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Educational Interpreting

The role of the liaison interpreter is complex.  It is often described in terms of the on task elements; the role of an interpreter is to facilitate communication where Deaf and hearing people interact but do not share a common language or mode of communication; the interpreter is obliged to adhere to a Code of Ethics setting out principles of confidentiality and impartiality.   However, as a professional language service provider the interpreter also has an advisory role to inform clients on the best service package appropriate for the particular setting/event.  While guidelines have been set by the profession, every individual assignment must be analysed in order to identify appropriate provision.

Soon interpreting ISL Video

Best Practice Recommendations

The quality of interpreted renditions is affected by the density, pace, and level of expertise an interpreter may have in a subject.  
* In settings that are non-technical, and given adequate rest breaks throughout, an interpreter may function up to two-hours.  Events continuing longer than this will typically require additional interpreters.
* In an educational context, it has become established that an interpreter will manage a 50 minute session.  After this the quality of the work declines rapidly.  See the work of Denis Cokely on active listening and error analysis for omissions, additions, etc.
* However, if the degree of difficulty, the pace, the deaf service user’s language needs, the student(s) is expected to multitask (watch a board, overheads, presentation and watch an interpreter, participate in group discussion) then it may be appropriate to deliver the access service in a team of two or more interpreters.  In some circumstances the use of a ‘Deaf’ interpreter as part of a team is optimal.
* For all day events (i.e. 4-6 hours), or complex events where teams of two interpreters are utilised, a pattern of active-supportive interpreting takes place.  The quality of two interpreters working in a team is superior to having two individual interpreters working consecutively.  Team interpreting typically involves ‘One (interpreter) reinforcing the other, feeding her vocabulary from the overheads and slides while the third interpreter took a
* break’. (Chafin Seal:196)  Two interpreters are working throughout, one in active delivery and one is monitoring quality, feeding data, etc.
* In addition to the degree of difficulty of subject, language distance and cultural distance also make the task of interpreting quite challenging.  While we respect the validity and equal status of the English language and Irish Sign Language (ISL), and British Sign Language (BSL); language distance in terms of structure, cultural time frames, frames of reference, value systems and perceptions of a community add to the complexity of task and the effort that will be expended by the interpreter.  See Mindness (1999) for in-depth discussion.
* Cokely (1986) reported on lag-time and interpreter errors, 
* Locker (1990) also reported on errors,
* Winston (1992) reported on the demands of instructional communication on interpreters and students.  (Ibid: 207) 
* Stedt’s (1989) paper on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome describes the ramifications for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome particular for sign language interpreters.(ibid:213)

* An interpreter is bound to work in a manner that facilitates the principles of ‘do no harm, do good, autonomy, communication access, and justice and equality’; an information leaflet expanding on these is attached.  See Humphreys (1999)
* Based on the results of a European study on Repetitive Strain Injury (delivered at an EFSLI conference) it is recommended that an interpreter work in ‘active’ interpretation no more than 25 hours ‘hands in the air time’ per week.  In Ireland, we have for practical reasons to accommodate weekend workshops; emergency health care, etc have applied that guideline as 50 hours over a two-week period.


The sign language interpreting profession has developed since the 1960s much research and review has taken place.  Brenda Chafin Seal has published a comprehensive text entitled Best Practice in Educational Interpreting (1998) published by Allyn and Bacon.  Key extracts that may be useful for you are:

* Mallory and Schein (1992) surveyed postsecondary institutions in the United States that were reported to have significant numbers of deaf students.  63 institutions responded.  538 deaf students had completed degrees between 1964 and 1986.  The success of the students was attributed to adequate support services, including note taking and sign language interpreting. (Chafin Seal:211)
* Cokely (1990) compared the effectiveness of teacher lecturing with an interpreter and lecturing in simultaneous communication.

Relevant Bodies and Organisations

* AHEAD is an organisation based in Dublin that offers information to Colleges and third level institutions on making their courses accessible to Deaf Students.  
* The Irish Deaf Society and Deaf-Forward based in Dublin represent deaf peoples’ perspective on their language and access.  
* Interpreting Bodies such as ASLI (England and N.I.), 
* WASLI (World Association of Sign Language Interpreters) and 
* EFLSI (European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters) may all offer further information.

Further and continuing Education

If you wish to attend an evening course run by the VEC, you should let us know as early as possible.  Organisations need time to process your details and seeking funding to provide interpretation.

Reasonable accommodation for study and examination

Do express your concerns and preferences.  Many colleges are considering  alternative ways to seek evidence of student’s learning.  Depending on your course, conventions for assessment for such courses, it may be possible to agree a strategy with the college to accommodate your communication needs.  There are some standard accommodations in place such as additional time, interpreter present in exam setting.  Further information may be had from Access Officers, and or Ahead.


The Education Act, 1998
The Education for Person’s with Special Needs Act, 2004