Working with Interpreters as an SLP

  • March 16, 2022
  • Raquel Martinez Suh

The role of an interpreter is more than simply repeating words between languages. Rather, it is a role that requires the ability to fluently speak two or more languages, in addition to the ability to thoroughly understand the cultures to effectively translate even the subtlest of nuances.

Working with interpreters is a fairly common practice within the field of speech-language pathology. Public schools and the healthcare systems are among the largest sectors that require the services of an interpreter. Regardless of the languages spoken, the key points to keep in mind when working with interpreters remain the same. To gain a better understanding of the need for interpreters, the United States Census Bureau and Department of Education have information on languages spoken in homes in the United States.

Language Facts

In the United States, about 78% of the population speaks only English at home, however, that leaves 21.6% of the U.S. population speaking languages other than English. In fact, about 430 languages are spoken or signed in the U.S.

False Assumptions

Now that we have established a few language facts, let’s look into a couple of misconceptions surrounding the field of interpreting.

Translators and Interpreters are Interchangeable

Translators and interpreters are not the same. Unlike a translator working with written word, an interpreter works with spoken or signed word and must be proficient in delivering the message in unison with the original speech. Generally, translators have more time and access to outside resources while translating, whereas an interpreter must work on the spot without supplemental materials.

All Bilinguals can be Interpreters

Although being bilingual is a requirement for this role, it does not automatically make someone a natural interpreter. An interpreter must have strong public speaking skills, cultural knowledge, and the ability to multitask. Additionally, simply listing the words qualified interpreter on a resume does not indeed make them a qualified interpreter.

Qualities of a Great Interpreter

When looking to hire an interpreter, there are several things to note. First, there are various skills and certifications, as well as subject-specific knowledge that an interpreter must have in order to be successful. Interpreters require specialized training with advanced oral and written proficiency in the languages they are interpreting. Here are a few of the top qualities of a competent interpreter:


Does the interpreter have the adaptive skills necessary to interpret the original message based on the clients’ needs? A great interpreter must take cultural considerations into account when interpreting the original message. Interpreters must also be able to quickly transform idioms, colloquialisms and other culturally specific references into statements in the target language that the client will understand.


In regard to consistency, take note of whether the interpreter is a consecutive interpreter or a simultaneous interpreter. A consecutive interpreter conveys the message into the target language after the source language has been spoken, while a simultaneous interpreter conveys the message into the target language at the same time as the first language is spoken. Either way, the interpreter should remain consistent to avoid confusion for the client.


Can the interpreter remain neutral and impartial regardless of the topic or situation? It is crucial that an interpreter not add or delete any information while interpreting.


In many situations, clients will share personal, confidential, or sensitive information. Sensitive information and circumstances can cause anxiety within clients and their families, so it is to only be shared on a need-to-know basis with other employees and service providers to the extent permitted by law.

Roles and Responsibilities of SLPs

As an SLP utilizing the services of an interpreter, it is important to fully understand your role. SLPs are ultimately responsible for delegating and training the interpreters on specificities to ensure accuracy during a meeting, evaluation or any other interaction.

When should I work with an interpreter?

Whenever you do not fluently speak the language of the student or family, an interpreter should be utilized. Interpreters should be available for interactions such as interviews, assessments, and meetings/conferences (Dominguez, Clark & McCollum, 2017).

Are there guidelines for SLPs working with interpreters?

Briefing, Interaction and Debriefing (BID) was developed as a guideline to support collaborations between interpreters and SLPs (Langdon, 2002). The BID process covers three segments to ensure the SLP is successful in gathering background information, collecting data, and making a recommendation. It begins with preparation before the meeting (briefing), followed by the actual interaction with all members involved (interaction), and is completed with a discussion and analysis of the interaction (debriefing). Remember, clinical judgment is the responsibility of the SLP, not the interpreter.

Where can an SLP find a qualified Interpreter to work with?

Many institutions have identified sources for where to find qualified interpreters; however, they are not always readily available. When looking for an interpreter you can start with these places first: local church organizations, nonprofit service groups, or online associations of interpreters and translators.

5 Final Tips for Working With an Interpreter

  1. Treat the interpreter as a member of your team.
  2. Meet with the interpreter prior to the assessment or meeting to prepare for the interaction.
  3. Review policies, procedures, and terminology with the interpreter, especially before evaluations.
  4. Look at the student during the interaction, not the interpreter.
  5. Provide feedback to the interpreter. This allows for growth amongst all parties, and it allows for optimal use of the interpreters’ specialty to provide the best services and outcomes for the client.

Looking for an SLP position? Visit our job page here to search through our available job opportunities.

SLP Jobs

Langdon, H. W. (2002). Interpreters and translators in communication disorders: A handbook for practitioners. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.

Dominguez, G., Clark, S., & McCollum, M. (2017). Collaborating with Interpreters and Translators. (Position Paper by CSHA Task Force on Collaborating with Interpreters) California Speech Language Hearing Association.

Recent Posts

Together, let’s create brighter futures for culturally diverse students.