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Interpreter duties for the role of  Interpreter,

What is the Role of Intepreter ?

The role of an interpreter varies from one environment to another the information below has been developed to help interpreters get familiar with the role of an language interpreter duties for Medical, legal, Community and Educational Interpreters. The definitions pertaining to the Interpreter role and responsibilities related to work and ethical considerations provided below have been developed by various internationally recognized associations, educational experts and authorities on the field of interpretation such as

  1. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (R.I.D)
  2. New York State Broad of Education
  3. American Translator Association (ATA)
  4. International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA)
  5. National Association Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
  6. US Federal Court System.
  7. National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare NCIH




Sign language interpreters roles and responsibilities

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) uphold high standards of professionalism and ethical conduct for interpreters. Embodied in this Code of Professional Conduct (formerly known as the Code of Ethics) are seven tenets setting forth guiding principles, followed by illustrative behaviors.

The tenets of this Code of Professional Conduct are to be viewed holistically and as a guide to professional behavior. This document provides assistance in complying with the code. The guiding principles offer the basis upon which the tenets are articulated. The illustrative behaviors are not exhaustive, but are indicative of the conduct that may either conform to or violate a specific tenet or the code as a whole.

When in doubt, the reader should refer to the explicit language of the tenet. If further clarification is needed, questions may be directed to the national office of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.

This Code of Professional Conduct is sufficient to encompass interpreter roles and responsibilities in every type of situation (e.g., educational, legal, medical). A separate code for each area of interpreting is neither necessary nor advisable.


It is the obligation of every interpreter to exercise judgment, employ critical thinking, apply the benefits of practical experience, and reflect on past actions in the practice of their profession. The guiding principles in this document represent the concepts of confidentiality, linguistic and professional competence, impartiality, professional growth and development, ethical business practices, and the rights of participants in interpreted situations to informed choice. The driving force behind the guiding principles is the notion that the interpreter will do no harm.

When applying these principles to their conduct, interpreters remember that their choices are governed by a "reasonable interpreter" standard. This standard represents the hypothetical interpreter who is appropriately educated, informed, capable, aware of professional standards, and fair-minded.



1. Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.

2. Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.

3. Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation.

4. Interpreters demonstrate respect for consumers.

5. Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession.

6. Interpreters maintain ethical business practices.

7. Interpreters engage in professional development.


A. This Code of Professional Conduct applies to certified and associate members of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc., Certified members of the National Association of the Deaf, interns, and students of the profession.

B. Federal, state or other statutes or regulations may supersede this Code of Professional Conduct. When there is a conflict between this code and local, state, or federal laws and regulations, the interpreter obeys the rule of law.

C. This Code of Professional Conduct applies to interpreted situations that are performed either face-to-face or remotely.


For the purpose of this document, the following terms are used:

Colleagues: Other interpreters.

Conflict of Interest: A conflict between the private interests (personal, financial, or professional) and the official or professional responsibilities of an interpreter in a position of trust, whether actual or perceived, deriving from a specific interpreting situation.

Consumers: Individuals and entities who are part of the interpreted situation. This includes individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and hearing.


Tenet: Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters hold a position of trust in their role as linguistic and cultural facilitators of communication. Confidentiality is highly valued by consumers and is essential to protecting all involved.

Each interpreting situation (e.g., elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education, legal, medical, mental health) has a standard of confidentiality. Under the reasonable interpreter standard, professional interpreters are expected to know the general requirements and applicability of various levels of confidentiality. Exceptions include, for example, federal and state laws requiring mandatory reporting of abuse or threats of suicide, or responding to subpoenas.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

1.1 Share assignment-related information only on a confidential and "as-needed" basis (e.g., supervisors, interpreter team members, members of the educational team, hiring entities).

1.2 Manage data, invoices, records, or other situational or consumer-specific information in a manner consistent with maintaining consumer confidentiality (e.g., shredding, locked files).

1.3 Inform consumers when federal or state mandates require disclosure of confidential information.


Tenet: Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to stay abreast of evolving language use and trends in the profession of interpreting as well as in the American Deaf community.

Interpreters accept assignments using discretion with regard to skill, communication mode, setting, and consumer needs. Interpreters possess knowledge of American Deaf culture and deafness-related resources.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

2.1 Provide service delivery regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other factor.

2.2 Assess consumer needs and the interpreting situation before and during the assignment and make adjustments as needed.

2.3 Render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated, using language most readily understood by consumers, and correcting errors discreetly and expeditiously.

2.4 Request support (e.g., certified deaf interpreters, team members, language facilitators) when needed to fully convey the message or to address exceptional communication challenges (e.g. cognitive disabilities, foreign sign language, emerging language ability, or lack of formal instruction or language).

2.5 Refrain from providing counsel, advice, or personal opinions.

2.6 Judiciously provide information or referral regarding available interpreting or community resources without infringing upon consumers' rights.


Tenet: Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to present themselves appropriately in demeanor and appearance. They avoid situations that result in conflicting roles or perceived or actual conflicts of interest.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

3.1 Consult with appropriate persons regarding the interpreting situation to determine issues such as placement and adaptations necessary to interpret effectively.

3.2 Decline assignments or withdraw from the interpreting profession when not competent due to physical, mental, or emotional factors.

3.3 Avoid performing dual or conflicting roles in interdisciplinary (e.g. educational or mental health teams) or other settings.

