Strong, clear communication between teacher and pupil may be the main determiner of whether a child receives a good education.
Elements such as discipline and lesson planning quality have important roles to play too. But if the teacher cannot communicate properly with a learner, it is difficult to teach them anything at all.
This is why translation and interpreting services are so vital to many parts of the education system in the UK and worldwide. What’s more, this importance is increasing in scope as the world becomes more globalised and classrooms in the UK and globally become increasingly diverse.
But it’s not just children – and, even more often, parents – who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) that benefit from education translation and interpreting services. It is also adult learners. As well as children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, many of whom may rely on BSL interpreters (British Sign Language) and others to interact with the education system at all.
When it comes to meeting the linguistic needs of children, parents, and other learners, the quality of communication matters every single day. Without properly skilled translators and interpreters, learning across language barriers is a serious challenge.
When is interpreting needed in the education system?
Interpretation is the verbal translation of spoken words. When the teacher instructs the class, an interpreter can sit beside a student that needs language supports. They will usually murmur a verbal translation of what the teacher has just said into the child’s ear or sign the translation if the student is deaf or Hard of Hearing.
It is important to understand the role of interpreters in the education system. The linguist’s job is to properly convey the words between the teacher and student, making sure they are fully understood. They will do the same in reverse if the student needs to ask a question. They may also help facilitate social interactions between the student and their classmates.
But it is very important to make it clear to everyone involved that the interpreter is there to facilitate communication. They are not there to teach.
It is also critical that interpreters aren’t involved in disciplining students they translate for. A student’s interpreter should be a completely safe, neutral resource for them to lean on. When an interpreter becomes part of the disciplinary system, it leads to misunderstandings, a sense of alienation on the part of the student, and an eventual breakdown of communications.
There are several important roles for interpreters in the education system, including when working with:
1) Children or parents with LEP
There are many children in the UK education system and possibly even more parents who have Limited English Proficiency. Even a few years ago, the number of children who were listed as speaking English as an Additional Language (EAL) was just over a million.
These children are not evenly distributed geographically. Some schools – particularly in some parts of cosmopolitan London – may have as high as 50% of students who don’t have English as their first language. Meanwhile, around a quarter of all schools have below 1% of EAL pupils.
Make no mistake, some EAL children have excellent English skills. However, many do not and studies have shown this has a huge negative impact on their learning outcomes. This means that the presence of an experienced professional educational interpreter has a vital role to play in a huge number of settings, including:
- Parent and teacher conferences
- Disciplinary meetings
- Health meetings
- School board meetings
- Meetings with social workers and counsellors
- Meetings about special educational needs
- Educational reviews and planning sessions
It is important to remember the value that an active and engaged parent has on their child’s learning. Parents who can’t communicate clearly with teachers can end up feeling far less engaged. When they can communicate, they tend to stay fully involved with their child’s education.
2) Deaf or Hard of Hearing students
Deaf or Hard of Hearing students and their parents may have several options when it comes to the institution they choose to attend. In some cases though, these options can be limited by location or cost.
The public education system in the UK often struggles to provide for deaf or Hard of Hearing children. But a sign language interpreter is vital for many as it enables clear communication between teacher and student. A sign language interpreter will also be able to give deaf or Hard of Hearing students full access to the other sounds around them, such as conversations between other students.
Educational interpreters working in situations like this need to be highly skilled and experienced. They need to:
- Understand their potential role in assisting younger children with developing their social skills.
- Know how to smoothly facilitate communication with other students.
- Be cognisant of the level of emotional control and cognitive development of younger students. Both of these elements and more can affect a child’s understanding of the role of their interpreter as well as their effectiveness.
Working with a Deaf or Hard of Hearing child is usually a full-time role for an interpreter. The linguist will often come to play a vital role in communications between child, teacher, family, and the wider school system. Having an interpreter that is a consistent, reliable presence can be a huge help for all students who need them. Not just deaf and Hard of Hearing pupils.
3) Educational events and conferences
Interpreters are also needed in the education system to provide language support for international or multilingual educational events and conferences.
Conferences, and indeed most educational situations where there is a need for interpretation, usually require on-site or in-person interpreting services.
The types of interpreting services used in schools
There are two main modes of interpreting:
- In-person interpreting – as you might expect, in-person interpreting happens when the interpreter and the persons they are verbally translating the communications of are in the same room as each other.
- Remote interpreting – usually delivered as Over-the-Phone Interpreting (OPI) but also sometimes as Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) using videoconferencing software, Remote Interpreting (RI) is convenient, cost-effective, and highly useful in many situations. However, its use in the education system is usually quite limited.
