Quick Tips for Interpreted Meetings

Language Access: A New Tool for You and a Call to Engage 

Given the rich diversity of students and families in our communities, we expect a majority of you have found yourself at a table, or on a Zoom meeting, communicating with a family through the aid of an interpreter. If you haven’t yet, chances are good that you will at some point. Like you, without access to qualified interpreters, we simply could not do our jobs of communicating effectively with families. Even with highly skilled interpreters at the table, effective communication is not a given.

Interpreting is an exceptionally difficult task, especially considering how many layers of cultural understandings and assumptions can be hidden beneath the actual words we say. If the rest of us in an interpreted conversation do not pause between ideas, try to avoid jargon, and give time for the interpreter to do their work, it can be nearly impossible to do it well.

Because working well with an interpreter is yet another skill on top of the many others asked of you as educational professionals, we here at the Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO) have been trying over the years to perfect a “quick reference” that captures the key steps for working with interpreters. We already have a few quick guides aimed at supporting interpreted conversations, including Interpretation Tips Cards in multiple languages, and Communicating with Families Using an Interpreter for school professionals.

After talking with WSASP's leadership team last year, we put together this new tool with some quick tips, space to list your key contacts for language access, and references for when translations of student-specific documents may be needed. Please try it out, tell us how you like it, and feel free to edit it to fit your needs.  

For those of you with particular interest in language access, we invite you join in the ongoing efforts of the state’s Language Access Workgroup, co-facilitated by OSPI and OEO.

Efforts to improve access to quality interpretation in the public education sector go back many years. While we have seen progress, there is still work ahead, especially around articulating a set of professional standards. There are certification requirements and professional standards for interpreters working in medical, legal, and social service arenas, and certification requirements and standards for interpreters providing sign language interpretation for students in schools. However, there are still no minimum standards or certifications for people providing spoken language interpretation in schools, and this leads to gaps and variability in the quality of interpretation available to education professionals and families.

There is momentum both locally and nationally to move this work forward. Professionals in the field have come together, gathered input from stakeholders, and developed a Code of Ethics and Professional Standards of Practice for Educational Translators and Interpreters of Spoken Languages. This fall, the Language Access Workgroup will be putting together recommendations for standards, training, testing, and credentialing for spoken and sign language interpreters in schools in our state.

If you are interested in this work, want to learn more, or add your insights, please reach out to us here at OEO by emailing oeoinfo@gov.wa.gov.

Quick Tips for Successful Interpreted Meetings with Multilingual Families

  • Prep the interpreter with a brief explanation of the purpose of the meeting, who will be participating, and copies of documents to be reviewed,
  • Review the interpreter’s role and expectations for all participants at the outset of the meeting to encourage effective communication,
  • Speak directly with the family,
  • Ask the interpreter to interpret all questions and comments so you can respond directly,
  • Watch nonverbal communication to see when there might be confusion or a question,
  • Check for understanding throughout the meeting, and
  • Ask everyone to pause and allow time for interpretation when the conversation starts moving quickly.  

Strategies to Avoid Common Pitfalls in Interpreted Communications

Do this:

To avoid the risk of this:

Prep the interpreter with a summary of what the meeting is about, and who will be participating.

Being misunderstood due to a lack of understanding of the context for the conversation.


Review expectations for full interpretation at the outset of the meeting.

Having your statements summarized, without knowing what has been emphasized and what has been left out.

Define words or phrases that have a particular meaning in the educational context that may differ from the common understanding of the term (example: “recovery services”).

Having a key word or phrase unintentionally misinterpreted.

Ask the interpreter to interpret any questions back for you so that you can answer them directly.

Missing the opportunity to clarify or correct misunderstandings.

Ask everyone to help remind each other to pause between statements to allow time for interpretation.

Having part of what you say, or what someone says to you, left out of the communication.

When working with a bilingual colleague who is serving as the interpreter for the meeting, take additional time to be clear about their role for the day. Let everyone know that they will convey everything said and that they will not add anything.

Having part of what you say, or what someone says to you, left out or reframed. Having additional information or opinion added to the conversation without knowing what it is.

Key Contact Information for Supporting Communication with Multilingual Families

In-person or video conference interpretation

Chart for logging key contact information
Language(s) / Dialect Name Phone Number Email Preferred Method for Sharing Documents Prior to Meeting

Phone number and Passcode for Telephonic Interpretation (for quick communication, when not possible to arrange for in person interpreter):

Chart for noting language access numbers
Phone number Passcode

Notes:  Have the family’s name and phone number at hand if you want the interpreter service to call them directly, and prepare a brief message that the interpreter can leave if the family does not answer, including how the family can return your call.


Contacts for written translations of student specific documents, including consent forms, prior written notices, evaluation reports and other documents:

Chart for noting translator contact information
Company Language(s) Name Phone Number Email Title Preferred method for exchanging documents

Notes re Translation requirements relevant to special education related documents:

Per Special Education Rules:

WAC 392-172A-05010 Prior Notice and contents. (3)(a) “The notice required under … this section must be: (ii) Provided in the native language of the parent or other mode of communication used by the parent, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so.”

WAC 392-172A-01040 Consent. (1)(a) “Consent means that: The parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his or her native language, or other mode of communication.”

Per Title VI Civil Rights guidance:

The United States declares that IEPs and other documents related to a student’s special education program are “vital” documents.

“Under Title VI, all vital documents, including a student’s IEP, must be accessible to LEP (Limited English Proficient) parents…” “that does not necessarily mean that all vital documents must be translated for every language in the district. For example, a timely and complete oral interpretation or translated summary of a vital document might suffice in some circumstances.” “A district must, however, be prepared to provide timely and complete translated IEPs to provide meaningful access to the IEP and the parental rights that attach to it. This is because a parent needs meaningful access to the IEP not just during the IEP meeting, but also across school years to monitor the child’s progress and ensure that IEP services are provided.”

From: Communication from U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) regarding the Government's Statement of Interest in R. v. The School District Philadelphia addressing the translation of Individualized Education Program (IEP)s pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, June 14, 2016, accessed at: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/policy_speced_guid_idea_memosdcltrs_iep-translation-06-14-2016.pdf.