What Makes Interpreting at IEPs Unique?

Photo by Aaron Burden

This Thursday I had the opportunity to co-present a webinar for the NCIHC Home for Trainers series with Nora Goodfriend-Koven on Interpreting IEP Meetings. I was able to share some of the key concepts that helped me prepare for and effectively interpret at IEPs, as shared in the Preparing for IEPs online training available through MasterWord. So, what makes interpreting at IEPs unique?

Is it legal, medical or educational?

In my humble opinion, one of the things that makes interpreting at IEP meetings so challenging is the intersect between legal, medical, and educational interpreting. The individualized education program/plan (IEP) is, as the name entails, a program designed for a particular student to meet his or her personal academic goals.

IEPs are only developed for students who have a special need, as established by law, and qualify for modifications to the general (sometimes called regular) curriculum for their grade level. Since it is a program governed by law, the IEP meetings follow a very formal structure and may be recorded, making them like a legal proceeding.

The law that governs IEPs are very specific to what constitutes a special need and therefore an evaluation is necessary. The evaluations are usually loaded with medical terminology and are discussed in detail at an initial IEP and every few years, when qualification must be reestablished. However, the diagnosis and other key medical terminology could be discussed at any IEP, including annual IEP review meetings or special meetings called by any of the participants.

Finally, because the IEP sets academic goals, milestones, and benchmarks, it also contains academic language that can be very specific. I have interpreted at IEP meetings where the technique for teaching a student multiplication is discussed, including "the zero property" and "the identity property." Simple concepts for multiplying by zero and one that can catch us off guard when interpreting. Additionally, there are educational idiomatic expressions and turns of phrase that may pose linguistic challenges.

Acronyms, acronyms, and more acronyms

In the United States, we have an affinity for acronyms, and our education system is no exception. I fondly remember the humbling alphabet soup that was my first IEP interpreting assignment. I was completely unprepared. I made the mistake of thinking that the months I spent translating district communication prior to my first IEP had adequately prepared me. They had not!

The first acronym I faced was IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). What makes that acronym particularly difficult is that the acronym is pronounced like the word "idea." I was stuck trying to make sense of a phrase composed of words that I know, but were put together in a way I did not completely understand. I felt as if I had to ask for clarification every other sentence, which was not only uncomfortable for me, but likely confusing and annoying for all of the participants.

What do you think is unique about the sector(s) in which you help provide language access? Share your thoughts through comments.