Parent-Teacher Meetings with Bilingual Families: Why You Need an Interpreter

By: Cheryl

By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator

Located in Toronto, one of the biggest Canadian cities where over 180 languages are spoken, every year, MCIS sends our certificated interpreters to thousands of parent-teacher interviews with bilingual and multicultural families and parents with limited English proficiency both in-person and remotely. In these meetings, interpreters are the key to smooth communication between the teachers and parents, and their work is widely recognized as a crucial and irreplaceable part of the parent-teacher interviews.

So why is hiring a professional interpreter so important? Here are the reasons:

Children, on one hand, may not be extremely proficient at interpreting for their parents in this type of setting. Many parents with limited English proficiency rely on their children to interpret for daily scenarios such as grocery shopping or ordering at a restaurant, but when faced with parent-teacher interviews, where a full understanding of the curriculum and familiarity with the education system is required, children often lack the experience and expertise. The appropriate vocabulary and correct information might be missing in the conversation and misunderstandings might occur. In addition, when their interest is at stake, children, unbounded by the interpreters’ Code of Ethics, may distort or withhold information regarding negative comments on their academic performance or behaviour. Other family members and friends, without proper knowledge of the school system, might run into similar issues too if they are to interpret for the family.

Professional interpreters, on the other hand, have the background and training enabling them to interpret accurately. Interpreters are trained to familiarize themselves with different scenarios, the educational setting being one of them. Impartial and unbiased, interpreters are translation machines that directly convert the teachers’ words in English into another language verbally, without adding any extra “flavour.”

Interpreters also usually come with a great understanding of cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural issues. While not intervening in the conversation with their own opinions, understanding the children and family’s background means an interpreter will be able to tell the nuances from synonyms. They’ll also know the most appropriate word to choose while avoiding any confusion or miscommunication, and understanding the subtext of parents’ words better so they can help the teachers to engage them in Canadian culture, where parents’ participation is highly welcomed and encouraged at school.

At MCIS, we provide webinars and resources to help our interpreters prepare prior to taking any parent-teacher interview assignments. In November, we held two mandatory webinars for interpreters and sent out very detailed guidelines for them to follow. The webinars both addressed assignment-focused aspects such as interpreter dos and don’ts and the technical aspects required, such as the difference between taking an assignment on an iPhone and an Android phone, as this year we are facing a high volume of online and telephone interpretation due to the COVID-19 situation. We prepare our interpreters the best we can so the conversations between teachers and parents can run seamlessly, and our fulfillment rate has so far been kept to over 98 percent!

To check out our experience interpreting for parent-teacher interviews in previous years, click here.