3.4 Comply with established workplace codes of conduct, notify appropriate personnel if there is a conflict with this Code of Professional Conduct, and actively seek resolution where warranted.

3.5 Conduct and present themselves in an unobtrusive manner and exercise care in choice of attire.

3.6 Refrain from the use of mind-altering substances before or during the performance of duties.

3.7 Disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

3.8 Avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest that might cause harm or interfere with the effectiveness of interpreting services.

3.9 Refrain from using confidential interpreted information for personal, monetary, or professional gain.

3.10 Refrain from using confidential interpreted information for the benefit of personal or professional affiliations or entities.


Tenet: Interpreters demonstrate respect for consumers.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to honor consumer preferences in selection of interpreters and interpreting dynamics, while recognizing the realities of qualifications, availability, and situation.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

4.1 Consider consumer requests or needs regarding language preferences, and render the message accordingly (interpreted or transliterated).

4.2 Approach consumers with a professional demeanor at all times.

4.3 Obtain the consent of consumers before bringing an intern to an assignment.

4.4 Facilitate communication access and equality, and support the full interaction and independence of consumers.


Tenet: Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns and students of the profession.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to collaborate with colleagues to foster the delivery of effective interpreting services. They also understand that the manner in which they relate to colleagues reflects upon the profession in general.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

5.1 Maintain civility toward colleagues, interns, and students.

5.2 Work cooperatively with team members through consultation before assignments regarding logistics, providing professional and courteous assistance when asked and monitoring the accuracy of the message while functioning in the role of the support interpreter.

5.3 Approach colleagues privately to discuss and resolve breaches of ethical or professional conduct through standard conflict resolution methods; file a formal grievance only after such attempts have been unsuccessful or the breaches are harmful or habitual.

5.4 Assist and encourage colleagues by sharing information and serving as mentors when appropriate.

5.5 Obtain the consent of colleagues before bringing an intern to an assignment.


Tenet: Interpreters maintain ethical business practices.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to conduct their business in a professional manner whether in private practice or in the employ of an agency or other entity. Professional interpreters are entitled to a living wage based on their qualifications and expertise. Interpreters are also entitled to working conditions conducive to effective service delivery.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

6.1 Accurately represent qualifications, such as certification, educational background, and experience, and provide documentation when requested.

6.2 Honor professional commitments and terminate assignments only when fair and justifiable grounds exist.

6.3 Promote conditions that are conducive to effective communication, inform the parties involved if such conditions do not exist, and seek appropriate remedies.

6.4 Inform appropriate parties in a timely manner when delayed or unable to fulfill assignments.

6.5 Reserve the option to decline or discontinue assignments if working conditions are not safe, healthy, or conducive to interpreting.

6.6 Refrain from harassment or coercion before, during, or after the provision of interpreting services.

6.7 Render pro bono services in a fair and reasonable manner.

6.8 Charge fair and reasonable fees for the performance of interpreting services and arrange for payment in a professional and judicious manner.


Tenet: Interpreters engage in professional development.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to foster and maintain interpreting competence and the stature of the profession through ongoing development of knowledge and skills.

Illustrative Behavior - Interpreters:

7.1 Increase knowledge and strengthen skills through activities such as:
" pursuing higher education;
" attending workshops and conferences;
" seeking mentoring and supervision opportunities;
" participating in community events; and
" engaging in independent studies.

7.2 Keep abreast of laws, policies, rules, and regulations that affect the profession.

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American Translators Association

Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices

I. As a Translator or Interpreter, a bridge for ideas from one language to another and one culture to another, I commit myself to the highest standards of performance, ethical behavior, and business practices.

A. I will endeavor to translate or interpret the original message faithfully, to satisfy the needs of the end user(s). I acknowledge that this level of excellence requires:

1. mastery of the target language equivalent to that of an educated native speaker,

2. up-to-date knowledge of the subject material and its terminology in both languages,

3. access to information resources and reference materials, and knowledge of the tools of my profession,

4. continuing efforts to improve, broaden, and deepen my skills and knowledge.

B. I will be truthful about my qualifications and will not accept any assignments for which I am not fully qualified.

C. I will safeguard the interests of my clients as my own and divulge no confidential information.

D. I will notify my clients of any unresolved difficulties. If we cannot resolve a dispute, we will seek arbitration.

E. I will use a client as a reference only if I am prepared to name a person to attest to the quality of my work.

F. I will respect and refrain from interfering with or supplanting any business relationship between my client and my client's client.

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What is the Role of an language Interpreter ?



IMIA Code of Ethics (established in 1987 and revised in 2006)

The IMIA was the first organization to author an ethical code of conduct specifically for medical interpreters.

1. Interpreters will maintain confidentiality of all assignment-related information.

2. Interpreters will select the language and mode of interpretation that most accurately conveys the content and spirit of the messages of their clients.

3. Interpreters will refrain from accepting assignments beyond their professional skills, language fluency, or level of training.

4. Interpreters will refrain from accepting an assignment when family or close personal relationships affect impartiality.

5. Interpreters will not interject personal opinions or counsel patients.

6. Interpreters will not engage in interpretations that relate to issues outside the provision of health care services unless qualified to do so.

7. Interpreters will engage in patient advocacy and in the intercultural mediation role of explaining cultural differences/practices to health care providers and patients only when appropriate and necessary for communication purposes, using professional judgment.

