Pupil interpreters

The following guidance is intended to provide practitioners with the necessary background and guidelines to ensure children who may interpret at school are kept safe

Using children and young people as interpreters in school

Whether or not they are running our Young Interpreter Scheme, most Hampshire schools will have had to rely on a child to interpret for another child or parent. This is true of schools with high numbers of learners with English as an Additional Language and of schools where these learners are more isolated.

The research says
  • Child interpreters often academically outperform their non-interpreter peers and display more sophisticated social interactions with others
  • Interpreting has an impact on children’s language and literacy development through exposure to a wide range of genres and registers
  • Children can confidently interpret for routine classroom instructions because they involve everyday language but they can struggle to translate for new academic content which is unfamiliar to them and which involves more complex concepts and subject-specific vocabulary
  • Children can find interpreting stressful.
  • Teachers can ask children to interpret for routine instructions (‘write the date in’ etc.) but should not rely on them to translate for new academic content. Teachers must plan for alternative strategies and resources or contact the EMTAS office to enquire about training
  • Adults need to know more about how they can make child interpreters’ experiences easier and more rewarding. For example, do you provide background information in advance, speak in short sentences and use body language? This could stop children from feeling nervous when they cannot translate or explain the ‘big words’
  • Adults must understand where it is appropriate to involve child interpreters – and where it is not.
When it is appropriate to use a child as an interpreter

Like Young Interpreters, child interpreters could:

  • Show non-English speaking visitors around the school
  • Buddy up with new arrivals during their first few weeks to demonstrate school routines, etc
  • Buddy with new arrivals during breaks and lunchtimes and introduce them to other pupils or assist them to communicate
  • Support new arrivals to become familiar with clubs/lunchtime activities
  • Help a new arrival to communicate what they have written or what they want to say
  • Welcome parents at parents evenings and other events.
When it is not appropriate to use a child as an interpreter

Adults should not ask children or young people to:

  • Interpret during non-routine formal situations where sensitive issues are likely to be raised or where the cognitive challenge may be too high, for example parent-teacher meetings and admissions. In these instances, practitioners must rely on professional adult interpreters
  • Interpret for a child making a disclosure. This would call for a professional adult interpreter
  • Interpret over long periods of time
  • Support other children during national tests or screening programmes

Contact our office for help if:

  • You are unsure about the appropriateness of a situation in which you are thinking of involving a child interpreter
  • You need help from an adult to interpret for a meeting where sensitive issues may be tackled
  • You need help to ensure pupils who are new to English are engaged during your lessons.

Orellana, M. F. (2009). 'Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture'. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press

Pimentel, C & Sevin, T. (2009). 'The Profits of Language Brokering'. The Journal of Communication & Education Language Magazine pp.16-18

Cline, T., De Abreu, G., O’Dell, L., Crafter, S. (2010). ‘Recent research on child language brokering in the United Kingdom’. MediAziono Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies on Language and Cultures pp. 105-124 

Tse, L. (1994). ‘Language brokering in linguistic minority communities: the case of Chinese – and Vietnamese – American students’. The bilingual research journal 20 (3 & 4) pp. 485-498

Katz, V. S. (2011). 'Children being Seen and Heard: How Youth contribute to their Migrant Families’. Adaptation Barcelona: Aresta Publications

Orellana, M. F. (2003). In Other Words: Learning From Bilingual Kids’. Translating and Interpreting Experiences Evanston: Northwestern University

Bayley, R., Hansen-Thomas, H., Langman, J. (2005). 'Language Brokering in a Middle School Science Class'. Paper presented at the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism,  Arizona State University, May 2003

Manchester Metropolitan University (2012). Children and Adolescents as Language Brokers 

Further information