As well as interpreting for peers, young learners often find themselves interpreting for adults.
This does give rise to a myriad of potential issues. There are subjects that may be inappropriate for young learners to translate such as medical or family issues. Additionally, children may misinterpret accidentally or intentionally, especially if the subject is of a personal or sensitive nature. A child may also feel less comfortable interpreting for adults and may feel more reluctant to ask questions when they do not understand. They may feel embarrassed and omit or adapt information given. That said, a significant amount depends on the personality of the child.
In the US, the officer of Civil Rights (US Department of Health and Human Services) discourages the use of children under a certain age in health care interpreting and cites the following reasons for this:
Role reversal – where the child has to provide help and support to the other adult. Editing – where the child may interpret messages to suit their own view of what is appropriate or save family from embarrassment. As it is unlikely that children understand all the messages even if they believe they do, they will inevitably make mistakes. Guilt – where the child may feel they caused suffering because they said something upsetting or made a mistake in conveying the message. Omission – where adults omit information because they don’t want the child to hear. Confidentiality – where children do not fully understand the issues of confidentiality and disclose information.
Although the interpretations happening in schools are not usually affecting the health of others, they can still be very sensitive conversations. It is therefore important that child interpreters are used with discretion. Non-routine formal situations where there may be sensitive issues like parent-teacher meetings, admissions etc… need professionals.
The use of adult interpreters in schools is an area that could be further promoted and there is definitely a place for more professional school interpretation services. Furthermore, parent interpreters, who are often incredibly supportive, can often be utilised more. Parent services show you value parents’ skills and help increase the sense of community.
Be aware that interpreters have different strengths and specific areas of vocabulary that they are more confident translating. Your chosen interpreters 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 so they need to be chosen with caution.
If you are choosing a child for interpretation, be aware that the speed needed for interpreting takes practice so you may want to introduce a training programme for nominated children. Young interpreters can be used to show visitors round the school, welcoming parents at parent evenings and other events. Training young interpreters is an interesting club that may work well in some schools.
See link for some guidelines to support adults training young translators
Gilbert, M.J.(2005) The Case Against Using Family and Friends and Minors in interpreting.
An article by Anita Bamberger