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Tips for working with interpreters

For detailed information on working with interpreters go to - click on "Publications" and then "Guidance Documents" and then "Guide to Interpreting (2006)", or alternatively click here to view or download the document (PDF)

In addition you can also access a short guide, interpreter booking information sheet and language sheet (so a client can select their preferred language).

Before the session:

  • Make time to speak with the interpreter at the beginning of the session (without the client being present).  Outline the nature of the appointment with the interpreter. It is important that the interpreter knows what to expect as this will help them to start thinking about vocabulary and will put the appointment in context.
  • Specify if Consecutive or Simultaneous interpreting is preferred. Most people prefer consecutive, this is where the interpreter interprets when someone has finished speaking (as opposed to simultaneously interpreting as the person is speaking).
  • It is very important when working with an interpreter that both the client and the interviewer speak in short units of speech (2-3 sentences at a time). With longer speech it is difficult for the interpreter to interpret accurately and valuable information may be lost.
  • Ask the interpreter to speak in the first person e.g. say "I", "me", instead of "she says".
  • Let the interpreter know they can ask you and the client to repeat or clarify what has been said. However they should not ask any additional questions or offer their own advice without first consulting you.
  • Ask the interpreter to interpret everything that is said in the room. Often when working with interpreters, the client or interviewer can feel excluded when lengthy discussions are taking place in a language they don’t understand. If you have a discussion with the interpreter in front of the client, ask the interpreter to explain the content of the discussion to the client.
During the session:
  • Explain to the client that both you and the interpreter will maintain confidentiality.
  • Speak directly to the client in the first person e.g. say "Can you tell me.." instead of "Ask her to tell me..". Look at the client rather than the interpreter when you are speaking to the client. Speaking in the first person helps to establish a rapport with the client.
  • Speak as simply as possible. Remember that certain phrases, metaphors and colloquialisms do not directly translate into another language. Also, certain words and concepts do not translate into other languages e.g. there is no Urdu word for "depression", so be prepared to explain what certain words mean.
  • If there is a lengthy dialogue between the interpreter and client it is okay to interrupt and ask for an update on the conversation.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal communication while the client is speaking as this can give important cues as to how the client is feeling.
At the end of the session:
  • Ask the interpreter to stay behind after the client has left.
  • Allow the interpreter to ask any questions or make any comments about the session.
  • Check how the interpreter is feeling, as some interviews may be distressing.
  • Often interpreters may be able to add a cultural perspective to the interview e.g. they may be able to let you know of any culturally inappropriate behaviours or questions on your behalf. Or, they may be able to shed light on behaviours or answers from the client.