8. Interpreters will use skillful unobtrusive interventions so as not to interfere with the flow of communication in a triadic medical setting.

9. Interpreters will keep abreast of their evolving languages and medical terminology.

10. Interpreters will participate in continuing education programs as available.

11. Interpreters will seek to maintain ties with relevant professional organizations in order to be up-to-date with the latest professional standards and protocols.
12. Interpreters will refrain from using their position to gain favors from clients.

At the core of this code of conduct are the twelve tenets above. These tenets are to be viewed holistically and as a guide to professional behavior. Members who do not adhere to the standards of practice or the code of ethics can be terminated.

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Nation Assoicaion Judiciary Interpreters and Translators


Code of Ethics and Professional Responcibilities


Many persons who come before the courts are non- or limited-English speakers. The function of court interpreters and translators is to remove the language barrier to the extent possible, so that such persons' access to justice is the same as that of similarly situated English speakers for whom no such barrier exists. The degree of trust that is placed in court interpreters and the magnitude of their responsibility necessitate high, uniform ethical standards that will both guide and protect court interpreters in the course of their duties as well as uphold the standards of the profession as a whole.

While many ethical decisions are straightforward, no code of ethics can foresee every conceivable scenario; court interpreters cannot mechanically apply abstract ethical principles to every situation that may arise. This Code is therefore intended not only to set forth fundamental ethical precepts for court interpreters to follow, but also to encourage them to develop their own, well-informed ethical judgment.


All NAJIT members are bound to comply with this Code.

1.  Accuracy

Source language speech should be faithfully rendered into the target language by conserving all the elements of the original message while accommodating the syntactic and semantic patterns of the target language. The rendition should sound natural in the target language, and there should be no distortion of the original message through addition or omission, explanation or paraphrasing. All hedges, false starts and repetitions should be conveyed; also, English words mixed into the other language should be retained, as should culturally bound terms which have no direct equivalent in English, or which may have more than one meaning. The register, style and tone of the source language should be conserved.

Guessing should be avoided. Court interpreters who do not hear or understand what a speaker has said should seek clarification. Interpreter errors should be corrected for the record as soon as possible.

2.  Impartiality and Conflicts of Interest

Court interpreters and translators are to remain impartial and neutral in proceedings where they serve, and must maintain the appearance of impartiality and neutrality, avoiding unnecessary contact with the parties.

Court interpreters and translators shall abstain from comment on cases in which they serve. Any real or potential conflict of interest shall be immediately disclosed to the Court and all parties as soon as the interpreter or translator becomes aware of such conflict of interest.

3.  Confidentiality

Privileged or confidential information acquired in the course of interpreting or preparing a translation shall not be disclosed by the interpreter or translator without authorization.

4.  Limitations of Practice

Court interpreters and translators shall limit their participation in those matters in which they serve to interpreting and translating, and shall avoid giving advice to the parties or otherwise engaging in activities that can be construed as the practice of law.

5.  Protocol and Demeanor

Court interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the standards and protocol of the court, and shall perform their duties as unobtrusively as possible. Court interpreters are to use the same grammatical person as the speaker. When it becomes necessary to assume a primary role in the communication, they must make it clear that they are speaking for themselves.


Court interpreters and translators shall strive to maintain and improve their interpreting and translation skills and knowledge.


Court interpreters and translators shall accurately represent their certifications, accreditations, training and pertinent experience.


Court interpreters and translators shall bring to the Court's attention any circumstance or condition that impedes full compliance with any of this Code, including interpreter fatigue, inability to hear, or inadequate knowledge of specialized terminology, and must decline assignments under conditions that make such compliance patently impossible.


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Code of Professional Responsibility
and Court Interpreter Protocol

Federally certified court interpreters are highly skilled professionals who bring to the judicial process specialized language skills, impartiality, and propriety in dealing with parties, counsel, the court, and the jury. All contract court interpreters, regardless of certification, are appointed by the court to serve the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1827. When interpreters are sworn in they become, for the duration of the assignment, officers of the court with the specific duty and responsibility of interpreting between English and the language specified.

In their capacity as officers of the court, contract court interpreters are bound by the following code of professional responsibility. Court interpreters shall willingly accept and agree to be bound by this draft code (Part A, below), and understand that appropriate sanctions may be imposed by the court for willful violations. Court interpreters should also follow the Interpreter's Protocol contained in Part B, below.

