Using interpreters for speech-language evaluations

I had a call from a speech-language pathologist in a school district in Virginia that has students who state of Virginia speak many different languages.  They use interpreters in their evaluations with these students and the SLP had some questions about HOW to utilize the services of the interpreters.

The first question this SLP asked was,

How much can we lean on the interpreters to help us make diagnostic decisions?

My answer:  The interpreter does not make any diagnostic decisions.  The interpreter interprets throughout the testing session and debriefs with the SLP after the testing session .

I always ask my interpreters to transcribe the student’s language sample.  I then sit down and go through it with the interpreter and talk about each error.

I walk in with information about the structure of the student’s native language and the structure of English (the Difference or Disorder book).  This helps me make decisions about whether the errors are problematic or not.  The interpreter just identifies and describes the errors to me.

What does this look like?

Step 1:  Interpreter, please transcribe the child’s recorded language sample.  (I do the English transcript and ask any questions I have if the child uses their native language or something I do not recognize) (Meanwhile, the interpreter transcribes the native language sample.)

Here is a Spanish transcript.

language sample transcript in Spanish

Now, if I don’t speak Spanish it doesn’t help me to look at it alone.  I need to sit look at it with my interpreter

Step 2:  Interpreter, I’d like you to circle all of the errors you see in the student’s language sample.  (I do the same for the English and can review the English errors to see if they appear to be influenced by the native language).

Language sample with errors circled

Step 3:  Together, with the interpreter, we talk about each error.

  • Errors of article-noun agreement (el rana/la rana, una hoyo/un hoyo)
  • Missing prepositions (no está un zapato/no está enel zapato, no está un hoyo/no está enun hoyo).
  • Verb errors (hació, haciendo atacando)
  • Vocabulary struggles (no sé (I don’t know), como se llama (what is it called))
  • Run-on sentences (He was talking and his dog fell and the jar broke)
  • Incoherent sentences (…el niño estaba buscando un hoyo de una de una hoyo

Step 4:  Make decisions about whether the errors could result from an influence from English if the student has had a fair amount of English exposure.  (This job is all ours, SLPs—not the interpreter’s).  This book will help you!

Difference or Disorder

Step 5:  Identify problem errors and implement dynamic assessment to rule out lack of exposure or unfamiliarity/uncertainty with the task.  It is a huge topic but you can learn more here:

Working with Interpreters

Written by: Ellen Kester

6 Comments on “Using interpreters for speech-language evaluations”

  1. April 19, 2019 at 8:40 am #

    Perfect timing! I have to complete a re-evaluation next week with an interpreter. Nice to have some guidance. Thank you!

  2. April 19, 2019 at 9:28 am #

    Excellent illustration of the collaboration between an SLP and an interpreter! Though, as a district translator, it is my professional opinion that an interpreter can provide some more input than this.

    All decisions, of course, must be made by the SLP.

    • April 24, 2019 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Felix. I agree, many of the interpreters I have worked with can provide great information about whether errors seem to be due to influence from another language, or whether they are typical in the course of development for the language at hand. It is awesome when interpreters have that level of knowledge. Not all do, and when they don’t, the SLP is the one who needs to be able to do that. Thanks for your work in the field and for sharing your thoughts!

  3. April 22, 2019 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you!

  4. April 25, 2019 at 8:23 am #

    What if a child refuses to speak at all in their native language or interact with the interpreter? Many times I have an interpreter tell me, they do not speak that language when they refuse to reply to prompts or interactions with an interpreter. Any words of advice?

    • April 25, 2019 at 11:58 am #

      Hi Dani,
      I think this is just like any evaluation. We have to create a setting that is as comfortable as possible for the student and try not to put too much pressure on them. If they won’t speak in their native tongue during the evaluation, there’s not a lot we can do about that. One way I have managed this is to pull parents in to record a language sample at home. Then I can take that sample and sit down with my interpreter to go through it. Recently I had a situation where I knew that Korean was the child’s primary language but she did not use it in the testing session. We even went into the classroom and had a peer engage with her in Korean. In the end, her mom and dad made a video of her telling a story with Frog, Where Are You? at home and sent me not only the video but a transcription of it as well!

Leave a Reply