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Author: Anita Bamberger, EAL specialist

The lack of a common language between children can be frustrating so we often assign buddies who have a common language to help our learners. Someone who speaks the same language can help the new student feel less alienated by speaking the same language and recounting what is being said and explaining what is happening. Students are often used as interpreters in schools. However, as with any translation, it can result in unintentionally misinterpretation.

Interpreting is a difficult skill. Although they find it easy to interpret for classroom language, they understandably often struggle to translate academic content that demands more complex concepts and subject specific vocabulary.

How can we help our young interpreters?
Firstly, they need some guidance. Perhaps you have a learning mentor, EAL or class teacher or school council leader who will take on the responsibility of training those buddies who are often translating.

When selecting an interpreter, consider that they will need a good short term memory to remember what was just said as well as a good long term memory to put the information given into context.

Here’s a guide for a young interpreter:
(Available to download for free by clicking on the green button)

  1. Try to be as accurate as possible, keep the meaning of what is said
  2. Try to concentrate and stay focused.
  3. Stand next to the speaker.
  4. Make eye contact with the speaker and listen carefully.
  5. Remember important facts and make notes of important points.
  6. Break up sentences into bite size pieces.
  7. Speak clearly and slowly.
  8. Be neutral, do not get emotionally involved.
  9. Be sensitive to the student's personality and needs.
  10. If you don't know a word then try to find out a different way of saying it or explain the meaning.
  11. Don't be afraid to say if you don't understand something, it is better than saying the wrong thing!
  12. Ask them to repeat if you are not sure of something.
  13. Prepare ahead if you are going to interpret something special, if it's a new topic in class you may need the vocabulary sheet from the teacher to prepare any new or difficult words and expressions.
  14. Always do your best.
  15. Keep up your language skills by watching films, reading and having conversations…. remember to make a note of new and challenging words!

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