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Tips for working with interpreters

When accessing an interpreter

  • It is the responsibility of the health care provider to arrange for an interpreter when the need has been identified or the patient/client has requested one.
  • Ensure the reason and urgency for an interpreter is given to the booking officer, even if this information is not requested, for example, the appointment is to obtain consent for a procedure.
  • If there are any special requirements, please state them (e.g. particular dialect is spoken by the patient, a male or female interpreter is preferred or other special requirements).
  • If the health care interpreter service cannot provide an interpreter, ask them what alternative arrangements can be made.
  • Plan ahead, book as far ahead as possible and be prepared to negotiate times.
  • When booking an interpreter, try to coordinate as many health professionals as may be needed to give or obtain information from the patient/client. Allow sufficient time for them all. Check with the health care interpreter service before confirming the appointment.
  • If you have other difficulties or concerns, please contact the health care interpreter service manager.

Note: Always notify the health care interpreter service of any changes or cancellations of appointments. This will free them to provide another service and prevent inconvenience if they have had to travel to the appointment.

How to work with an interpreter

Before meeting with the patient/client:

  • If appropriate, for example, in a counselling interview, brief the interpreter about the case and about your role.
  • Discuss whether you have ever worked with an interpreter before and whether your preferred method of interpreting.
  • Discuss the reason for this particular interview. The interpreter will do a better job if they have an idea of the overall aim of the session.

During the interview:

  • Introduce yourself to the interpreter and make sure the patient/client knows that you are conducting the interview and what the interpreter's role is. Remember that it is your interview not the interpreter's.
  • Wherever possible sit so that you are facing the patient/client directly.
  • Tell the patient/client what is going to happen and allow them to raise any concerns.
  • Assure the patient/client that the discussion will remain confidential.
  • Try and ensure the information is in manageable chunks for the interpreter. Speak slowly and clearly but naturally. Avoid using slang or jargon.
  • Use the first person and always speak directly to the patient/client not the interpreter.
  • Remember sometimes there is no direct translation so the interpreter might need more time to explain concepts which may/may not be familiar to the patient/client.
  • If the interpreter is taking over, stop the session and quietly remind them that you are conducting the session.
  • If you have to leave the room, tell the patient/client through the interpreter why and how long you will be gone so that they are aware of your action.

After the interview:

  • Debrief the interpreter. Allow them to express how they feel about the situation and check any queries that you or they may have.
  • If required, arrange for a follow up appointment by contacting the interpreter service.  You can request the same interpreter.

Working with a telephone interpreter

  • Ensure that you have a speaker telephone, dual handsets or dual headsets to conduct the interview. If there is not a speaker or dual handset telephone available, be prepared to pass the receiver back and forth.
  • Arrange for a quiet area to conduct the interview and that the patient/client's privacy can be ensured.
  • As you will not be able to pick up the non-verbal cues from the interpreter, ask them to advise you if the person is becoming distressed or if there is anything you have missed along the way that may be hampering communication.
  • Follow the same steps for using a face-to-face interpreter.