Interpreting for Persons with Atypical Language

Please help us improve this resource! Complete our 60-second survey. We want to hear from you each time you visit, and it’s always anonymous.


Glickman, N. & Crump. C. (2013). Sign language dysfluency in some Deaf persons: Implications for interpreters and clinicians working in mental health settings. In N. Glickman, Deaf mental health care (pp. 107-137). New York: Routledge.

Many deaf persons served in mental health settings show significant language dysfluency in the “best” language, usually ASL. Sign language dysfluency in deaf people has four major causes: neurological problems associated with the etiology of deafness, language deprivation, aphasias, and psychotic disorders. Each cause can affect language development and usage in a particular way. In this article, numerous examples of sign language dysfluency are offered along with a discussion of their implications for interpreting, especially in mental health settings. The authors draw upon the Demand-Control interpreting approach of Dean and Pollard to illustrate interpreter decision-making when faced with the challenge of dysfluent language. The advantages and disadvantages of collaboration with deaf interpreters are reviewed. Finally, suggestions for best practice in interpreting for language dysfluent deaf persons in mental health settings are offered. Clinical discussion pertains to what the language problems may mean; specifically, how clinicians can begin to differentiate between language problems related to mental illness and those related to language deprivation. Another issue is how language problems can contribute to psychiatric problems such as with a patient whose inability to communicate his feelings to his team of helpers lead to behavioral problems, the inference he was suicidal, and psychiatric hospitalization. Understanding language problems is of particular importance in mental status exams and diagnostic interviewing. Some guidelines for clinician/interpreter collaboration are included.

Pollard, R. (1998). Mental health interpreting: A mentored curriculum. Rochester: University of Rochester School of Medicine.

The target audience for the curriculum includes foreign language and sign language interpreters who occasionally or frequently work in mental health service settings. There is an open-captioned version of the video for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers (the regular version of the video shows subtitles when characters speak in a foreign language and their comments are not immediately translated into English). The curriculum was designed and written by a multi-cultural team of bilingual clinicians and mental health interpreters. The text and video are designed to be used together in a learning relationship between the interpreter-trainee and an experienced teacher or mentor. The curriculum format allows for study at the interpreter and mentor’s own pace, although it has been used in traditional classroom settings as well. Chapters 1 through 9 begin with a set of learning objectives and end with a learning check or brief examination so that educational progress can be documented. At the end of most of the chapters, there are instructions about which videotape vignettes to watch, followed by discussion questions for the interpreter and mentor to talk about together to facilitate deeper appreciation of the material and issues raised.

Smith, C. & Dicus, D. (2015). A preliminary study on interpreting for emergent signers. Sign Language Studies, 15(2), 202-224.

Sign language interpreters work with a variety of consumer populations throughout their careers. One such population, referred to as “emergent signers,” consists of consumers who are in the process of learning American Sign Language and who rely on interpreters during their language acquisition period. A gap in the research is revealed when considering the interaction between this growing population and the interpreting field. The present study thus attempts to provide a preliminary examination of the topic by reporting on the findings of a survey conducted with interpreters affiliated with Gallaudet Interpreting Service at Gallaudet University. Results show that interpreters are working on a regular basis with this population, that the work is different from traditional interpreting work with fluent signers, and that interpreters have differing opinions on how the work should be approached. Implications for future areas of study and the overwhelming need for research on this subject are also discussed.

Solow, S. N. (1988). Interpreting for minimally linguistically competent individuals. The Court Manager, 3(2), 18-21.

This article provides an overview of working with consumers who have limited ASL skills due to a variety of reasons, particularly when working in legal settings. When working with such consumers, it is often beneficial to employ the services of a Deaf interpreter to work as a team with the hearing interpreter. Discussed, as well, is how the use of a Deaf interpreter in legal settings can be beneficial to all participants.