Collaborating With Interpreters

Legal and ethical standards (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1990; Executive Order No. 13166, 2000; Civil Rights Act, 1964; American Speech-Language-Hearing Association [ASHA], 2010r) require that services to individuals who use a language other than spoken English must be delivered in the language most appropriate to that student, client, patient, or family. However, the number of languages used and the number of individuals who require services in a language other than spoken English far exceed the capacity of bilingual service providers to accommodate them. Therefore, it may be necessary for the clinician to collaborate with an interpreter, transliterator, or translator to ensure clinically appropriate services.

When collaborating, a clinician remains responsible for planning the session, selecting culturally relevant materials, and appropriately administering the services. It is the legal and ethical responsibility of the facility and its providers to provide appropriate accommodations to facilitate access to clinical services.

Interpreters, transliterators, and translators serve different functions. The interpreter or transliterator assists the clinician in gathering appropriate data and providing language support for services appropriate to the client’s communication disorder. A translator must translate vital written materials provided to the client/patient.

Interpreter—a person trained to convey spoken or signed communications from one language to another. Interpretation services may be provided

  • in person;
  • by phone, such as language lines for interpreting spoken languages (e.g., French to English);
  • using videoconferencing services/video interpreting platforms;
  • using apps available via electronic devices, such as tablets, computer, and smartphones.

Clinicians are responsible for considering the goals of the session, discussing the client’s/family’s needs, evaluating the benefits of service in all language(s) necessary to facilitate the sessions goals, and determining the optimal interpreter to assist in the provision of services.

Transliterator—a person trained to facilitate communication for individuals from one form to another form of the same language. This assistant is most often used for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HOH) who use oral, cued, or manual communication systems rather than a formal sign language. Transliterators differ from interpreters in that interpreters generally receive information in one language and interpret the information in a different language.

Translator—a person trained to translate written text from one language to another

Although this page most often refers to service provision to a client/patient, it is expected that clinicians will be able to appropriately extend this information to include service provision (i.e., counseling and education) to family members and caretakers.

Role of Cultural and Linguistic Brokers

Additionally, interpreters, transliterators, and translators may serve in the role of a cultural broker or a linguistic/sociolinguistic informant/broker.

Cultural Broker—a person knowledgeable about the client’s/patient’s culture and/or speech-language community. The broker passes cultural/community-related information between the client and the clinician in order to optimize services.

Linguistic Broker—a person knowledgeable about the client's/patient's speech community or communication environment who, under the clinician's guidance, can provide valuable information about language and sociolinguistic norms in the client's/patient's speech community and communication environment

An informant or broker can provide

  • grammaticality judgments, indicating whether the client's/patient's language and phonetic production are consistent with the norms of that speech community or communication environment,
  • information on the language socialization patterns of that speech community or communication environment,
  • information on other areas of language, including semantics and pragmatics.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.