Student Accessibility Services

Interpreting Best Practices in the Classroom

What can I as the instructor do to make the class rewarding for the student and manageable for the interpreter?

There are a number of strategies you can employ, many of which will benefit your hearing students as well.

  • Share course materials and teaching aids: If possible, meet with the interpreter prior to the first class to share the class syllabus, textbook(s), handouts, PowerPoint presentations, etc., or simply add them as a guest to your eLearning class. 
  • Allow the student and the interpreter to choose the seat that provides the best visual vantage point.
  • Speak at natural or reasonable pace: Too slow of a pace is as difficult to interpret as too fast of a pace.
  • Build in time for PowerPoint presentations: The visual learner cannot watch the interpreter and look at a PowerPoint at the same time. After introducing the PowerPoint, allow time for the student to obtain the information conveyed and then focus on the screen.
  • Refrain from talking during written class work: For all of the same reasons described above.
  • Have all videos/films captioned: Many new videos/films are already captioned. Nevertheless, always check to make sure: 1. they are indeed captioned AND the captioning is accurate, and 2. you know how to turn on captions should the media be “closed captioned.” For captioning assistance, email Carolyn Dorr at
  • Know how to orchestrate an interpreter and student-friendly class discussion: Always ask all students to raise their hands and be recognized before speaking. Wait until the interpreter has finished interpreting the entire chunk of information (e.g., a discussion question), so that the student has time to process the chunk of information and raise their hand to participate in the discussion. Remember, the interpreter is usually one to two sentences behind the speaker. There is nothing more frustrating for a D/deaf student than not being able to participate in class because the instructor is moving too quickly to acknowledge someone else’s raised hand.
  • Plan breaks: Visual learning is physically challenging and can cause eye fatigue. The task of interpreting is cognitively and physically challenging. The allowance of breaks is especially important when there is only one interpreter.
  • Talk in the first-person: When talking to your student, look directly at the student and not at the interpreter. Use “I” and “you” rather than such third-person statements as “ask them” or “tell them.” Using this simple communication strategy will strengthen your instructor/student relationship.

While D/deaf students bring unique communication requirements to the classroom, ultimately they are simply students. It is important is to determine who your student is as an individual and what they can offer to the class, and then create a teaching environment that allows them equal opportunity to shine. 

National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes - Sign Language Interpreters in the Classroom