A Little Flexibility Can Take the Stress Out of Interpreting Remotely for Minors

Two young males making silly faces at the camera.
Source: Austin Pacheco from Unsplash

Telephone and video interpreters encounter different scenarios every day; no two interactions are ever the same.

This demands a high degree of flexibility and quick thinking from a remote interpreter in order to successfully adapt to every situation presented. This includes situations where interpreters assist with interpretation for minors in a variety of circumstances. Although this is far less common in remote interpretation settings, it’s something that we have seen more recently because of COVID.

Keeping a few adjustments in mind, a flexible remote interpreter should be prepared and ready to assist a young LEP individual just like any adult they may encounter.

We have put together a quick guide to help you identify and navigate instances that may require special considerations when interpreting to minor LEP individuals.   

Situations where you might need to interpret directly for a minor

You won’t encounter them remotely very often, but these situations do come up from time to time, and demand special attention:

  • Physical therapy. Some physical therapy sessions that take place over a video interpreting platform may require direct interpretation of exercise instructions for an older LEP child.
  • Social services. Similarly, social welfare situations and family counseling sessions may require direct interpretation for a minor at certain points during a call.
  • Immigration proceedings. We have also observed immigration proceedings where an LEP child engages directly in a conversation with an English-speaking adult.

Related: How to Prepare for a Remote Interpreting Session (Like an Expert)

The unique challenges of interpreting for children

In a study titled Exploring Interpreting for Young Children, Professor Anne Birgitta Nilsen discovered that the younger a child is, the least likely they are to understand the role of an interpreter. As a result, they may treat the interpreter as their dialogue partner and ignore the other speaker altogether, unless there is other nonverbal communication involved.

The study also uncovered challenges with trust between the main interlocutor and the child, and difficulties keeping the child engaged in the interaction.

When a child joins the interpreting encounter, the younger LEP individual may not be fully engaged or may not understand what the role of the interpreter is. Nevertheless, the interpreter should be especially careful not to overstep their role, and should only interpret what the main interlocutor is saying.

Tips for interpreting for minors

Don’t speak down to the child

Remember to speak clearly without using any child talk or patronizing language that may not match the speaker’s tone and register. But pay close attention to match the intonation used by the English speaker when they communicate with the minor.

It’s very likely that the source speaker will slow down their speaking pace when speaking to a minor, and you should too.

It’s all about rapport

Establish rapport with the child by introducing yourself as the interpreter and briefly and clearly explain what your role will be.

Transparency is key

Make everybody aware — kindly — when you don’t understand a child’s response. Remain transparent when addressing any barriers to effective communication with the adult speaker and address any challenges as soon as possible.

Know when to break the rules

Although first person is the standard when interpreting, use of third person may be helpful when interpreting for a minor. This may help them understand your role.

Remain friendly

That’s it!

Prepare for miscommunications

If miscommunication does occur, politely let the adult English speaker know, and then ask how to rephrase the information more clearly or in a way that the minor will understand.

Interpret side conversations

Experts always agree that an LEP parent who may be present in a conversation can be of great help filling in the gaps when the interpreter is not able to understand what the child says. If a parent responds on behalf of a child, make sure you make that known in your rendition.

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