The ATA Chronicle - November/December 2020 - 30

INTERPRETERS FORUM

BY LINDA POLLACK-JOHNSON

Cognitive Testing Using an Interpreter
(The following was originally published on the
blog of ATA's Interpreters Division,
www.ata-divisions.org/ID/blog.)

I

recently completed an interpreting
assignment between a developmental
psychologist and a child with autism
during which the child was given a cognitive
test. I have done many of these sessions over
the years and remember being disappointed
on several occasions that the session didn't
go as smoothly as I would have liked. I
always wished I could have done more to
help create a better experience for both
the child and the provider-more like a
monolingual test.
There are several challenges that are
introduced in the evaluation room by having
a second language in the mix. Interpreters
are trained to use the first person when
speaking for the provider and for the child.
So, imagine a female provider showing the
child three toy cars of different sizes and
saying, " Hand me the little one. " In the
child's language, should the interpreter say,
" Hand me the little one, " or " Hand her the
little one " ? Either way, it would be confusing
for the child.
If the child is verbal and is learning
English as a second language, the mere
act of interpreting during the session can
sometimes be misunderstood by the child as
a correction. They get confused about which
language they are supposed to use and feel
discouraged from the start.
It's also difficult for the interpreter
to know how much encouragement,
clarification of instructions, redirection
of focus, and deal-making to offer. In a
monolingual setting, the provider can
immediately react to the child's cues with
the appropriate response. Typically, the
interpreter is not trained or authorized to
make those choices.

PLANNING AHEAD
In this recent session, I knew about the test
far enough in advance and asked permission
to reach out to the provider so we could
arrive at some strategies I would now like
to share. We spoke by phone, exchanged
email, and then met briefly before the family

arrived on the day of testing. I didn't bill for
the one hour of preparation time. I was paid
a two-hour minimum fee and felt that my
total work time was compensated.
The provider, whom I'll call Nicole, had
studied Italian, the primary language of the
child. That was clearly a huge asset. I'm not
sure whether or not our strategies would
have worked had the provider lacked this
basic knowledge of the child's language.
Nicole acknowledged that she couldn't
conduct the evaluation in Italian, but she felt
confident she could understand the child's
short utterances and would understand my
interactions with the child in Italian. That
eliminated the need for me to interpret
from Italian into English and the resulting
dynamic where the child might feel scolded
or corrected by hearing the rendition.
Nicole reviewed the various tasks of the
test in advance and showed me how most of
the commands could be done without using
any pronouns representing the provider or
the interpreter. (For example: " Which one
of these pictures goes here? " " Put the picture
here. " " Watch. Make one like this. Now you
do it. " " Count the blocks. How many blocks
are in the pile? " " Touch the shape that goes
in this pattern. " " Touch the letter L. " )
There was one task involving hand
movements that was different in this
regard, so we decided I would model the
three hand movements (like in the game
Rock Paper Scissors) and the provider
would observe and take notes of the child's
response. The commands were, " Watch
my hand and do what I do. Ready? Now
you try. " I was to follow the illustrations
in a testing book. The sequence of hand
movements got progressively longer. Nicole
told me that if the child made three mistakes
in a row, we would stop and move on to the
next task. This was also the guideline with
all the tasks in the test.
Before the session, Nicole showed me how
the testing books prop up with their own
binder on a flat surface. They're printed like a
flip chart so that the child sees an illustration
on one side and the provider sees instructions
on the back side. The exact words that the
provider is to say are printed in a bright red
font. For many of the tasks, I was able to
simply do a quick sight translation of those

red words into Italian without needing Nicole
to say them first in English.

FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE
Nicole's familiarity with Italian afforded
her a level of comfort, so she gave me
her blessing to offer the child verbal
encouragement (e.g., " Come on, you can do
it! " ), clarifications on the instructions (e.g.,
" Do it here on the table. " ), re-directions
(e.g., " Can you please put all four legs of
the chair on the floor? " ), and deal-making
(e.g., " When you finish this task, you'll get
a snack. " ). The obvious warning was that
I was not to give the child any hints of the
correct response during testing. There are
one or two designated teaching examples for
each task when the child is coached a little
toward the correct answer, but no coaching
is allowed after those are done.
Since this child, like many children, had
a short attention span, it was helpful that
there were two of us. I was able to put away
the props from one task while Nicole got
out the next set of props. Thus we avoided
creating dead time and maintained the
child's collaboration. This extra help, of
course, is optional.
I feel strongly that if interpreters and
psychologists can plan together in this
way, the evaluation can go much more
smoothly and quickly and lead to more
accurate results.
Linda Pollack-Johnson, CT
is a freelance translator and
interpreter. An ATA-certified
Italian>English translator, she
has spent several sabbaticals
in northern Italy recharging
her Italian batteries. During one six-month
stay in Genoa, she conducted research that
culminated in an article entitled " Screening for
Dementia Across Language Differences, " which
she co-wrote with Dr. Eric Hardt for Caduceus,
the newsletter of ATA's Medical Division. Her
interest in the impact of language on testing
has led her to volunteer as a subject matter
expert for the Certification Commission for
Healthcare Interpreters, researching new ways to
conduct medical interpreting certification exams
for candidates whose language pair includes
English. Contact: pollackjohnson@verizon.net.

Interpreters are a vital part of ATA. This column is designed to offer insights and perspectives from professional interpreters.

30

The ATA Chronicle | November/December 2020

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