Part A. Draft Code of Professional Responsibility

  1. Court interpreters shall act strictly in the interests of the court they serve.
  2. Court interpreters shall reflect proper court decorum and act with dignity and respect to all court officials, staff and to the parties of all proceedings.
  3. Court interpreters shall avoid professional or personal conduct which could discredit the court.
  4. Court interpreters, except upon court order, shall not disclose any information of a confidential nature about court cases obtained while performing interpreting duties.
  5. Court interpreters shall respect the restraints imposed by the need for confidentiality and secrecy as protected under applicable federal and state law. Interpreters shall disclose to the court, and to the parties in a case, any prior involvement with that case, or private involvement with the parties or others significantly involved in the case.
  6. Court interpreters shall inform the court of any impediment in the observance of this Code or of any effort by another to cause this Code to be violated.
  7. Court interpreters shall work unobtrusively with full awareness of the nature of the proceedings.
  8. Court interpreters shall fulfill a special duty to interpret accurately and faithfully without indicating any personal bias, avoiding even the appearance of partiality.
  9. Court interpreters shall maintain impartiality by avoiding undue contact with witnesses, attorneys, and defendants and their families, and any contact with jurors. This should not limit, however, those appropriate contacts necessary to prepare adequately for their assignment.
  10. Court interpreters shall refrain from giving advice of any kind to any party or individual and from expressing personal opinion in a matter before the court.
  11. Court interpreters shall interpret to the best of their ability thereby assisting the court in providing due process for the parties. Court interpreters shall accurately state their professional qualifications and refuse any assignment for which they are not qualified or under conditions which substantially impair their effectiveness. They shall preserve the level of language used, and the ambiguities and nuances of the speaker, without any editing. Implicit in the knowledge of their limitations is the duty to correct any error of interpretation, and demonstrate their professionalism by requesting clarification of ambiguous statements or unfamiliar vocabulary and to analyze objectively any challenge to their performance. Interpreters have the duty to call to the attention of the court any factors or conditions which adversely affect their ability to perform adequately.
  12. Court interpreters shall not accept any remuneration, gifts, gratuities, or valuable consideration in excess of their authorized compensation in the performance of their interpreting duties. Additionally, they shall avoid any conflict of interest or even the appearance thereof.
  13. Court interpreters shall support other court interpreters by sharing knowledge and expertise with them to the extent practicable in the interests of the court, and by never taking advantage of knowledge obtained in the performance of interpreting duties, or by their access to court records, facilities, or privileges, for their own or another's personal gain.
  14. Interpreters should never accept any remuneration from any litigant, witness, or attorney in a case in which the interpreter is serving the court. Remuneration includes money and anything of service or value. Interpreters should not accept social invitations from a litigant, witness, or attorney in a case in which the interpreter is serving the court.

    In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, interpreters, upon realizing previous involvement in any aspect of pre-trial preparations of the assigned case, should notify the contracting officer or the contracting officer's technical representative, clerk, or judge, as appropriate, of the nature of such involvement, (i.e., taking of depositions, translation of documents, interviews with the defendant, and so on). The contracting officer or the contracting officer's technical representative, clerk, or judge will determine if any such previous involvement is detrimental to the impartiality of the interpreter.

Part B. Interpreter Protocol

  1. Interpreter's Role.  A court interpreter's role in the courtroom is to interpret questions and statements directed to the defendant/witness by legal counsel or the judge. If an intervention becomes necessary, e.g., to ask for clarification, interpreters should always address the judge.
  2. Personal Appearance.  Interpreters should always be neat and well groomed for court appearances. They should be unobtrusive and unbiased, never revealing through word or gesture their own impression or opinion of the proceedings.
  3. Accuracy of the Interpretation.  Interpreters must always deliver a faithful interpretation of the original words, even when the original message is incoherent or crude. In such instances, interpreters must resist the temptation to speak eloquently and logically. It is incorrect to convert imprecise witness testimony into a clear version in English. The judge and jury have the right to evaluate the witness' demeanor, tone, emotional response, and language. Thus, if a witness is evasive, repetitive, unresponsive, or simply makes no sense, interpreters must render an equal version into English. What may seem intolerable to a linguist may be very informative to a judge or jury, and court interpreters must never distort the original situation out of a desire to sound proper. Court interpreters who have a doubt about the meaning of the original message must ask for a clarification or repetition prior to translating the testimony at the stand. If possible, interpreters should consult with a colleague or ask for a recess if unsure of the meaning of a word or phrase.
  4. Length of Testimony and Interruption of the Speaker.  Although the source language speaker may make natural pauses during testimony to allow for the interpretation, at times due to the complexity or excessive length of an utterance, interpreters may not be able to retain the complete message unless the speaker is required to make additional pauses. When the need for such an interruption arises, interpreters should signal discreetly to the speaker to pause. This may be accomplished through a hand gesture, a nod of the head, or eye contact. On occasion, such a signal may not be sufficient, in which case interpreters may find it necessary to interrupt the speaker by beginning the interpretation. At times, when the witness fails to pause, as requested by the interpreter, the interpreter should ask the judge to make the necessary admonition.

    Defense attorneys and prosecutors, when posing questions during direct or cross-examination, should pause at appropriate intervals, enabling the interpreter to render accurately and completely the words into the target language. Attorneys should refrain from objecting or interrupting a witness until the full interpretation of the statement has been rendered for the record. If this occurs, the court interpreter should advise the judge.
  5. Note-Taking.  Interpreters should always be prepared to take notes when interpreting in the consecutive mode. It is strongly recommended that dates, numbers, proper names, lists, and addresses be written down. Note-taking should be simple, individualized, and designed to assist memory.
  6. Mathematical Conversions.  As a rule, interpreters must not make mathematical conversions or measurements; i.e., foreign currency denominations, meters into yards, kilos into pounds, and so on.
  7. Corrections by the Interpreter.  If the interpreter makes a mistake on the stand, it should be noted immediately by the interpreter to the judge for the record, or as soon as the interpreter becomes aware of the mistake. Corrections and disputes among team interpreters over interpretation should be handled discreetly and quietly, involving the court only if it is deemed necessary. If a correction is necessary, it should be whispered to the on-duty interpreter or written down on a note passed only to that interpreter.
  8. Challenges to the Interpretation.  When the interpreter first begins to interpret at the witness stand the judge will identify the court interpreter as a neutral party and an officer of the court, and explain that the interpreter's rendition in English will be the record, rather than the non-English rendition.

