Deaf and hearing high-school students’ expectations for the role of educational sign-language interpreter

Deaf and hearing high-school students’ expectations for the role of educational sign-language interpreter

Sigrid Slettebakk Berge1,2* and Borgunn Ytterhus1

1Department of Social Work and Health Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway; 2Faculty of Teacher and Interpreter Education, Sør-Trøndelag University College, Trondheim, Norway


This article focuses on the role of the educational interpreter as seen from the student's perspective. Based on a classroom study conducted in Norway, it presents an analysis of interviews with high-school students who have hearing loss and with students who do not. The main finding is that both groups have similar expectations for the educational interpreter's role. Repeatedly mentioned topics were connected to how the interpreters mediated language, how they coordinated their interaction, and how they facilitated small talk situations between the students. With respect to the coordinative function, both groups appreciate if the interpreter advises them on how to organise the seating and coordinates the turn-taking. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students also appreciate if the interpreter adjusts the mediation to their visual orientation. The facilitator models are therefore more in line with the students’ expectations than a linguistically oriented role model, and to fulfil the students’ expectations educational interpreters appear to need a stronger implementation of interactional elements in their role definitions.

Keywords: Inclusive education; educational interpreter's role; students' expectations; facilitator model; Norwegian sign language

Citation: Society, Health & Vulnerability.

Copyright: © 2015. S. Slettebakk Berge & B. Ytterhus. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Published: 1 December 2015

Conflict of interest and funding: The authors have not received any funding or benefits from industry or elsewhere to conduct this study.

*Correspondence to: Sigrid Slettebakk Berge, Faculty of Teacher and Interpreter Education, Sør-Trøndelag University College, Trondheim, Norway. Email:


This article explores deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ and hearing students’ expectations of the educational sign-language interpreter's role. In Norway, the teaching of deaf and hard-of-hearing students at the high-school level is mainly undertaken as inclusive education in mainstream schools. To accommodate this pedagogical practice, a common solution is to use sign-language interpreters. The students’ perspectives are essential for understanding impediments to academic success and social inclusion (Metzger & Fleetwood, 2004). Our assumptions are that the students’ involvement in interpreter-mediated learning activities will depend in part on how they experience the presence of the interpreter, and they will also find that some role performance strategies will be more agreeable, supportive, and effective than others. Since a substantial part of the educational interpreter's role is to mediate peer students’ dialogues, the hearing students’ perspective is included in this study. This article addresses two research questions: 1) What expectations do the students have for the educational interpreter's role and responsibilities? 2) What role performances do the students believe promote inclusive education and peer students’ dialogue? The findings will be used to discuss the educational interpreters’ role in promoting inclusive education, which is actually the reason they entered the educational institutions in the first place.

The concept of professional role and role-sets is used to capture how individuals relate to each other and the institutional context in which they find themselves, as well as how their different statuses are constructed by certain expectations of their own and others’ duties and responsibilities (Sarangi, 2010, 2011). In the field of inclusive deaf education there is an ongoing discussion about educational interpreters’ responsibilities for deaf students and their status towards the teachers: Some experts feel that inclusion is best accomplished if the interpreter positions him- or herself as an impersonal language medium, whereas others think that the interpreter should be a member of the pedagogical team and “undertake other tasks” as well (Seal, 2004). This article will explore this professional role space (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013). The presented findings are based on interview data with 10 deaf and hard-of-hearing students and 10 hearing classmates. The data material is part of an ethnographic classroom study of interpreter-mediated learning situations in Norway, and the findings will contribute to the field of inclusive deaf education and to the field of educational interpreting. The article first describes the Norwegian context of educational interpreting and presents an overview of existing research on students’ role expectations.


Today, deaf pupils who use Norwegian Sign Language (NSL) mainly attend an inclusive school. This approach is based on the Salamanca Statement, which specifies that inclusion should be the norm for teaching disabled children (UNESCO, 1994). The statement establishes that local schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, or linguistic conditions. The principles are that “all children should learn together,” “ordinary schools must recognise and respond to the diverse needs of their students by having a continuum of services to match these needs,” and “inclusive schools are the most effective at building solidarity between children with special needs and their peers” ( Based on this framework it is important that students with and without hearing loss be able to overcome their language barriers and that the interpreter have a continuum of effective role performance strategies to accommodate their need for bilingual support.

There are two components that are the underpinning of the inclusive deaf-education movement: First, the government decided in 1997 that NSL is the primary language of deaf pupils/students, and the new curriculum granted them the right to “learn NSL and to be taught in a signing environment” (KUF, 1996). Second, from that time on, schools were responsible for hiring qualified interpreters at all educational levels. This created a new professional context where community interpreters have become educational interpreters. During this period, the Public Interpreter Service for the Deaf and Deafblind, the Interpreter Association, and the Interpreter Education Programme were also fully established, and these institutions have become arenas where interpreters can discuss their role description as outlined by the association (Woll, 1999). Three components have the main focus in the ethical guidelines: the interpreter should mediate everything that has been said in an equivalent way, he or she should be neutral and not express his or her opinion towards the interlocutors, and he or she should maintain the code of silence (Kermit, 2007). These components are still in focus in the guidelines (the term neutral has been changed to impartial). In addition to this, the guidelines state that the interpreter should inform service users about how to adopt their language use for mediation and that they must be aware that their own performance will influence the dialogue and how the users see each other ( Hence, the Ethical Guidelines have established a dialogical and situated understanding of the interpreter's role. This turning point can be seen in light of the changes in the models explaining interpreter-mediated communication.

Models for understanding the interpreter's role

With respect to how the interpreter's role (or roles) is understood, four relevant models are found: the helper model, the conduit model, the bilingual facilitator model, and the bilingual/bicultural facilitator model (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2014; Pöchhacker, 2004). The first is a pre-professional model that sees the interpreter as a helper for the deaf person. This view was based on the assumption that deaf persons needed help to represent themselves to the hearing population, meaning that the interpreter could be actively involved in the dialogue by expressing his or her opinions and selecting which information he or she found relevant for interpretation. The deaf person's freedom to act was therefore limited. Subsequently, sign language communities around the world argued for their rights to be treated on equal terms with the hearing population and called for interpreters who could offer neutral information and act as non-visible participants. This demand created the basis for the conduit model, which describes the interpreter as a “language machine” with the duty to provide neutral interpreting of words from one language to the other. Coordinating interaction was not seen as part of their responsibility. This model has had a strong impact on how the interpreter's role has been formed into a professional practice (Metzger & Fleetwood, 2004). However, the model was criticised for not allowing the participants enough support and for not describing the complex structures in face-to-face interpreter-mediated dialogues.

