If your deaf student’s primary language is Auslan, then most of your communications – either one-to-one or in the classroom – will occur through an Auslan/English interpreter.

There are a few things that if you understand them, will assist you with working with an interpreter.

The interpreters’ job is – somewhat obviously – to interpret between two languages, in this case Auslan and English.  This is not as simple as it sounds.  It is a highly cognitive activity that requires the interpreter to take in the message in the source language, understand its meaning, remove the source language and rebuild the message in the target language.  This is done in real time.  It is not just the lexical items (words and signs) that need to be deconstructed and reconstructed, it is also the grammar and syntax that needs to be as well.  Often there is a mismatch between how a concept is expressed in one language as compared to the other.  In addition, interpreters must consider cultural norms of the two language groups when they render their interpretation.

You can perhaps begin to see how this is a demanding task that does not equate to the notion of a word-for-word (or word-for-sign), exact transfer of meaning.  It is an approximation of meaning between the two languages.  And even though this will be happening in real time, it is not instantaneous.  You will find as you watch and listen that, at times, there is a gap of time whilst the interpreting process occurs.

Interpreters are bound by a Code of Ethics which requires that they faithfully convey the communication between the parties.  Anything that is uttered will be interpreted, ethically it has to be so.  If something does not want to be interpreted, it must remain unspoken or unsigned.  As well – whilst ever present – interpreters do not participate in the communication themselves.

When using an interpreter to facilitate communication, please make sure that you speak directly to your deaf student and maintain eye contact with him or her, saying “Can I ask you …” rather than looking at the interpreter and saying “Can you ask him or her such and such …” and when the interpreter interprets from Auslan into English, you will hear this in the first person, such as “I’m glad you asked me that question …”.

The interpreter will stand or sit – as appropriate – as closely as possible to you and this is to allow your deaf student to see you as well as the interpreter.

Elsewhere on this site you can find information about working with interpreters in specific learning environments.


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