    At times, a bilingual attorney or other party, such as a witness, may challenge an interpretation during a proceeding. It should be remembered that interpreters are the language experts and have been qualified as such, either through examination or other means. Therefore, interpreters should be called aside (in the courtroom or at an official side bar) and given the opportunity to confront the challenge to the interpretation. If a party objects to the interpreter's choice of words, all effort should be made to allow the interpreter in question to explain, withdraw, or correct the interpretation before further action is taken.

    If an attorney or other party appropriately corrects the interpretation, the interpreter should state "the interpreter stands corrected" followed by the correct word or phrase. When not in concurrence with the correction, the interpreter should state "the interpreter stands by the interpretation." It is important to go on record to support or correct the interpretation. A record to support or correct the interpretation will reflect: (1) the question by the attorney; (2) the answer by the witness; (3) the objection by the attorney or other party; and (4) the interpreter and/or judicial determination as to whether the interpretation stands or is corrected. This creates a clear record to support the competence of the interpretation.

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Roles and Responsibilities of the Educational Interpreter

Definition of an Educational Interpreter   

An educational interpreter is an individual who facilitates communication among deaf and hearing persons in an educational environment through the use of techniques developed for communicating between deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing persons.  The interpreter is a member of the educational team, serving staff as well as students, hearing as well as deaf people, by minimizing linguistic, cultural, and physical barriers.  The title "Educational Interpreter" is recommended by the National Task Force on Educational Interpreting, and is intended to imply that a person holding this title has specialized preparation in deafness whose primary role is interpreting, and is qualified to provide certain other educational services described later in this document.

The interpreter who works in an educational setting may be required to assume several responsibilities:
  •  provide interpretation in an educational setting;
  •  provide interpretation outside of the classroom;
  •  act as member of the educational team; and
  •  be involved in noninterpreting but educationally related activities.

Depending on the communication needs of the student who is deaf or hard of hearing, there are different types of interpreters.  There are oral interpreters who are used by deaf individuals who use speech and speechreading to communicate. The individual reads the lips of the interpreter who is specially trained to silently and clearly articulate speech.  A cued speech interpreter is similar to an oral interpreter except that a hand code system or cue is used to represent speech sounds.  A deaf-blind interpreter is used by those who have limited or no sight and hearing. There are several different deaf-blind interpreting techniques, but most frequently the deafblind individual receives the message by placing the hands on top of the interpreter's hands.  The most common interpreter is a sign language interpreter.  This interpreter listens to spoken messages and interprets them into sign.  While all of these different types of interpreters communicate information to the student who is deaf or hard of hearing, the interpreter may or may not speak for the student (voice interpret).  This decision is made by the student, who may prefer to speak for him/herself.

A. Interpreting in an Educational Setting

The educational interpreter's primary role is to provide interpretation and transliteration in the educational setting (definitions of interpretation and transliteration appear in the glossary).  Within the context of an educational setting, the interpreter will facilitate communication and understanding among the deaf, hard of hearing, hearing students, and the teacher and others involved in the student's education.  The interpreter will also need to provide interpretation in one or more forms.  (For description of the various forms of interpretation, see section "Skills and Preparation of the Educational Interpreter.")

In order to effectively fulfill their primary responsibilities the interpreter will be involved in several activities.  These include:

Preparing for Class

The educational interpreter prepares for upcoming classes by reading materials in advance and consulting with the teacher to know in advance the goals and objectives of the lesson, special nuances that the teacher may want to convey, what materials will be covered, and whether special activities, such as a movie, a field trip or involvement in an "untraditional" educational setting, such as outreach into the community or visits to local businesses, will present special interpreting situations.  The interpreter must keep current on standardized technical signs used in different content areas.  Where a standardized sign is unavailable or unknown, the interpreter, with input from the student, may create a sign for use within the educational setting that is expedient enough for everyday use and conceptually appropriate.  The appropriate standardized sign should be determined subsequently through research and incorporated into the students and interpreters sign repertoire.  The interpreter should always rely on fingerspelling as an appropriate alternative for a word or concept without a sign, or for which a sign is not known.

Assessing Receptive and Expressive Communication Skills

The interpreter will assess the student's receptive and expressive sign language and mode use in order to judge the effectiveness of interpretation. Furthermore, the interpreter should work with the student's teacher to keep an inventory of new and emerging signs and vocabulary which the student is learning and using.  The interpreter should consult on a regular basis with the deaf or hard of hearing student's academic or vocational teachers to prepare for any new concepts and vocabulary that will be introduced in a subsequent class.  The interpreter should be able to share knowledge about the deaf or hard of hearing student's sign communication ability with the student's teachers.

Adapting to the Physical Setting

The interpreter, teacher, and other speakers must always be visible to those receiving visual communication (American Sign Language or other forms of manual communication).  Interpreters must position themselves so that lighting is appropriate for communication, (e.g., not in front of a window where glare from the window may interfere with the deaf student's ability to see the signs).  The interpreter should work with the teacher and student to determine the proper seating of the student(s), position and location of the interpreter, and to accommodate special needs which will arise during events such as field trips, assemblies, public address announcements, films and other media, parent/teacher conferences, and events off the school premises, etc.

