Language Interpreters and Translators Bridging Communication With Clients and Families Features
Features  |   April 01, 2002
Language Interpreters and Translators
Author Notes
  • Henriette W. Langdon, is associate professor of communicative disorders and sciences at San José State University in San José, CA. Contact her by email at
    Henriette W. Langdon, is associate professor of communicative disorders and sciences at San José State University in San José, CA. Contact her by email at×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Features
Features   |   April 01, 2002
Language Interpreters and Translators
The ASHA Leader, April 2002, Vol. 7, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.07062002.14
The ASHA Leader, April 2002, Vol. 7, 14-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.07062002.14
Continuous immigration throughout the globe is reflected in a greater diversity of languages spoken in many communities throughout the United States and many other nations. As many as 200 different languages are spoken in Chicago alone, 140 in California, 80 in Palm Beach, 67 in Tempe, AZ, and 60 in Plano, TX. Turkish, Arabic, and Creole French are currently spoken in France, while Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, and Portuguese are spoken in Germany.
The slower pace in assimilating and acquiring the majority language of many immigrants has implications for effective communication between clinicians and clients and their families. There are currently approximately 2,000 or 2% of ASHA members who have identified themselves as bilingual clinicians, but the clinician’s other language may not match that of the client.
Collaborating with an interpreter/translator is therefore necessary to bridge communication between client and clinician. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that clients must be assessed in their primary language, but there are no guidelines or procedures on how the team of language interpreter/ translator-clinician should work together.
The services of an interpreter have been used during international conferences and in other contexts, such as interpreting for the deaf for legal and medical purposes. Research on best practices is scarce, and what research does exist focuses primarily on other professions that use the services of an interpreter/translator. The points listed below are based on practices followed in other fields that use the services of an interpreter/translator, my own experience as a speaker of four languages, and feedback from other bilingual clinicians and interpreters.
Some Definitions
  • An interpreter is someone who translates spoken language from one language to another.

  • A translator translates written documents from one language to another.

  • Interpretation can be simultaneous or consecutive. In simultaneous interpretation, the interpreter conveys a message in the other language at the same time as it is presented by the clinician or the client. In consecutive interpreting, there is a pause between the clinician’s or client’s statements and the translation into the other language.

Roles and Responsibilities of an Interpreter/Translator
  • Knowledge of two languages is not sufficient to qualify someone as an interpreter. Interpretation and translation are complex processes requiring in-depth knowledge of two languages and two cultures, familiarity with specific vocabulary, and understanding of procedures used in a given profession.

  • Successful interpretation depends on the integration of two different verbal and non-verbal communication sets. The dynamics of an interview or a conference are different from that of an assessment and must be considered.

  • An interpreter/translator should have high oral and written proficiency in two languages to convey the meaning intended by the speaker and to adapt to a variety of communication styles, including speech differences caused by a disability.

  • Important qualities to complete a successful interpretation or translation include neutrality, confidentiality, and honesty.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Clinician
  • The clinician should watch the length and pace of what is said so that the interpreter can render the same meaning in the other language.

  • Sole reliance on test results should be avoided. There are very few tests in languages other than English or Spanish. Even if tests have been normed with Spanish speakers, normative data were not obtained with the assistance of an interpreter.

  • Translation of tests should be avoided because the level of difficulty of words varies across languages, and there might not be equivalents of certain terms in other languages. Alternative assessment methods should be implemented. A qualitative description of the client’s communication strengths and challenges will assist in identifying areas of need.

  • Consulting with an interpreter regarding relevance of materials and language patterns is advisable. However, the final diagnosis is the clinician’s responsibility.

  • Interpreters/ translators should not be asked to perform their job at the last minute.

Following the BID Procedure
Preparation is important, and following a three-step briefing, interaction, and debriefing (BID) process ensures a more successful outcome.
During the briefing step, the clinician and the interpreter review the client’s background information and outline the purpose of the conference, interview, or assessment. Seating arrangements and type of interpreting are planned.
During the interaction step, the interpreter and the clinician should work as a team. All members should address the client and family directly. Saying something like “Tell Mr. X that…” should be avoided. The clinician should always be present even if an interpreter has been trained in using specific assessment instruments.
Monitoring the interpreter’s administration of a given task and the client’s reactions is the responsibility of the clinician. In all cases, the interpreter should remain neutral and act as a bridge between the clinician and the client.
The third step, debriefing, should not be skipped. At the end of a conference or assessment, the interpreter and the clinician should review the process.
Afterward, a follow-up plan for action such as bringing clients back or referring them to another professional or agency may be necessary.
Where We Are
Although clinicians have been working with interpreters for quite some time, neither party has been consistently prepared to work with the other. The process has been complicated by a high turnover of interpreters. Typically, these individuals’ assignments are temporary or part-time, and they are not adequately compensated for their services.
Working with an interpreter is necessary to evaluate a client’s primary language in the absence of a bilingual clinician who speaks the client’s language.
Finally, documentation of successful procedures should be collected through research in this emergent area of our field.
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April 2002
Volume 7, Issue 6