At the end of the 1990s, the facilitator model was introduced. This perspective emphasises that a variety of strategies are at the interpreter's disposal, and which strategy is the most effective is not a given. The interpreter's personal evaluations of what is said and done will influence his or her mediation and, through that, the interlocutors’ dialogue. The interpreter is therefore neither invisible nor neutral, and his or her presence will influence the participants’ dialogue (Napier, 2002). The model also says that the interpreter's responsibility is connected both to language mediation and to coordinating of interaction, especially in terms of overcoming barriers related to time-lag and turn-taking sequences (Metzger, 1999; Roy, 2000; Wadensjö, 1998). The fourth model builds on this approach, but adds a bicultural aspect, as it recognises that if an interpretation is to be truly effective the interpreter must contribute information that is familiar in one culture but not in the other (Mindess, 1999). However, even though the two facilitator models have been theoretically accepted over the last 20 years, it is said that interpreters working in the field still base their role space on such ideals as neutrality and invisibility (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013). In this article the models will be used to analyse deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ and hearing students’ role expectations.

Existing literature on students’ role expectations

On the general level, the relationship between educational interpreters, students, and teachers is frequently discussed in research in interpreted education. Most of the research in the reference list was done in the United Kingdom, Unite States, and Australia, where the largest research centres for deaf education and interpreting studies are located. The search was conducted in BIBSYS, Oria, and Google Scholar and by checking journals, websites, and reference lists in other articles. The discussion centres on the interpreters’ responsibilities and how involved they should be in guiding the students and in adjusting teaching practice. For instance, there is a discussion as to whether or not interpreters should facilitate linguistic explanations, take the initiative to establish contact between deaf and hearing students, and adjust the spatial arrangement to create a more visually accessible environment (Fleetwood, 2000; Harrington, 2000, 2005; Metzger & Fleetwood, 2004; Seal, 2004; Thoutenhoofd, 2005; Winston, 2004). When narrowing the literature search down to studies where the researcher has personally interviewed students about their opinions, only three empirically based articles were found relevant.

Kurz and Langer (2004) interviewed 20 deaf and hard-of-hearing students about their expectations for the educational interpreter's role. Their analysis found that the students have unclear understandings of the interpreter's role and that there are some contradictory opinions. The deviating opinions were related to the students’ age, where younger students were more likely to see their interpreter as an ally and someone they could be friends with, while older students wanted personal distance and thought that the interpreter's job was just to maintain the language transaction (Kurz & Langer, 2004). Hansen (2005) studied visually oriented classrooms in higher education and analysed teaching practices in inclusive settings and in classes for sign-language students. She interviewed five deaf students about their expectations for the interpreter's role. They responded that they expected the interpreter to act both as “a language machine and as a human” (2005, p. 102), meaning that during the lectures they wanted service from a neutral mediator, while in other less formal situations they wanted some personal contact and some signs of recognition. First of all, it was important that the interpreter have the needed sign-language skills to translate the utterances correctly, but they also needed to contribute with information that gave access to inclusion and participation (2005, p. 100). One example was that they could have some private meta-dialogue where the interpreter checked if they had understood the signs and the translated words.

Napier (2011) asked deaf and hearing students to describe their perceptions of the sign-language interpreter's role, and the most frequently mentioned concepts were understanding, needs, professionalism, language, and attitude (Napier, 2011). The concept of understanding refers to the interpreter's ability to understand the speaker's intention and mediate it in an understandable way. The concept of needs refers to the individual differences between the students and that each of these differences must be seen and addressed by the interpreter. Hearing students mentioned the need for information and that the interpreter should advise them in organising visually accessible seating arrangements. The word professional is related to the ethical guidelines, and the students preferred interpreters who were objective and non-judgemental. The hearing students were also concerned about the interpreter's role when it came to cooperating and participating in professional development. The concept of language refers to the interpreter's competence in constructing a fluent and equivalent interpretation of the speaker's utterances and speaking style. Deaf students also tended to divide interpreters into those who had “a good or a bad attitude,” where the former refers to those who showed flexibility in dealing with their hearing loss and who expressed signs of recognition. This attitude was central to the students’ feeling of having trust in the interpreter's competence. Napier concludes her work by saying that both groups of students preferred interpreters who acted like human beings and not like machines (Napier, 2011, p. 80). This article will be a contribution to the existing literature and supplement Napier's (2011) study, since it also includes hearing peers. It is also related to Hansen's (2005) study in that it combines classroom observation and interviews in a similar way.


The presented data is from an ethnographic classroom study of interpreter-mediated learning situations at the high-school level. The total data material consists of observation notes, video-recordings, and interviews with interpreters, teachers, and students. The fieldwork took place in five classes at three different high schools. Each class was repeatedly observed in two or three subjects, giving 40 days of fieldwork. Procedures for selection were managed by the administrator for the interpreting services and pedagogical advisors. The selection of hearing students was made according to which of them had been involved in an interpreted dialogue/group-work during the observation period. To anonymise the information, the date of the data collection is not mentioned. Ten deaf and hard-of-hearing students and 10 hearing classmates were interviewed in this project. Their courses of study were about children and youth services, health and welfare, transportation and industrial production, and general studies. There are two sets of interview data with the deaf and hard-of-hearing students: spontaneous talk in/during/after the lessons and in-depth interviews when the fieldwork was completed. Because the informal interviews were rarely recorded, the presented analysis builds on the in-depth interviews. The in-depth interviews with the deaf students were divided into two sections, where the first part had a more general character and the second part was used to discuss excerpts from the video-recordings. The interviews with the hearing students were more concentrated in numbers of questions and presented fewer video excerpts. There were six interviews with the deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and in total they amounted to 6 hours and 15 minutes. There were five interviews with the hearing students, and in total they amounted to 2 hours. The interviews were conducted individually or in groups. The first author is a fluent user of NSL, and the interviews were held in the students’ preferred communication method (spoken, voice supported by sign, or NSL).

The purpose of the study was to acquire insight into the students’ daily experiences of participating in interpreter-mediated learning activities. To do so, the interviewing strategy was to film some teaching situations and present excerpts from the recordings to the students. The idea was that the opportunity to see the situation would support their possibilities to focus on detailed sequences of interaction and talk about situated experiences. The presented video excerpts were selected because they represent repeatedly observed situations (Heath, Hindmarsh & Luff, 2010). To maintain this sequence, the researcher introduced the excerpt for a specific topic of interest, the students watched it, and then they responded to it. Most of the time the dialogue ran smoothly, and little input was needed from the researcher. However, if the students found it difficult to remember or understand what was going on in the situation, initiatives were made by the researcher to further frame the presented video excerpt (Berge & Raanes, 2009; Heath et al. op. cit.). These initiatives were made as descriptions of what was happening, to question possible communication barriers and suggest alternative strategies for professional adjustments. The initiatives were based on theoretical concepts connected to the interpreter's coordination role (Metzger, 1999; Roy, 2000; Wadensjö, 1998) and practical insight from other observed learning situations. The students were then asked to respond critically to the comments, and these second questions often stimulated further investigation of the presented situation. Constant checking, active listening, and theoretical interpretation were the interview strategies to ensure the validation of the empirical interview data (Brinkman & Kvale, 2015).

