Preparing for IEPs: Tips from an Educational Interpreter

By April 3, 2014Interpreting

Interpreting IEP meetings

The first time I had the privilege of interpreting at an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meeting, I was surprised that it was not at all what I had expected. Half of the time, the atmosphere was that of a legal proceeding and the other half was that of a heated argument. I found that all parties were speaking a unique language, one littered with acronyms and specialized terms. Though flustered by the situation, it was unquestionably an important learning experience.

Understanding the U.S. special education program, as well as state and local programs is critical preparation for interpreting at IEP meetings. Although the U.S. Department of Education has certain requirements and criteria for special education programs, each state’s department of education may also enhance its program to better serve its region’s educational requirements. Furthermore, certain school districts, and even individual schools, also add to required programs by implementing their own initiatives, all of which are accompanied by specialized terms and acronyms.

Prepare for your IEP interpreting session

Similar to other interpreting encounters, it is important to prepare for your interpreting session. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education’s Parents and Families page includes resources that we, as interpreters, can use to enhance our familiarity with federal requirements and their unique jargon. To break through the communication barrier that these acronyms and specialized terms create, I recommend accessing  informational material aimed at families, as well as requesting access to the student’s IEP prior to a meeting, if possible.

Interpreters should also be prepared for challenges we may face managing the flow of communication.  A professional introduction and thorough pre-session are essential in establishing the interpreter’s role. During an IEP meeting, emotions may become heightened when the discussion focuses on a child’s intellect, competence, and learning impediments and can at times prompt heated arguments. As interpreters, it is important that we understand that emotions, as well as budgetary and legal constraints, may come into conflict, thus our impartiality is of paramount importance. Managing the follow of communication impartially allows the educational professionals the chance to de-escalate heated discussions.

Preparing for IEP meetings by studying the appropriate vocabulary, understanding the dynamics at play, and knowing the current plan of the student will go a long way in contributing to a successful assignment.


You might also be interested in this training for educational interpreting:

Preparing for IEPs: Tips from an Educational Interpreter – May 7, 2014

This webinar is designed for both spoken and sign language interpreters. Participants will walk through the IEP meeting process, analyze some of the most common jargon, discuss tips for managing the interpreting encounter, and cover strategies for handling difficult situations with finesse.   Sign up here