that meaning in the other language. Information the interpreter hears is conveyed to the Deaf person. Information the Deaf person expresses is conveyed to other people present. The interpreter must present that message in a way that captures the intent and emotion of the person giving the message.

The ability to converse in sign does not qualify a person to interpret. Many people often confuse individuals who can converse in sign language with professional interpreters.  However, just because an individual possesses the ability to communicate in sign does not qualify a person to interpret. A qualified interpreter is an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

Qualified interpreters typically study about two to five years just in the study of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture. Then they move on for two to five more years to complete interpreter training. This all leads to skill building to pass certification tests. All Certified professionals must fulfill their required annual continuing education to enhance their interpreting skills.

Differences between a Sign Language Interpreter and a Signer

Interpreting IS NOT…

Professional boundaries must be clearly defined in order for the Interpreter to function appropriately.

The interpreter’s responsibility is to bridge communication gaps through use of American Sign Language, spoken English, cultural mediation, and knowledge about accessibility. The interpreter is not an advisor.

Ethics of Interpreting…

  • Professional interpreters have a strict Code of Professional Conduct.
  • All interpreted information is confidential.
  • The interpreter cannot interfere, advise, or interject personal opinions into interpreted situations.

Helpful Tips

Speak in the first person.  Avoid such phrases as “Tell her” and “Explain to him.”

Be aware that the interpreter will try to position her/himself next to you, so that the Deaf client may benefit from  your non-verbal/ non-manual cues.

Speak in your normal tone, at your normal pace.  The interpreter will tell you if you need to pause or slow down.

Allow for one message at a time. Speaking one at a time during discussions gives the Deaf person (and the interpreter) a clearer understanding of the content.

When reading extensively from written material, consider supplying a copy to the Deaf client.  When this is not possible, be aware of the pace of your speech.

When distributing agendas, outlines, or other instructional materials to be referenced during a presentation, offer one to the interpreter as well.

Obtain captioned versions of videotapes to be shown.

Maintain enough light for the interpreter to be seen during presentations.

Be aware of their line of sight. The Deaf person should be able to see all important visual messages (the interpreter, speaker, other participants, TV, Board, etc.). This may require flexible seating assignments for each activity.

Summaries of upcoming discussions, key vocabulary, videos, presentation materials, and special events can give the interpreter the necessary background knowledge to interpret new facts and concepts and become more become familiar with the terminology.

Be aware that the interpreter must interpret everything said.  Avoid discussing subjects you do not wish the Deaf client to know.

Try to avoid personal conversations with the interpreter during the professional situation.

Interpreting is physically and mentally draining. Taking the steps to rest periodically allows the interpreter to perform better and to avoid cumulative motion injuries.

Occupational Safety Guidelines may require use of additional interpreters to facilitate communication. For more information, please see team interpreting.

Relax.  If you are unsure of the appropriate way to proceed in a particular situation, Just Ask!

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Citation of this Document: Frasu, Amy. “Working with an ASL-English Interpreter & Providing Visual Accessibility for Deaf Consumers.” Deaf Linx. . 15 October 2009.