One initial phase in qualitative analysis is the process of transcribing (Brinkman & Kvale, 2015; Sarangi, 2010). In this project, the interviews conducted in spoken Norwegian were audio-recorded, while the interviews conducted in NSL were video-recorded with one or two cameras (one filming the interviewer and one filming the students). The recordings were then transcribed into written Norwegian. Due to the multiple language modalities the transcription work was a complicated process, and to control for reliability the researchers frequently went back to the original recordings. The analysis of the transcribed material followed the guidelines described by Coffey and Atkinson (1996). In the initial phase, we read through the transcription line by line and coded it to identify what the students were talking about. This step was followed by a focused coding, where the most mentioned topics and the most significant experiences were identified. These items were mapped together and established the categories. Then, to make sense of the categories, we examined them according to models of understanding for the interpreters’ linguistic and coordinative responsibilities. However, this work was not a linear process because the codes, categories, and concepts were closely related, and an important part of the analysis was to establish such linkages (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996, p. 27).

This work had a constructive approach, where the analysis and the results were based on the mutual interplay between everyday life in the classrooms, the researchers’ positions, and the students’ personal experiences. In this study, the researchers’ craftsmanship (Brinkman & Kvale, 2015, p. 283) can be both a benefit and a limitation in creating analytical validity: The first author is a sign language user, an authorised interpreter, and a teacher for interpreting students. This insider position in the sign language community creates some linguistic and cultural shared understandings with the students. This sensitivity might support the researcher's abilities to observe and ask relevant questions about the students’ everyday life experiences. The limitation might be that the background knowledge could lead to predetermined assumptions. However, the second author is an experienced researcher in the field of inclusion and disabled children, but does not have any experience with interpreting and deaf studies. As we worked together and systematically followed the procedures recommended by Coffey and Atkinson (1996), the presented findings were seen to be representative of the students’ experience. The steps in the analysis are illustrated in Table I.

Table I.  Steps in the analysis.
Substance in the empirical data    
Hearing students Deaf students Coding Categories
- Language and interpretation competence
- Reproduction of style and speaking genre
- Rectifying omissions
- Language and interpretation competence
- Reproduction of style and speaking genre
- Rectifying omissions
- Bilingual chaining: that the interpreter can explain linguistic differences
Language abilities
The language mediation role
- Organising seating arrangement in group-work dialogues
- Information about adjustments
- Organising seating arrangements in group-work dialogues
- Information about adjustments
Interaction abilities
The coordination role
- Coordination of turn-taking and dialogical participation - Coordination of turn-taking and dialogical participation
- Timing of information
- Coordination of visual orientation and accessibility
- Managing deictic utterances
- Attentive and flexible when informal group-work/peer students’ talk is initiated
- Contributing with small talk
- An easy-going presence
- Attentive and flexible when informal group-work/peer students’ talk is initiated
- Contributing with small talk
- An easy-going presence
Personal abilities
The role of facilitating students’ dialogue


The categories we constructed were connected to expectations of 1) the role of language mediation, 2) the role of coordination, and 3) the role of facilitating peer students’ dialogues. The main finding is that both deaf and hard-of-hearing students and hearing students have similar expectations for the educational interpreter's role: Both groups expect the interpreter to have language and interpreter skills and to take a coordinative responsibility. For instance, both groups appreciate if the interpreter advises them on how to adjust the seating and highlight possible turn-taking moments so that they all have a better opportunity to participate in the dialogue. The response diverges into two topics as the deaf and hard-of-hearing students also mention that the interpreter should accommodate the mediation to their visual orientation and their bilingual and bicultural background. This concern was not expressed by the hearing students, but that is understandable as they do not have this need. To the authors, the most surprising finding is in the third category: both groups thought it would support their peer-to-peer dialogues if the interpreter could initiate some small talk and facilitate peer students’ dialogue. Related to this point, both student groups wanted the interpreter to have a personal and easy-going presence. However, the students also wanted the interpreter to draw a professional line for his or her involvement, meaning that they wanted the interpreter to act as a human being, but not as their personal friend. To illustrate the substance in the categories, some excerpts from the data material are presented below.

Category 1: The language mediation role

One basic expectation of the sign-language interpreter's role is that he or she will have language qualifications to perform simultaneous interpretation and that the mediation will be correct according to the speaker's meaning and speaking style (Kurz & Langer, 2004). The analysis shows that both student groups expect that the interpreter have the linguistic competence to mediate their utterances. The following excerpt presents what three hearing students think this qualification consists of:

Excerpt 1: Language, style, and the safeguarding of social interests

Interview with three hearing students from the upper secondary general studies course

Interviewer: So what would you say makes a good interpreter for hearing students?

Katja: Someone who can understand everything that's supposed to be interpreted and that you don't notice too much, they're just there. It's rude to say, but (she laughs)…

Interviewer: No, no, it's not rude to say that, that they shouldn't be too disturbing. So what does the interpreter need to do, to not be too noticeable or too disruptive?

Dan: Really just stay in the background and don't stand in the way too much, for example when the teacher is teaching by the blackboard. Most of the time they manage just fine.

Interviewer: Other things about a good interpreter for hearing students?

Siv: They really have to pay attention to everything that's going on and make sure they come to the situation where they're supposed to interpret. If all of a sudden some group work starts up, without the teacher having said anything specific about it, they've got to get there quickly and interpret what we're saying.

Katja: Also that they use the tone of voice that Lisa would have used if she could speak for herself. Because if they're just speaking in a monotonous voice, it becomes a whole different message. They're really good at that.

Dan: Other than that, I don't know … Maybe that they don't show too much of their personal opinion about what the person is saying. They don't do that anyway, and that's really important.

Katja: I think they must have a really good understanding of Lisa's needs and that they sort of take care of her.

Ina: Mm. They're really good at including her in the class.

Interviewer: The interpreters?/Mm/How do they take care of Lisa and include her? Do you have any examples?

Ina: It's that they interpret the little things that are being said, like compliments or comments that we say during class.

Katja: It seems like they have that kind of small talk along the way, at the beginning or the end of the class period, and that's good.

