Reconceptualizing educational interpreting: A case study in US K–12 classrooms

Xinyue Zuo, Cristiano Mazzei, Denise Ives


In response to students’ right to education, interpreting services have been provided to a subset of English language learners (ELLs) in the United States to make educational opportunities accessible to them. This qualitative case study delves into the nature of the interpreting services, focusing on exploring the varied responsibilities undertaken by interpreters in K–12 classrooms within a Northeastern US public school district. Data were collected through interviews and documentation and analyzed thematically combined with the constant comparative technique. The study reveals that the ELLs the interpreters worked with had diverse backgrounds, including learners with interrupted education, potential learning disabilities, and varying academic foundations. Though the interpreters were initially required to interpret instruction to make the curriculum accessible, in practice they often extended their roles to serve as instructional aides, advocates, and social-emotional guides. This expansion partly stemmed from the inherent interplay between content and language learning in educational settings and was partly driven by the interpreters’ shared experiences and empathy for ELLs. The study advocates for a reconceptualization of interpreters’ roles and responsibilities and providing expanded training programs that reflect interpreters’ everyday practices. Furthermore, it calls for a shift toward culturally responsive interpreting that acknowledges the multilingual and multicultural nature of educational settings.


educational interpreters; English language learners; K–12 classrooms; roles and responsibilities; language access

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