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Conducting an IEP Meeting with an Interpreter - October 2009

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Conducting an IEP Meeting with an Interpreter

Reprinted with the express permission of Catherine Trapskin as originally posted on her blog

By: Catherine Trapskin, M.S. CCC-SLP

When a parent is called to school for a meeting, oftentimes they are anxious about coming into a meeting room full of people. Then take into consideration if a parent does not speak English, the anxiety is compounded.

What can we do as a member of the special education team to make certain that an IEP meeting goes smoothly and comfortably for our parents?

We all know that successful meetings depend on good communication between parents and special education service providers. When a parent does not speak English, the school must bring in an interpreter. However, even if the school brings an excellent interpreter, things can still go wrong.

The following are tips on how to conduct an IEP meeting with an interpreter:

Before the Meeting

The person leading the meeting (i.e., case manager) should talk to the interpreter ahead of time to discuss :
  • The purpose of the meeting
  • Agenda
  • Pertinent background information
  • Who will attend the meeting
  • Any technical terms that may be used
  • Style of interpretation (i.e., sequential or simultaneous)
  • Seating arrangements
  • Provide written documents that the interpreter may be asked to orally interpret during the meeting

During the Meeting

Introductions: Each member of the team should introduce themselves to the family, starting with the interpreter

Confidentiality statement: It is very important to explain to parents that everything said during the meeting will remain confidential, but that everything that is said during the meeting will be interpreted.

Questions: Encourage parents to ask questions as needed for clarification. This reminder is also important for interpreters who may not understand a term or how to translate it to a parent.

Technical/Ambiguous Language: Technical terms in English don’t exist in many languages: something said in one word in English might take many words to explain in other languages. Please be clear and concise in your language use. For example, “Oral mechanism exam” could also be explained using the words, “I did an exam that looked at the structures of his mouth to make sure they were adequate for talking”. This may take a bit longer, but this language is clear for the parents, interpreter, and other meeting attendees.

Speak one at a time: Absolutely no side conversations should be permitted. This makes parents very uncomfortable and is viewed as rude. Additionally, an interpreter cannot do his/her job if several people are talking at once. Remember, EVERYTHING spoken is to be interpreted during an IEP meeting.

Speak directly to the parents: Team members should face the family and direct their words to them. A team member must not say to an interpreter, “Tell Mrs. X that I gave a test to her child…” Instead they should look at the parent and say, “I tested your child…”

Signatures: If possible, provide documents that you want a parent to sign in their native language. Provide ample time for the interpreter to translate and go over the form with the parents.

At the end of the meeting: Summarize what was discussed and ask parents if they have any questions. Explain what will happen next and provide a way for the parents to contact the school (along with interpretation) if they have any additional questions.

After the Meeting

The case manager should spend a few minutes with the interpreter after the meeting. This is the time to ask the interpreter if he/she has any impressions about what happened during the meeting and for both the interpreter and case manager clarify any questions they may have. Additionally, the case manager should ask the interpreter if anything could be improved for next time.


Langdon, 1992

MN Dept of Ed “Let’s Talk”

This Month's Featured Blogger : Catherine Trapskin:

We thank Catherine Trapskin for allowing us to reprint her blog entry.

About Catherine: Catherine Trapskin is a bilingual (Spanish) SLP working for the Minneapolis Public Schools, a district which represents over 80 different languages. She currently has a caseload and also works at the district level in her special education/ELL department. This part of her job entails training other special ed staff on how to assess, use best practices to teach special ed/ELL students, work with interpreters, etc.

She came up with the idea for this blog/website because it seemed that although almost every SLP has at least one, if not several more individuals on their caseload who are English Language Learners. As she has conducted trainings around the district and state, Catherine has found that people's knowledge and skill in this area is so varied and people are always desperate for information and ideas. She is currently working on creating a site that will allow for questions, forums, materials exchange, etc, which she hopes will be up and running sometime this fall.

To read more of Catherine's blog, please visit

Tags: October 2009 Newsletter SLP Bilingualism Article IEP