The hearing students experienced that access to the words is not enough for understanding the meaning of the mediated utterances (Linell, 2009). In the excerpt we see that they valued interpreters who, when voicing a signed utterance into a spoken utterance, could deliver the message as if it were a voiced representation of the deaf student's personality and speaking style. The hearing students also appreciated interpreters who were not noticed, and they added that their talk runs more smoothly if the interpreter does not express what he or she thinks about their utterances. This indicates that the conduit model, which highlights the objective element in the interpreters’ role, is present in the students’ role expectations. However, at the end of the excerpt we see that the hearing students appreciated interpreters who showed some personal attention or “small talk” in relation to both the deaf and hard-of-hearing students. This indicates that the facilitator model is also relevant for understanding hearing students’ role expectations. Similar expectations are found among deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The following excerpt illustrates their opinions:

Excerpt 2: Access to the interpreter's bilingual competence

Interview with two deaf and hard-of-hearing students from the health and welfare class

Interviewer: What do you think is important in a good interpreter?

Nancy: They need to be good at understanding us, and good at signing.

Torill: They need to interpret what's said. I want them to interpret into sign language what the words mean. If it's a word they don't know, they can fingerspell the word clearly, but not just half of the word, the first letter, or skip over it. I'd rather they stopped the teacher and let him know when they can't interpret, because then he also knows when I have a problem. If not, the teacher believes that everything he says gets to me, but it doesn't: Maybe I've just been given a finger-spelled word or a made-up sign by the interpreter. It hasn't been interpreted in-depth with meaning so that I can under stand it.

Nancy: It would also be good if we could discuss together with the interpreters what certain signs and words mean: For example, if an interpreter used a sign I didn't understand, or if there was a word in the books that I'd never seen before, I could be allowed to ask her what it meant and then she could help me by explaining it. As it is now, if I ask, the interpreter fetches the teacher so that he can explain it to me. Of course, if I'm way off we can fetch and ask the teacher, but sometimes I just need a short explanation. I wonder quite a lot about this: I thought it was normal that interpreters explained words, but they don't! Why don't the interpreters take some time to explain what the words mean? And: if they see that I've misunderstood, why don't they tell me? I would feel a lot more secure if they would. Fingerspelling quickly, that's maybe a solution for them, but it doesn't help me: I don't understand what's said until I've got a sign that I know the meaning of.

Interviewer: So if needed, you want the interpreter to take responsibility to fingerspell, show the sign, and explain the concept?

Nancy: Yes, and that we can be allowed to ask them “what does that word mean?” and “what did you just fingerspell?” Just that I can be allowed to ask them, that's all.

The interpreter's role space is constructed in the intersection between the national sign language and the national spoken language: In this study, deaf and hard-of-hearing students expect that the interpreter should have enough sign-language qualifications to understand what they are saying, that she or he can adjust the mediation for each student's preferred language style and can construct an equivalent representation of the utterances. The linguistic element in the interpreter's duty is basic for maintaining the intention behind inclusion and equal accessibility: to participate in the dialogues, deaf and hard-of-hearing students need to know what the other participants have said, and they need to know that their own responses will be mediated fluently and correctly. However, the above excerpt provides insight into language barriers connected to interpreted education.

Inside the sign-language community, bilingual competence and sign-language skills vary: some prefer interpreting to NSL while others prefer transliteral interpreting where the signs follow the structure of the spoken language (sign support system). In some cases it can be useful to combine these two, as a transliteral interpretation can sometimes provide better access to subject-specific terminology, whereas the interpretation between the two languages gives more fluent access to general language use (Napier & Barker, 2004). The interpreter's competence in effectively using these two mediation strategies seems essential in deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ expectations. Another expectation is that interpreters are willing to share their bilingual insight.

A national sign language vocabulary develops with the needs of the users. Historically, people in the deaf community worked in the manual trades where there was little demand for academic concepts. Although this situation has changed along with the increasing number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students completing higher education, there is still a gap between the terminology used by academically trained teachers and the signing vocabulary available to the interpreter (Napier, 2002). When translating difficulties occur, one solution is that the interpreter fingerspells the word letter by letter (described in excerpt 2). This raises an ethical dilemma: For the interpreter this can be an effective strategy because she or he finds a way to mediate the word and does not have to stop the teacher's lecture, but for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students, this strategy can create a breakdown in their meaning-making process. In this context, the spelling strategy seems to affect the student's feeling of trust towards the interpreter as an ally working in his or her best interests (Napier, 2011).

The two deaf students pose a question about whom they can turn to for linguistic explanations (in the middle of Excerpt 2), and this point is related to daily experiences of where the interpreter should draw the line for his or her role and responsibilities. In this context, the usual division of responsibility is that the teacher is the one who explains the words. The two deaf students do not exclude the teacher from this responsibility, but they want a more flexible arrangement, as sometimes it will be more natural to ask the interpreter to satisfy their needs for bilingual support. They say, “we just want the opportunity to ask the interpreter.” However, the two students have an expectation of more professional flexibility, and that the interpreter and the teacher be willing to share the responsibility for maintaining language explanations. Their focus is on finding the most effective way of gaining access to the presented concepts, and they do not want to selectively choose between the interpreter's and the teacher's competence when it comes to explaining the terminology in use. This issue points out an area of hybrid role expectations (Sarangi, 2011), where the characteristic of the word decides who they should turn to rather than predetermined role descriptions.

The different models for understanding the interpreter's role can explain the presented division of responsibility: The conduit model does not recommend the educational interpreter be involved in such tasks as explaining. This model defines this task as a pedagogical responsibility belonging to the teacher. Based on the students’ descriptions, it seems that the interpreters working in this context are using this model as a guideline to decide their role space (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013). However, based on the presented excerpt, it seems that the students want something more from the interpreters than they receive, and it seems like the bilingual and bicultural facilitator model is more consistent with their role expectations. Bearing this in mind, one can say that they want their interpreter to consider themselves as a member of the pedagogical team (Seal, 2004) and share this responsibility with their teacher.

Category 2: The coordination role

The concept of coordination points to actions taken by the interpreter to support the interlocutors’ dialogue, and it may involve adjustments to the spoken utterances or to their interaction (Wadensjö, 1998). In the interpreting field, the interpreter's coordinative role has been discussed, and the different opinions on this topic can be related to the models for describing the interpreter's role: Some define coordinative actions as “helping” or “interfering,” indicating that the interpreter is breaking her or his neutral speaking position and taking on responsibilities that the other participants should manage themselves. Others think that this kind of action naturally belongs to the interpreter's role as a bilingual and bicultural facilitator (Wadensjö, 1993/2002). This article contributes to this discussion: Our analysis highlights three themes related to the students’ expectations of the educational interpreter's coordinative role: 1) to be responsible for adjusting the seating for an interpreter-friendly environment, 2) to coordinate turn-taking, and 3) to adjust the mediation to deaf students’ visual orientation.

