Use an interpreter effectively

Tell the interpreter the goal of the appointment. This can occur in the notes you leave on the booking form, or at a pre-meeting five minutes prior to the appointment.


  • Where the interpreter sits or stands depends on the situation and the language being used. Sign language interpreters will usually sit beside the speaker and opposite the deaf person. This enables the deaf person and the interpreter to ‘read’ each others’ signs easily and also allows the deaf person to have eye contact with both the speaker and the interpreter at the same time. Let the client direct you as to where is best to sit. A sign language interpreter may also request a change of lighting – a curtain drawn or a light turned up to allow the deaf person and the interpreter to see each other clearly.
  • Using Your Own Language Skills Many staff and providers speak some words of another language. It is fine to use your skills to greet a person and to establish rapport, such as admiring the baby or expressing pleasure at seeing someone again.

When meeting with the person for whom you have booked an interpreter:

  • Address the person, not the interpreter
  • Maintain primary eye contact with your client
  • An interpreter will continue to interpret at all times, ethically they are not allowed to stop. If you wish to have a private conversation with another person in the room, step out and discuss the issue.

Important Points

  • Speak normally, with the expectation that the interpreter will give you feedback if you are going too quickly or they need you to stop
  • Spoken language interpreters may direct you when to stop and start speaking – allowing them time to interpret your message to the client
  • Sign language interpreters generally interpret simultaneously, that is they will sign at the same time as you are speaking. Speak at your normal pace and allow for a few seconds lag time for the interpreter to relay the information back and forth
  • Avoid excessive use of jargon and idiomatic expressions
  • Listen without interrupting
  • Allow a little more time for a meeting, adding 15 minutes for every hour
  • Do NOT assume that nods on the patient’s part indicate either understanding or acceptance of what you have said. It can merely indicate respect for you
  • At times an interpreter will ask for clarification of a term, and at that point will address you directly
  • The interpreter will at times take longer than you expect, and this is required when cultural explanation is required to give complete meaning to a situation
  • Relax! Interpreters are professionals and the goal is to ensure that all parties understand each other clearly, if you are unsure, just ask

What the interpreter will NOT do

  • The interpreter is an impartial professional who is there for the benefit of BOTH parties, not just the non-English speaking person.
  • The interpreter will not interject or offer their own opinion.
  • The interpreter will not enter into private discussion with either the client or the service provider and will interpret every word that is spoken (or signed).
  • The interpreter will not act as a ‘witness’ to any forms or declarations.
  • An interpreter can be a cultural aide to your service, and is able to give you cultural feedback that elevates your understanding of reactions and responses. You are entitled to cultural interpreting as a way of clearly understanding the interaction.

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