Explaining Interpreter Role

The interpreter shares responsibility with the school administration and others, (such as the supervisor of deaf education) for providing clarification regarding an accurate understanding of his/her role with the deaf or hard of hearing students, hearing students, school personnel, and parents.  This is especially important in a school setting where there has been little or no experience with children who are deaf or hard of hearing or with educational interpreters.  Clarification of the interpreter's role will do much to prevent uncertainty regarding how he or she contributes to the educational process.  Providing in-service training to the whole school on the role of an interpreter may assist staff in accepting the interpreter as part of the educational team and promote the fuller integration of the interpreter into the school community.  Information on the role of the interpreter may be provided during staff meetings, special announcements, one-an-one meetings, or with simple printed handouts explaining how best to utilize the service of the educational interpreter.  It is important that the point be made that the interpreter is there for everyone, not just the deaf or hard of hearing student - a point which may need to be reiterated periodically during the school year.

B. Nonclassroom Interpreting

The provision of interpreting services may occur in a variety of locations outside of the "traditional" dassroom.  These may indude:

Parent conferences

Interpreters may be asked to provide interpreting services to parents who are deaf during conferences about the child with whom they are working, or with parents who are deaf and have hearing children who attend the school.  They should be skilled in the language/mode with which the adult is most comfortable.  In this situation, it must be made clear that the interpreter is functioning in one role, i.e., as a facilitator of communication, whose task is to ease the exchange of information, and, not as a participant, whose responsibility is to contribute the information to the discussion.  In this case, the optimum situation would be to bring another interpreter into the meeting, in order to avoid role confusion and the potential compromise of the quality of interpreting.

Testing situations

Educational interpreters are often called upon to interpret the language of an examination, such as a psychological evaluation, standardized test, reading exam, or spelling test or to provide for communication needs during a student's individualized evaluation or vocational assessment.  The educational interpreter's role during testing situations should be clear. This could be facilitated by the interpreter and the evaluator meeting prior to the testing situation to discuss expectations of the interpreter and the background of the student.  It is imperative that the interpreter, instructional staff, and administration work together to ensure fairness both to the student and to the testing instrument.  For example, when administering a psychological evaluation in the traditional manner, the school psychologist orally pronounces English words in certain segments of an examination, students listen, and record answers in the appropriate boxes.  With a deaf child, the interpreter hears the words, and normally gives the sign.  Some signs, however, are highly iconic (suggestive of their meaning, by their configuration and movement of the hands) and, thereby posing a situation which may give away the answer.  The purpose of the test would then be compromised.  When providing interpretation as a test modification, care should be taken to conform to the requirements of particular tests and not to affect what the test developer intended.

Discipline of students

Because of the proximity of the educational interpreter and the student, the educational interpreter may be involved in situations that need disciplinary action.  It would be helpful for both the teacher and the educational interpreter to establish a mechanism for dealing with these situations at the beginning of the school year.  At this time, strategies to address behavior that may require disciplinary action could be jointly developed.  The teacher and the interpreter could then implement a plan to address a student's classroom management needs, behavior expectations, and discipline.
Generally, the educational interpreter would not be involved in disciplinary action involving a child's misbehavior.  This would cloud the perception of roles, compromise the student-teacher relationship, and, also, strain the relationship between the student and the interpreter.

In situations where the student is misbehaving toward the interpreter, the interpreter may then need to respond directly.  This may take the form of a private discussion between the interpreter and the child concerning mutual responsibility and respect or may include expanded discussion with teachers and other staff, as appropriate.  The educational interpreter may also be asked to facilitate communication in disciplinary settings involving the teacher or other staff.  In this case, it is possible that the anger the student may feel at the punishment, especially during the elementary years, may be focused on the interpreter rather than on the individual dictating the punishment.  It is important that the child understands clearly the roles of the various professionals, and that the person providing the punishment and the interpreter understand these dynamics.

Supported work and internship settings

In vocational or adult services settings, the interpreter may be asked to facilitate communication in on-the-job situations on or off the school premises.  Although the interpreter may be working as part of an educational team, he/she will be specifically responsible to assist the student in meeting communication needs.

In such settings, a job coach rather than an interpreter may advocate for the deaf worker.  The job coach develops strategies for on-the-job communication, helps train the prospective worker and educates staff about the disabled.  The roles of a job coach and an interpreter should be clarified to those involved with the student before a work or vocational experience or training begins.  While a person who serves as a job coach may be an interpreter in another setting, the role must be clearly differentiated in the vocational environment.

Counseling situations

When students who are deaf or hard of hearing receive counseling, an educational interpreter may be needed.  In counseling situations that deal with social or emotional issues, the Code of Ethics of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf should be consulted.  In these counseling sessions, the role of the interpreter is clearly that of communication facilitator only.  The ethics of the counseling profession as well as the interpreter should work to insure that confidentiality is carefully observed, and that the child's classroom interpreter should not be present if the child needs to discuss a problem involving the interpreter.  For example, the child may be experiencing difficulty adjusting to the interpreter's personality or may be critical of the interpreter's sign language skills. This type of situation would require the use of another noninvolved interpreter.

