Interpreting for children can be a difficult, unenviable, yet incredibly rewarding job.

There are many factors to consider when providing any service for young individuals, and many hurdles and obstacles to overcome that are part and parcel of working with children.

But when it comes to interpreting, there are a few absolutely essential things that must be considered to ensure that communication is smooth between all involved parties.


Children, especially of a very young age, can become easily confused by incorrect tone, register, pronunciation or simply the use of a word that they are not familiar with.

When it comes to how children interact with interpreters there are common characteristics, meaning a handful of carefully considered factors will go a long way in making sure that everything is perfectly understood.

ATTENTION – It is vital that you pay attention at all times to the children you are working with. Every single child is at a different stage in their personal development, and whilst one may be very mature and talkative for their age another may be very shy, timid and withdrawn. This is why an interpreter must pay particular attention to the child(ren) they are working with, ensuring that the way in which they speak to them reflects the young persons level of understanding and responsiveness.

BE CONCISE – Any parent, teacher, or indeed anyone used to talking to children regularly, will know all too well that at a young age they have very short attention spans. Children can become agitated, distracted and stop listening fairly quickly. Therefore, it is essential that interpreters keep things short and sweet, ensuring that sentences are to the point and thus enabling better comprehension. Of course, it is important not to miss out any important details when truncating and paraphrasing, so care must be taken at all times.

EMOTIONS – Children’s emotions can change in the blink of an eye. Some get emotional very easily, some can be frustrating to talk to, and often interpreters have to enter into difficult and heated environments. As such, it is paramount that an interpreter keeps a cool head and stays on top of their own emotions, not letting the emotions of the children affect them personally.

TONE – The tone used in talking to children is very different to that which would be used when talking to adults. Children can take offence to what they deem to be condescending tones of voice, and being talked down to. It is often difficult for an interpreter to gauge the right balance, ensuring that their tone and pronunciation does not come across as patronising to the young individual(s).

WORDS – Obviously, children have limited vocabularies and each child will know and be familiar with a different set of words to the next. Interpreters will often have to consider the child’s level of vocabulary as they are talking to them, mentally taking note of any words that appear to cause confusion and misunderstanding. A child will also explain things in their own words and how they personally see best, so it is important to be patient and allow the child time to get their message across.

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