Language interpreters are critical in facilitating access to public services. When service users and providers do not share the same language, interpreters can help with communication and addressing the inequal power distribution. They can help remove cultural barriers, clarify system information, maintain impartiality and confidentiality and reduce confusion.
Useful tips when using language interpreters
- Review the information you need to convey and ensure you have sufficient time for complex information or when there are numerous systems and processes to explain.
- Allow time for the interpreter to prompt you for additional information on procedures.
- If you have a strong regional accent allow extra time for the interpreter to get used to it.
- Do not leave the interpreter alone with the service user.
- Do not expect all meanings and thoughts to be conveyed perfectly.
- Slow down your pace when necessary; interpreters have to remember what you have said, interpret it and then convey it to a service user. Speak in clear sentences with pauses in-between for the interpreter to interpret.
- Check that the seating arrangement is good; the usual arrangement is triangular.
- During the session, talk through the interpreter not to the interpreter. Respect your client by talking to them and not about them.
- Encourage the interpreter to interrupt the meeting if they have noticed a cultural reference likely to cause misunderstanding.
- Observe body language and look out for non-verbal cues. Being attentive will help develop understanding and trust.
- Remember to make adequate arrangements for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) service users who may not be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity. They may not want local interpreters (often from their own communities) to be used. Try and find out if this is the case and source an interpreter from further afield, or use telephone interpreting if you can which affords more privacy. Make sure to check that your interpreter service provider is aware of LGBT issues.
These tips and others on using interpreters can be downloaded from the Resources section. We also have stories from interpreters about their work, which you may find useful to get a feel for the scope of this form of communication.