The first theme is related to the interpreter's role to decide, or not, how the students should sit in group-work situations: In inclusive settings, classroom seating is usually geared towards the hearing majority and their sound-based language culture, and it does not accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ visual orientation (Hansen, 2005; Kurz & Langer, 2004; Winston, 2004). The question is then whether the interpreter has a responsibility to adjust the seating arrangements. The following excerpt presents an observed situation, which is being discussed with three hearing students: They are referring to an episode where the teacher told the students to work as a group, but instead of moving their desks to make a group setting, they just turned to each other from where they were seated. This seating arrangement did not optimise an inclusive and interpreter-friendly arrangement, as the interpreter did not have a place to sit down. The interpreter's strategy in this case was to stand behind the circle of students. One possible advantage of this strategy was that she did not have to instruct the students. The disadvantage was that it would have been more difficult for the interpreter to hear the students’ voices and to coordinate their turn-taking than if she were to be seated inside the circle with them. Another strategy would therefore be to ask the students to change their seating arrangements. The question is then what the students think about the interpreter's role performance:

Excerpt 3: Coordination of seating arrangements

Interview with three hearing students from the health and welfare class

Interviewer: So, this was the start of the group-work situation. What do you think about the placement of the interpreter? What happened was that the teacher asked you to move yourselves into a group and you all turned around, but the desks were left as they had been before, between you. Then the interpreter placed herself behind Ine, standing, as there wasn't any place for her to sit down. But it can be rather difficult for the interpreter to hear what you're saying from this position. So I wonder: What do you think about the placement of the interpreter in this situation? Would it be intrusive if the interpreter had asked you to move and sit closer together, in relation to her role?

Klara/Ine: No.

Hanne: No. We have to be flexible and adjust, too. We can't just ignore her! She's just doing her job and can't stand there, you know.

Interviewer: So if she had given a little information about good ways to sit when you're talking through an interpreter, you would have understood that?

Hanne/Klara: Yeah/mm.

Interviewer: So if she had asked you to move closer together, you would have?

Hanne/Klara: Yeah/Mmm.

Interviewer: Without being offended?

Hanne: But there's nothing to be offended about! The interpreter is just another person and she doesn't have supernatural hearing either! [laughs]

Klara: She could have just sat herself in the circle with us right away.

Interviewer: Would it have been more natural, if she'd just taken a place in the circle?

Hanne: She has to, really, to do her best job. It's hard to stand behind us and hear what we're saying.

Interviewer: Well, in general, interpreters are a bit careful about being too involved in organising you into groups.

Hanne: Actually, I can really see that, because it's not their job, but really, it is their job! I guess it's uncomfortable for them to come to us and say: “You'll sit there and you'll sit there and you'll sit there,” but that's better than if she doesn't hear what she's supposed to be interpreting.

As we can see in Excerpt 3, the hearing students understand that the interpreter hesitates to instruct them, but they think that it is in fact the interpreter's responsibility to adjust their seating arrangements in group-work situations and they would prefer being instructed rather than excluding their deaf classmate from their dialogue. The interpreter's role performance in the presented context seemed to be based on the conduit model as she chose (what she thought was) “the least visible” strategy. However, according to the students’ experience, this role performance made her more noticeable than if she had asked them to accommodate her presence. The analysis indicates therefore that hearing students find the facilitator model most relevant to their needs. The analysis points to an area of role-hybridity (Sarangi, 2011), as there are no clear guidelines for how involved the interpreter should be when it comes to advising the students in how to make an inclusive and interpreter-friendly environment. The interpreter's role in coordinating the seating arrangements was a repeatedly mentioned theme throughout the fieldwork, where all the observed interpreters hesitated to tell the students how they could be seated in group-work activities. This task was seen as the teachers’ responsibility.

The second theme is the interpreter's role in coordinating the turn-taking: In face-to-face-dialogues the exchange of speaking turns will take place at certain moments in the dialogue, and to identify these moments the participants must be sensitive to each other's utterances and response signals (Linell, 2009). In interpreter-mediated dialogues this negotiation process is challenging because the mediation process creates some time delay, meaning that deaf and hard-of-hearing students receive the turn-taking signals later than their hearing peers (Hansen, 2005). To support the dialogue, the interpreter can create coordinative signals that indicate when the turn is ready to be taken (Roy, 2000). When asking one of the hard-of-hearing students, we find that this kind of support is necessary if he is to participate in the dialogue with his hearing peers:

Excerpt 4: Coordination of turn-taking

Interview with a hard-of-hearing student from the general studies course

Interviewer: You told me (in the classroom, during observation) that it's difficult for you to know when you can start talking because the sound from the others’ voices blends together. I wonder; could you have let the interpreter know this, and asked for some kind of signal showing when it's possible to start speaking?

John: Yeah. I want to say something, you know, but I don't think the interpreter realises that it's hard for me to figure out when I can start talking. When there's a lot of talking going on I just hear voices, it's just like a “mmmmmm.” [makes a humming sound] But another problem is that I don't know if I'm talking loudly enough, because I don't hear my own voice. I can hear my voice, but “am I talking too loud” or “am I talking too soft”? because then the person I'm talking to can't hear me …

Interviewer: Well, there are ways to let you know about this, for example if the interpreter raises her hand slightly when you're talking, does that signal that you can talk louder (…). Has the interpreter talked with you about techniques like this?

John: No. I got some information about how to inform the interpreter when I won't be in class, and some general information about her role and confidentiality, but nothing about what we're talking about here.

There is great variety in the severity of deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ hearing loss: John can hear the voices of his classmates, but when several persons are present, their voices sound like a buzz. The possible turn-taking moments are therefore difficult for him to locate directly. Another barrier is to know if he is talking loud enough so that the hearing classmates can hear him. Therefore, even though he wanted to talk, he did not. In the excerpt we also note that he has not talked with his interpreter about finding a way to overcome this barrier. The question is then if the interpreter and John could have cooperated in a way that could have enhanced his inclusion in the dialogues with his classmates. In the field of interpreting, coordinative strategies have been established to deal with the negotiation process for turn-taking (Roy, 2000; Wadensjö, 1998). When asked about this, John says that he wants to have access to strategies like these and use them to cope with the vocal-based language practice in his class. This means that he is calling for the bilingual and bicultural facilitator model. However, as these kinds of signals are not provided or talked about, it seems that the interpreter working in his class is using the conduit model as her guiding principle for constructing her role space (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013).