Special Situations

Special situation may be defined as those educational situations that take the student and the interpreter outside a typical school environment.  These may include: driver education classes, field trips, and involvement in community activities or situations related to employment or college activities.  These situations may require different kinds of arrangements and considerations.  For example, should an interpreter accompany a student during "on-the-road" segments of driver education classes?  What are the safety considerations inherent for visible communication in a moving vehicle?  How may the educational interpreter assist in planning for situations that take the student outside of school, such as, when meeting with a prospective employer or exploring college and community opportunities?  Strategies for dealing with special situations should be developed on a case-by-case basis to meet the student's individual needs.

C. Member of the Educational Team

The educational interpreter should have the opportunity to participate as a member of the educational team.  In this context the educational team is comprised of a group of teachers, supervisors, school staff, and others who are directly responsible for the educational program of the student for whom the interpreter delivers services.  An educational interpreter's responsibilities are likely to vary considerably from one work setting to another and should take into consideration the kinds of levels of preparation and experience that an educational interpreter brings to the task.

However, as a member of the educational team, educational interpreters should be able to participate in several activities based on their skills, such as:
  •  planning with the student's teacher(s) or other support staff;
  •  participating in student conferences; and
  •  meeting with the Committee on Special Education (CSE) or Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE).
The team situations described above, involve an interactive process based on joint analysis and problem solving.  The educational interpreter could both contribute to and benefit from this experience.  As a member of the educational team, the interpreter will be able to contribute special expertise, such as, information on the student's communication competencies and needs, and generaJ knowledge of the student.  In addition, the educational interpreter will learn information from the team experience which will be helpful in the interpreting task
The success of the educational interpreter may depend as much on his or her ability to work cooperatively with adults and children as on interpreting skills.  A collegial relationship with other professionls and willingness to share responsibilities can be the basis for successful team operation.  In addition, administrative understanding and support of these relationships would create an atmosphere for collegial relationships to develop and grow. A description of various interactive relationships that an educational interpreter may be involved in follows.

Educational Interpreter and the Regular Sducation Teacher

The relationship between the educational interpreter and the teacher is of primary importance. Having another adult in the classroom may cause some anxiety for teachers who are not used to providing instruction with other adults present.  Teachers may regard it as diminishing their authority at first, but over time, most come to value the help which the interpreter provides and become comfortable with their presence.  Periodic planning meetings are essential to ensuring optimum effectiveness.

Educational Interpreter and the Teacher of the Deaf

The relationship between the teacher of the deaf and the educational interpreter is an important one.  Both
are professionals working as part of a team to ensure the most appropriate education for the student.  They must draw upon their expertise in order to provide in-service training for staff and hearing students as well as instructional strategies and delivery systems for deaf students.
Because teachers of the deaf should have knowledge about the implementation of support services, they may be called upon to coordinate interpreter services, i.e., to help devise scheduling and deal with logistics.  The coordination, however, depends on the success of this constant feedback from the interpreter and must be accompanied by an open-mindedness and respect on the part of the teacher of the deaf for the skills, responsibilities, and demands placed on the educational interpreter. Interpreters can provide essential information to the teacher of the deaf because they are present with the student throughout the schooJ day. They may provide input on the student's use of language skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  At the secondary level, the input from the interpreter should be less because the student should be more capable of communicating his or her own needs.  Because contact between the interpreter and teacher of the deaf is so essential to the student's success within the regular education environment, consultations between them should be routinely scheduled within the school day.

Educational Interpreter and the Notetaker

The educational interpreter may not be the only support service provider in the regular classroom on a daily basis.  Notetakers are provided to record class material for some deaf or hard of hearing students.  A student who is attending to the interpreter, to the teacher for speech-reading clues, and watching the blackboard or overhead display, will not be able to take notes.  In addition to taking notes, the notetaker provides a written context of the classroom and content areas.  The presence of two adults in the classroom in addition to the teacher may draw unwanted attention to the deaf or hard of hearing student.  It is important to diminish the potential for confusion, distractions, and anxiety by careful planning and explanation.  In the many situations where this has occurred, it quickly becomes the norm, and is usually readily accepted by all parties.

Educational Interpreter and the Parent

As the interpreter will typically spend most of each school day with the child, the parent may contact the interpreter for information about the child.  The interpreter should be able to communicate about the benefits or effectiveness of the interpreting service provided, but should refer the parent to the teacher for specific information concerning academic or vocational progress and overall student performance.  Matters concerning placement, other support services, etc., should be referred to the person who heads the student's educational support team, the CSE, CPSE, or student's special education teacher.

Educational Interpreter and the Deaf or Hard of Hearing Student

The student and the interpreter may be expected to establish a close relationship because they are together everyday in many different situations.  An overly dependent relationship may develop, when a student begins to rely on the interpreter for the emotional support and understanding that might better be provided by that student's peers.  When this occurs, the interpreter should ask for guidance from the school counselors and other staff to develop strategies for enhancing student independence and self-confidence.

When the student has concerns regarding the support services provided, including interpreting, it is important that he or she has a forum where these issues may be aired.  In situations where the interpreter must be present as a participant, it is essential that the district provide an interpreter not involved within the program to facilitate communication.

Students, especially in the elementary grades, do not necessarily know how to use the interpreter effectively.  They must learn proper use of all support services including the educational interpreter. The teacher of the deaf, educational interpreters, or members of the student's educational support team could work with the student in understanding the interpreter's role.  Such learning is an ongoing process as the student matures and interpreting situations become more involved (e.g., in a laboratory or driver education situations).  Included in this instruction should be training on the philosophy and strategies of self-advocacy.  Students should exit the public school with an understanding of the role of the educational interpreter at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary level.  They should also be educated in strategies for dealing with an interpreter who lacks sufficient skill and knowledge needed for the circumstances.

