Author: Eleanor T. Robertson, Ph.D. Director, School Psychology, Trinity University

Since you may need to utilize a sign interpreter, there are several basic principles to remember.


  • Arrange seating in an isosceles triangle with yourself and the interpreter on the short side and the student opposite. The student can sign to both you and the interpreter and the interpreter can then speak to you (Olkin, 1999).
  • Be sure to look at the student most of the time and not the interpreter.
  • Make sure only one person speaks at a time. If you wish to interrupt, signal with a hand motion (Olkin, 1999).
  • If the student writes or draws, wait to speak because attention cannot be given to the interpreter.
  • Pay attention to face and body movements. Those who communicate with sign language use lots of gestures and what might appear to be exaggerated movements. This is normative, so do not interpret this as overly dramatic or histrionic. (Olkin, 1999).
  • Sign language utilizes direct communication patterns. This may appear somewhat blunt and impolite to a person from another culture. The Deaf Community, in contrast, may view hearing people as evasive and too tentative. Keep these factors in mind in interactions (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).
  • Speak in clear, complete sentences. Use synonyms and, if clarification is necessary, opposites to illustrate meanings. Do not be afraid to dramatize if this will aid in communicating (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).
  • Be aware that your counseling sessions may need to be shorter than those for hearing students since it is tiring to communicate through an interpreter because of the amount of attention and concentration required (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).
  • Use questions often to assure understanding. If repeating statements does not clear up any confusion, change the language system, try using pencil and paper to write or draw your communication, and eliminate any idioms (Strack-Grose, 1992).
  • Be aware of how to obtain an interpreter through a registry system and make note of the individuals who are especially helpful. Several countries maintain registries of interpreters with certifications for specific purposes, such as artistic performances or legal settings (Schwartz & Turner, 1995).