Almost all interpreting services used in the education system happen in person. Having the linguist physically present in a classroom setting is really the only way to provide the kind of support a student needs. The strength of the personal relationship between student and interpreter is often a driving force behind the best educational outcomes for the student.
The one exception might be when OPI or VRI are used to facilitate communications between parents and teachers or others in the school faculty, fulfilling the same convenient way of keeping in touch or discussing issues relating to a pupil’s education as a “normal” phone call home.
When is translation needed in the education system?
Translation is the process of translating written materials from one language to another. Professional translators with experience and/ or qualifications in the education sector are a vital resource for organisations and individuals around the world.
The range of topics and types of materials that need to be translated is vast, but can often be broken down into the following areas:
1) Academic translation
This is the type of translation that is needed when degrees, course credits, thesis papers, and more need to be translated or validated so that they can be recognised internationally.
This is often a vital part of the admissions process for higher learning institutions. For example, Asian Absolute has a great deal of experience translating international academic references for students who want to apply to one of Singapore’s many world-class schools and universities.
But the output of researchers, PhD students, and other academics also sometimes requires translation if it is to be assessed by the right international boards or the wider academic community. This is perhaps less of an issue for papers written in English. But for many other academics around the world, translation is often a necessary part of the scholarly process.
2) Marketing translation
There is increasing competition when it comes to attracting international students. In the UK, student fees are currently incredibly high while many universities operate on a very fine financial line.
Careful, persuasive translation of university marketing and branding plays a vital part in persuading new international students to attend a certain institution. Such translation requires a localised or even transcreated – a creative re-imagining of the original marketing – if it is to be compelling.
The common targets for marketing translation in education include:
- Email marketing
- Brochures and other physical marketing
- Student handbooks
3) Translation for bilingual or LEP students and parents
In the same way that interpreters support the visual, aural, and oral learning of bilingual students, the translation of written educational content is the job of translators. Common targets for educational translation include:
- School registration documents
- Study materials
- Lesson plans
- Exam papers
- Educational video content
- E-learning materials
- School rules and disciplinary policies
- Parent permission forms
- Reports and grading documents
- Letter and email communications
- General forms relating to school bus use or school meals, for example
The accurate translation of all of these documents and more is vital to maintain clear communication between students, teachers, and parents who are either in or about to enter a school system.
Education translation and interpretation around the world
The education systems in other predominantly English-speaking countries outside of the UK also need to properly address translation and interpreting provision if they are to meet the linguistic and educational needs of their students and parents. Here is how two examples go about it:
In the US
In recent years, the number of students in the US who would describe their origin as non-Hispanic white has surpassed the 50% mark. Many of these students have what in the UK would be called EAL (English as an Additional Language) or are bilingual, often speaking a language other than English when they are outside of school.
The United States has put in place several pieces of legislation designed to make sure that students who have Limited English Proficiency are not left behind. These include:
- The 1964 Civil Rights Act – forbids discrimination based on race, colour, or national origin and has traditionally been used to protect LEP students.
- Executive Order 13166 – is entitled “Improving Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency” and outlines the steps that people with LEP should be able to take to access information and Federally-funded services.
- The Every Student Succeeds and No Child Left Behind Acts – reference the difference in learning outcomes between LEP students and others and include vital policies designed to reduce those differences.
The Australian Department of Education specifically notes the importance of educational translation and interpreting on its website.
It goes so far as to recommend the best way to source an interpreter or translator that’s right for you. This amounts to always using a professional who is a specialist in the field of education (indeed, Language Service Providers like Asian Absolute will only ever pair you with a linguist who has industry qualifications or experience).
The Australian government website also contains good advice for how to interact with an interpreter. Talking directly to the person instead of the interpreter, for example. Or speaking slowly and taking regular breaks while allowing extra time for the interpreter to do their work.
This is all good advice for working with an interpreter in any setting. But its high-profile presence on the department of education website underlines the vital role translation and interpreting services play in the education system of Australia and worldwide.
Adult and e-learning translation
Beyond the classroom and school system, translation and interpreting are vital to the education of many adults too – especially in e-learning courses.
The number of courses that include an e-learning component is increasing as its advantages become more and more recognised. Adults sign up for e-learning courses for many reasons. Often for career advancement and personal improvement, but they are also a key component in many company induction processes.
For courses undertaken both for professional purposes and private enjoyment, high-quality e-learning translation is critical for students and course providers who want to achieve the best learning outcomes. Study after study shows that learning happens best in a student’s native tongue.
Of course, being able to offer courses in multiple languages is also a huge advantage for course providers who want to attract more international students to their programs.
Today, here as in almost every part of the education system in the UK and around the world, translation and interpreting services have become more important than ever before.
Need translation or interpreting expertise in your part of the education system?
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