Educational Interpreter and the Building Principal

The administrator of the building is an important person on the educational team.  The building principal's attitude toward the interpreter will influence the way the rest of the staff will perceive and interact with the interpreter.  Routine inclusion of the interpreter in staff meetings and activities will set a positive tone, and will greatly enhance the interpreter's ability to perform his/her responsibilities.  The administrator can also ensure that the interpreter has sufficient time to prepare for and rest from interpreting and thereby avoid repetitive motion injury and diminished quality of interpretation due to mental and physical fatigue.  The interpreter should be willing to work flexibly with administration on matters related to scheduling and roles and responsibilities. A word of caution needs to be expressed regarding the role of the educational interpreter on the educational team.  Because the interpreter is often the only person in the school with special knowledge about deafness, he or she may be called upon as a resource in this field.  However, the interpreter is ethically obligated to be aware of his or her limitations and be able to identify other resources, where appropriate.

D. Noninterpreting Responsibilities

The educational interpreter may perform a number of other educational tasks, depending on the need of the students and the interpreter's skills and background. Such duties are the responsibility of the individual school district to specify in a job description, and for the interpreter to accept or negotiate when hired.  However, it must be clear that typical noninterpreting duties are identified and explained as follows:


Interpreters may be asked to tutor under the supervision of the regular classroom teacher or the teacher of the deaf.  Since interpreters must, by definition, be able to communicate well with the student, tutoring and reviewing assignments may be an appropriate job responsibility.  However, it must be clear that other responsibilities must be curtailed when the need arises for interpreting.

The subject area in which interpreters are expected to tutor should be one with which they are familiar.  Interpreters should also receive ongoing in-service training in instructional strategies to be used during the tutoring sessions as well as have time during the school day to consult with the classroom teacher on aspects of course content which need to be clarified so they may be appropriately interpreted.  It is recommended that educational interpreters who tutor should receive instruction in behavior management techniques before beginning tutoring.  This skill is important in order to know how to keep students focused and on task.

Teaching Sign Language

At times, the educational interpreter may be expected to teach basic and enrichment level sign language to hearing or deaf students, as well as to faculty and other staff members.  Interpreter preparation programs seldom cover in-depth training in the instruction of sign language and interpreters are not ordinarily prepared to teach formal linguistically oriented classes in sign language.  Formal courses in American Sign Language (ASL) should be taught by individuals prepared to provide instruction in ASL as a second language.

Providing General Classroom Assistance

While classroom management is the responsibility of the teacher, interpreters may, when interpreting is not needed, provide other kinds of assistance to the classroom teacher, especially in the elementary grades. There must be a good understanding of the level and kind of assistance the interpreter can contribute to the classroom environment without interfering with the primary duty of interpreting.

Educational Planning

The interpreter, teacher, and other individuals involved in the student's educational program need to consult regularly (perhaps daily) about lesson plans, upcoming activities, tests, new vocabulary, etc..  Time must be set aside for the interpreter to review materials, become oriented to the upcoming curriculum content, and to anticipate signs that will be used for new material.  This planning time will provide the educational interpreter with the opportunity to prepare for the interpretation session and to research the appropriate use of a sign, as needed.  Generally, educational planning will improve the quality of interpreting.  The interpreter must also plan time for instructing deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students on how to use the interpreter.  This may be especially important in the elementary grades.

Ethical Considerations

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) in 1979, adopted a Code of Ethics for Interpreters.  Most interpreting up to this time, was for adults in everyday situations such as going to the doctor, conducting business in the community, and attending church.  The advent and burgeoning expansion of the mainstream movement increased at a rapid pace the demand for interpreters in educational settings first in colleges, and subsequently through all levels of public education.  Currently, by far the majority of interpreting for deaf persons is done in educational settings.  The Code of Ethics was developed to set a standard of ethical behavior and to guard against the potential for abuse of interpreter-client relationships, especially in regards to confidentiality. Of the nine tenets detailed in the Code of Ethics, the one aimed at preserving confidentiality in the interpreter-client relationship has proven the most problematic in educational settings.  A strict application of the Code of Ethics designed for adults, in community settings, would prevent the educational interpreter from discussing anything about the content of interpreting with any person.

School districts in some states have adapted the Code of Ethics to educational settings so that it still provides useful guidelines for ethical behavior, but incorporates the principle of discussing student needs and performance with the educational team or as dictated by policies and procedures within the district and school building.  Any school may choose to adapt the RID Code of Ethics to clarify the educational interpreters role within the educational setting.  In any case, the educational interpreter would need to maintain a professional attitude and adhere to the policies and practices established within the school for all its staff in promoting the safety and welfare of students within the school.

Another adaptation of the RID Code of Ethics that would be necessary to acknowledge in New York State, concerns the choice of the language to be used for the interpretation. The authority for determining the communications mode to be practiced in the school lies with the CSE and CPSE.  The RID Code of Ethics states that the client determines the mode.  This may not be practical, especially in an elementary setting where English language development (and sign development) may be rudimentary in the beginning.  Student and parents have the opportunity to make recommendations regarding the language mode during the CSE or CPSE meeting to develop the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). If the parents or student are not satisfied with the CSE and CPSE recommendation, they may initiate due process procedures.


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