The third theme is the interpreter's role in coordinating the mediation according to the deaf and hard-of-hearing student's visual orientation. The challenge of accessibility is found in the tension point between different language cultures: In a visually oriented classroom, the teacher will give time for the deaf student to both see the teacher's signing and the artefact in focus for the lecture (Bagga-Gupta, 2004; Hansen, 2005). In a vocal-based language practice, the hearing students have the capacity to listen to the teacher's voice and look at the artefact in focus at the same time. Visual accessibility complicates inclusive interpreter-mediated teaching practices and, if the teacher's discourse practice is not adapted to meet deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ visual processing needs, information will be lost (Minor, 2011; Winston, 2004). The following excerpt illustrates Tor's experiences from the school's workshop. The excerpt is based on a filmed situation when he was instructed by his teacher in how to use the welding machine:

Excerpt 5: Coordination of visual focus

Interview with a deaf/hard-of-hearing student from the transport and industrial processing class

Interviewer: In this situation, there were many words and objects: regulator, gas, solder, and things like that. Did you grasp all those words?

Tor: No, not all of them (…).

Interviewer: Mm … What do you think: When the teacher says “that's the regulator,” could the interpreter have said: “that” and then pointed at the main valve, paused, and then said “is regulator.” Could that have been a good way?

Tor: Yeah, the interpreter could stop a second because then I'd have time to turn my head and see the valve. It's good for me to get a chance to see the valve and that it's being pointed at. If not, I don't know which valve is being talked about. Then I'm like: was it this valve or that valve? It's good if they are confident enough to do that, because then it's not so rushed.

Interviewer: Do you often feel that way: that the communication feels rushed?

Tor: Yes.

Interviewer: Mm. I've interviewed interpreters who say that “I don't want to interfere” or “I don't want to interrupt the communication and stop them too often,” do you think that is a good way?

Tor: No, I don't think it is. It's time for a change. I think this needs to be a part of their job: it's natural that the teacher isn't attentive to my needs, but the interpreter can help us so that we can talk together. It's natural that the interpreter has to stop the teacher because sign language takes time. This responsibility is important, in the future.

In this situation many objects were mentioned. To understand the instruction Tor had to capture information about which of the different welding torches he should use. In the excerpt we note that Tor experiences this as a rushed communication situation, as he does not have enough time to turn his gaze and look at the artefact in focus. When the researcher and Tor look at the video excerpt, we can see how Tor rapidly moves his eyes between the teacher's gestures, the interpreter's signs, and the different welding torches. However, there were no pauses to support Tor's visual processing needs, so when he looks at the interpreter he will miss information from the teacher's pointing at the different torches, and when he looks at the torches he will miss information from the interpreter's mediation. The meaning in the teacher's instructions is therefore hard to capture.

Tor explains his barriers by saying that it takes more time to explain something when using NSL. This statement needs to be modified: It does not take more time to say the same utterance in a signed language, but there is a difference in how interlocutors visually organise their interaction, and this task was not done well, if at all, in the given situation, neither by his teacher nor his interpreter. When the interviewer suggested some coordinative strategies, the student saw this as an effective solution. He also says that he did not expect the same communicative insight from his teacher, as he does not have the same background knowledge as the interpreter. Again, we see that the deaf and hard-of-hearing student wants the interpreter to cooperate with the teacher and find strategies to effectively use their competence as bilingual and bicultural facilitators. In the presented situation, the interpreter's language production was in line with the teacher's utterances, and in terms of the conduit model the interpreter's responsibility was accomplished. However, in terms of the facilitator model, the interpreter's mediation strategy was not effective and did not support Tor's visual processing needs.

Category 3: The role of facilitating peer students’ communication

The problem of barriers blocking the establishment of personal contact between deaf and hard-of-hearing students and their hearing classmates was a repeatedly mentioned topic in all the observed classrooms. This finding is in line with earlier studies that have also found that students with a hearing disability in general experience more social exclusion than their hearing peers (Stinson & Antia, 1999). Talking with someone who uses another language and another language modality can be difficult. Nancy, a deaf student, describes it in this way:

Excerpt 6: Establishing peer dialogues

Interview with two deaf students from children and youth services class

Interviewer: I wonder, you have said many times that the hearing students aren't interested in talking to you, what do you mean?

Torill: Not exactly interested like, but it's like they don't think about us, or that they just … Learning sign language isn't so important, you know ….

Interviewer: So they don't show interest in asking about your spare time, what activities you like, about boyfriends, friends?

N and T: No (shake their heads).

Nancy: Just on Facebook.

Torill: Yeah, just on Facebook.

Interviewer: You talk together on Facebook?

Torill: Yeah, at least with two hearing students, you know, not with the others.

Interviewer: Why do you think it's like that?

Nancy: Well it's like, well, because we have prejudices.

Interviewer: Prejudices?

Nancy: Yeah, we have prejudices against them, and they have prejudices against us. I don't think it's a matter of them (the hearing students) not wanting to be together with us, but they just don't know how to talk to us, and when we don't know how to start to talk to them they think that we don't want to be with them.

Interviewer: So it is like you don't dare reach out to them, and the hearing students think the same?

Nancy: Yes. Each night I think, “tomorrow I'm going to try to talk with the hearing students,” but it never happens, we're just: we look at each other, we stand there, we get embarrassed, we say “hi,” and then we just go away from each other.

Torill: It's strange that it's like that, because I really am an open person: If we're together with deaf people and we speak in sign language then I'm like normal: I talk, I'm sociable, I have fun, and I'm happy. But in the classroom I get all quiet and careful and I just nod to the others and smile crooked, like. It's only on Facebook that the hearing students can see who I really am and what I'm up to, but it's a little strange, because that's not who I am in the classroom …

A repeatedly mentioned topic in the data material is interactional barriers to establishing contact. This problem goes both ways as the deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the hearing students can find it difficult to establish a dialogue and overcome the introduction phase between them. To accommodate for an inclusive education, the question has therefore been raised as to whether the interpreter can take the responsibility to initiate peer students’ dialogues (Seal, 2004). Related to the second research question, one finding in the empirical analysis is that both groups of students expect the interpreter to know how to act with them socially and they find it supporting for their own dialogue if the interpreter can contribute some kind of social input. In one of the video-recorded situations from home economics class, Nancy and Torill were making fishcakes together with Klara and Hanne. In the observed course of 3 hours the interpreter did not utter any personal comments relating to the pupils’ work on making the food. We are now speaking about the communication situation where the pupils were sitting together to eat the dinner they had prepared, and two of the hearing students described the presence of the interpreter in this way:

Excerpt 7: Relational competence and being present in informal settings

Interview with three hearing pupils in children and youth services class

Interviewer: I'm thinking about the situation when you were sitting down to eat the food you had prepared, then Torill and Nancy, the interpreter, and some of you were sitting around the table. Then I observed that the interpreter was sitting quietly and withdrawn, kind of. She didn't eat any food and she didn't say much. What do you think about this? What would you have thought about the interpreter if she had joined a little in the talk?

