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5 Way Interpreting for Children Differs from Adults

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Anyone who has spent time around children knows that they aren’t mini-adults. They haven’t developed the maturity or the coping skills to handle certain every day scenarios let alone traumatic events.

Yet children still find themselves in situations that they don’t understand. From school enrollment to medical and legal appointments, they must navigate the adult world—sometimes without parents or guardians. Not speaking the language makes this even scarier, which is why interpreters should take extra steps to assist them with communication. Here are five ways children differ from adults and how you can adapt your interpreting style to address them.

  1. Smaller vocabularies. Children, especially younger ones, have smaller vocabularies. But that doesn’t mean you should use baby talk. Start by interpreting the adult speaker directly. If the child doesn’t seem to understand what a word means, ask the speaker to define it in simple terms. As the conversation progresses, try to interpret at the same vocabulary level as the child.
  2. Shorter attention spans. Children may struggle to stay focused during an extended conversation. Use shorter, simpler sentences when possible, but be careful not to paraphrase. You may leave out important information if you do.
  3. Sensitivity to tone. Even young children are aware of the power differential between them and adults. While you may need to alter your vocabulary and sentence structure, try to avoid sounding patronizing. If the child picks up on the difference in tone, he or she may refuse to talk to you.
  4. Less emotional regulation. Children are still learning how to regulate their emotions and express themselves. Some children may cry. Some may become angry. Others still may try to recoil altogether. Understand that this may be stressful for them, and be patient. Keep your speech steady and clear.
  5. Different comfort levels with adults. While some children happily have conversations with adults, others fear strangers. Whether a parent or guardian is in the room may also affect the child’s willingness to talk. Pay attention to how the child responds to you and adjust your approach accordingly. And remember, some children have experienced trauma and it may take them longer to feel comfortable talking.

Above all, remember that the key to interpreting for children is the ability to adapt to their needs. Taking the time to understand the child’s capabilities and limitations will help you build trust and ensure that the interpreting process goes more smoothly.    

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As technological innovations emerge at a rapid pace, we’re living in an increasingly interconnected world. Breakthroughs in transportation and telecommunications have allowed us to engage with people from different corners of the world and this newfound interconnectedness has revolutionized global interactions. But as the world gets smaller, language barriers bring an additional layer of challenges to cross-cultural engagements.