Tuesday, April 15, 2008

14: asl interpreters and bilingual education

So you have a school with Deaf and hearing children (who may or may not be in the process of becoming one of those many tribes.) At some point, because of necessary interactions with the outside world, it will become necessary to use ASL interpreters. But is the usual code of professional conduct sufficient in the case of education? More, is it sufficient in the sort of school I am spending this time blogging about, a bilingual school in ASL and English for both Deaf and hearing children?

I feel it's an excellent start, but that the situational differences warrant a re-evaluation of the code. For example: what does it mean to be an interpreter in an educational situation? What, exactly, is being required of the interpreter? Do they truly limit themselves to production and reception? Or does the fact that behavior, absorbtion of knowledge, and continual assessment of comprehension are taking place at the same time as communication in any way affect the conception of best practices for classroom interpreting?

A lot of interpreters hate working in classrooms, and often, I think, it's because boundaries and needs aren't clear. Some experiences I've had in this experiment I'm trying are forcing me to think and rethink the role and purpose of interpreters in the classroom. Here are some thoughts:

1. Interpreters as language models for all developing students. If we are working in a bilingual school for students both hearing and Deaf who have varying levels of ASL - as well as from highly multiple cultural and ethnic backgrounds - then the interpreter is no longer merely interpreting for the Deaf child or for the strong ASL user. They become a language model for all students. They become an educational tool for Deaf students who come from hearing backgrounds and are just beginning to define themselves. They become mentors for students who are considering the interpreting or ASL-related career track. They can also be models for "group relations," because they understand the communication rules for both cultures.

2. Interpreters functioning on varying levels. An ASL interpreter in the classroom can gauge comprehension far more effectively than a teacher can. They can also gauge the effectiveness of an activity in reaching all students in ways some teachers might not be able to. Teachers who are just learning ASL, and are language development models for younger learners, may not recognize all aspects of communication - and Deaf teachers could partner with an ASL interpreter in a likewise manner.

Just some ideas. I'm sure I'll have more later on.

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