Klara: Yes, I think that it would have been much easier to talk around the table.

Hanne: I believe it would have been much easier to talk to Torill and Nancy then. We need the interpreter to have a real conversation together, and then it's much better if the interpreter has a bite to eat with us, rather than we having to say something like “hi, interpreter, I'm going to say something.” Now I feel that she only is there, like. It's not like we get to know her or anything, I don't even know her name. I only know she has been here before, really.

Interviewer: So it would be better if she joined in, in these small talk situations, because then it's like more social for you?

Hanne: Yeah. She's here to help Torill and Nancy, but it would be much easier for us hearing pupils if the interpreter was more a part of the group. The interpreters are kind of part of us, of the class. It would perhaps be easier for the interpreters too, then, to sit down with us when we are doing group work. Because then we would have got accustomed to them, right away.

Interviewer: Mm … I think the reason is that the interpreters don't want to disturb the conversation between you and the deaf pupils. That's probably why they should remain in the background and keep out of your conversation. But now you have to take sides and say yes or no: It almost seems like you're thinking the opposite, that it would be even better if the interpreter joined in the social conversation, because it would improve the interaction between you students?

Klara: Yes, I think it would have been much easier to talk to Torill and Nancy then.

Hanne: Yes, then it would be more social in a way, like, and it would be easier to talk then.

Interviewer: It's not that they should talk all the time, but it is more like some polite phrases we use, just to make it like easy and open …

Hanne: Yes. It can become a bit embarrassing sometimes …

Interviewer: If the interpreters say nothing?

Hanne: Yes. If they only like stand and “now it's over and done” like … [laughs]

In this class, deaf and hearing students work side by side for several hours. While they are cooking the food and later on while eating it, they would have appreciated it if the interpreter had an easy-going presence and was willing to facilitate some small talk that could help them to establish their own dialogues. The function of small talk is often described as being a conversational lubricant, helping to establish or maintain a dialogue. Openers are often comments about the weather, others’ appearance, or the activity in which they are involved. The interpreter who was working in the home economics class very rarely contributed this kind of coordinative initiative. However, the interpreter in the transportation and industrial processing class often used this strategy, and the next excerpt presents two hearing students’ experiences and what role performance they think promotes inclusive education and peer students’ dialogue:

Excerpt 8: Being present in a natural way

Interview with two hearing boys from the transportation and industrial processing class

Interviewer: I've noticed that in the workshop the interpreter not only interprets assignments and technical terminology, but also takes part in humour and joking between the students.

Are: Yeah, you know, when we're messing around.

Interviewer: How does that feel like? Can you be funny and mess about, even when the interpreter is there?

Harald: Yeah, sure.

Are: It hasn't bothered me in any way.

Harald: I don't even think about it, I just communicate.

Interviewer: But the fact that the interpreter is an adult woman, that doesn't matter either?

Harald: No. I'm comfortable around older people.

Are: Sometimes we joke around with the interpreters, too.

Interviewer: Oh? Is that important to you, that the interpreters can do that?

Harald: Yes.

Are: Yes. It's not enough just being a middleman, you know.

Interviewer: No? Because some people think that interpreters shouldn't say anything on their own, but just be a middleman. You rather think that it would be a bit odd if they didn't contribute a little themselves, you know, in the joking around?

Harald: Yeah, that would be a bit strange.

Are: Yeah, I think that would have been really strange.

Harald: If they just had a stone face they'd be like a doll just standing there. That's something to think about, that too.

Interviewer: Well, there are people who think that interpreters should be like that.

Are: I don't think so. Then the atmosphere would have been different and it would have been more difficult for us to joke around with each other.

In Excerpt 8 we see that the hearing students find it supportive if the interpreter has a natural self-presentation and contributes some social greetings and personal input. The opposite strategy, described as interpreters with “a stone face” and “who act like a doll,” was seen as creating a strange atmosphere. This is similar to what the student in Excerpt 7 called an embarrassing situation if the interpreter just stood there. This indicates that even though the students are well aware that the interpreter's primary role is to mediate their talk, they find it helpful for their own social dialogue if the interpreter is “present in a good way” (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2014). This kind of coordination seems especially important in the introduction phase: Once a common ground has been established between the students it will probably be easier for them to navigate the dialogue themselves, and the interpreter's contribution can be reduced. This kind of coordination will support the intentions of inclusive education. This finding is consistent with other studies that have looked at the interpreter's role in social talk settings (Evans-Jordan, 2015). However, the data analysis also finds that the interpreter's personal involvement needs to be balanced with some professional distance:

Excerpt 9. The balancing of closeness and distance

Interview with one deaf student from the general studies course

Interviewer: What do you think is a good interpreter role?

Lisa: Well, I think many students are a bit taken aback because the interpreters seem rigid or square, but they have a point: Many deaf students want to be friends with the interpreter, but that's not a good idea, because they have a professional role here.

Interviewer: Do you want the interpreter to be your friend?

Lisa: No, that wouldn't be natural. It's enough that they do their job and stay inside their role: that they have a good attitude and interpret what's being said. That's enough for me. Once in a while it's okay to have some small talk, but that has to be limited: It's important that the other hearing students understand that the interpreter has her own role for me.

In the above excerpt we see that Lisa wants her interpreter “to do her job and stay inside her role,” meaning that she prefers the conduit model role values and does not want too much help and contact with her interpreter. This expectation can be understood as part of her face-work (Goffman, 1959) as she wants the hearing students to understand that she is an independent learner in the setting. However, she also wants to be friendly with her interpreters and she appreciates having some personal contact once in a while. Similar expectations are a prevalent finding in this data analysis (see also Excerpts 1 and 7). The presented excerpts indicate that deaf and hard-of-hearing students and hearing students have some hybrid role expectations for the educational interpreter's role and responsibilities, and they want the interpreters to balance their professional performance along quite delicate lines of distance and personal involvement. As these lines are not predetermined, the interpreter needs to combine her or his theoretical vision, prior experience, and ethical considerations to construct situated decisions on how to act in the given context (Gustavsson, 2000). As in all occupations that include managing human relationships, the educational interpreter needs both technical skills and social competence to manage the job effectively (Røkenes & Hanssen, 2002).


It appears that deaf and hard-of-hearing students and hearing classmates appreciate role values from both the conduit and the two facilitator models: The students want to be guided, they want access to direct explanations, and they appreciate it if the interpreter coordinates their dialogical interaction. However, they do not want the interpreters to overdo their presence and they do not want them to be their personal friend. The interpreter must therefore balance several roles and several expectations (Sarangi, 2010, 2011). This finding echoes Goffman's (1981) work by saying that educational interpreters need to balance several participation statuses. However, based on the presented analysis, it seems that the interpreter's linguistic and cultural competence is not completely available to the students and that they really would appreciate more support than they have access to in today's practice. For instance, the question is raised whether the interpreter can contribute more in providing linguistic explanations, adapting the seating arrangements, highlighting the possible turn-taking moments, and coordinating the discourse practice for visual access. By following the students’ expectations and recommendations the interpreter can also promote peer students’ dialogues, which is a premise for making inclusive education. Therefore it seems like the facilitator model is more in line with the students’ expectations then the mechanical and linguistic oriented model. To fulfil the students’ expectations, educational interpreters need a stronger implementation of interactional elements in their role definition. The educational interpreter's role space (Llevellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013) therefore needs to be further explored and investigated.


Deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are involved in inclusive learning activities must deal with the differences between a visual and a vocal language on a daily basis. Often, the language gap will be manageable, but sometimes linguistic and cultural chaining will be needed. It has been said that the conduit model has limited the educational interpreter's latitude, as the idea of invisibility has created a practice where interpreters keep their involvement to an minimum: As long as they can translate the spoken utterances, this model finds that the students are responsible for telling the teacher when their visual access is reduced, and it is the teacher's responsibility to check the students’ perceptions. That understanding has created a rather reserved role performance where the interpreter's role space has not been explored to the fullest (Dean & Pollard, 2011; Hauser & Hauser, 2008). The issue in the time ahead will therefore be to examine the possibility of normalising the educational interpreter's self-presentation and to explore how this role can include tasks that naturally belong to the interpreter's linguistic, cultural, and communicative competence (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2013, 2014).

Educational interpreters will be in a position where they have first-hand information about cultural and linguistic differences. They are also the only ones who truly know what information was passed on and whether they presented a single letter, spelling, mouthing, and/or an established sign. In other situations, the interpreter is the one who will best notice impediments to the deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ visual access or when they are struggling to find the right moment for entering the dialogue with their peers. In some cases, the interpreter is therefore the one who can best provide linguistic explanations and create coordinative actions to improve the deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ possibilities to participate in the learning activity, which will be in line with the intentions behind inclusive deaf education. These somewhat hybrid role expectations (Sarangi, 2011) can be demanding for the interpreters to deal with in practice as there are few guidelines pointing out right and wrong ways of proceeding. However, this approach is in accordance with the demands that other professionals who work face-to-face with other people have to deal with (Gustavsson, 2000).

The responsibility for providing linguistic explanations may call for a different model for thinking about the educational interpreters’ role than they might be used to. For some interpreters, taking bilingual responsibility for language chaining will be controversial. We argue, however, that this can be related to the facilitator model and naturally included in the interpreter's role space. If this responsibility were labelled as language chaining or sequential interpreting, the provision of explanations may become a more accepted responsibility. There is also no indication that the deaf and hard-of-hearing students expect that the interpreter should have the complete responsibility for performing this task. Likewise, there is no indication that the students expect that the teacher should not be informed about their exchange of information. Rather, our analysis points out that students both with and without hearing loss find the idea of professional exchange quite obvious. This point indicates that the students are open to the establishment of new role definitions, which includes new responsibilities and new strategies for professional cooperation.

Cooperation at the intersection between professional roles can be rather difficult to establish. For instance, the responsibility to express their opinion of “what is going on” in the mediated classrooms can be a new approach for educational interpreters, as they have often stayed in the background of the other participants (Harrington, 2005). The facilitating model can therefore be seen as threatening for the interpreter's professional face (Goffman, 1959) as, even though he or she is not responsible for the linguistic and cultural barriers, he or she might not feel comfortable making initiatives to coordinate the learning situations. The interpreter may also feel that this kind of advice can threaten the other users’ face, as it can be seen as criticism of their practice. However, the other users will sometimes depend on the interpreter's willingness to share her or his professional vision, and in that sense it would be rather difficult to restrict her or his responsibility to just the linguistic translation of words from one language to another.

The teachers’ role and their responsibility to listen and adopt their discourse practice to enhance an inclusive and interpreter-friendly environment therefore need to be recognised when evaluating the educational interpreter's role in inclusive education (Winston, 2004). Professional cooperation is therefore dependent on the establishment of some shared understanding of what is going on in the classrooms. This means that institutional arenas for cooperation must be established and used as part of the teacher's and the interpreter's daily work schedule. These arenas should also be available to the students. As the students’ need for support varies, so will their role expectations. Making the decision as to which role performance is most efficient must therefore be taken in cooperation with the deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are the users of their services. Although inclusion seems to be the new standard for education of people with hearing loss, surprisingly few researchers have asked the students what they consider to be successful strategies for how the interpreter services are carried out. Indeed, in this setting, none of the students had been involved in any discussion groups, workshops, and so on where interactional structures in interpreter-mediated communication had been discussed.

Looking ahead, educational interpreters need to identify the purposes of their job and their responsibility to support the institutional goals of learning and inclusion. As Fleetwood said: “Without a clear understanding of what a profession intends to support, the profession's viability cannot be measured, and consequently, the profession cannot be held accountable” (Fleetwood, 2000). The field of educational interpreters needs to develop a response to this statement, and in doing do interpreters must reflect on which models they find effective in performing their role. This study has shown that educational interpreters likely need a stronger implementation of interactional elements in their role definitions, to meet both students’ expectations and political goals on inclusive education. To do so the facilitator model seems to be a useful guide. Bearing this in mind, as we still know little about inclusive and interpreter-mediated classroom practices, more insight is needed and other studies are therefore more than welcome.


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Sigrid Slettebakk Berge is a registered sign-language interpreter and Ph.D. candidate at NTNU/Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. Now she works at HIST/Faculty of Teacher and Interpreter Education. She holds a master's degree in educational science. Previously she worked at NAV/Public Interpreting Services as a sign language interpreter. Her earlier research is on deaf-blind interpreting.

Borgunn Ytterhus is a registered nurse, Dr. Polit. in sociology, and professor in health science at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. She has been researching the field of disabled children and young people for years and has published articles and reports on social inclusion and participation in childhood in peer-reviewed journals and books.

About The Authors

Sigrid Slettebakk Berge
NTNU Department of Social Work and Health Science HIST Faculty of Teacher and Interpreter Education

Borgunn Ytterhus

Department of Social Work and Health Science

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