Good practice about working with interpreters

During the interview

Interpreters should not be left alone with the client at any time.

The following rules should also be considered:

  • Choose a quiet space if you can. Interpreters have to be able to hear and be heard.
  • Arrange the seating. You and the service user face each other (probably on either side of a small table), and the interpreter sits between you. This means that you can talk directly to the member of the public and, if possible, forget the interpreter is there. At the same time the interpreter is not physically perceived as being on one ‘side’ or the other.
  • Address the service user directly, for example “What is your name?” rather than “can you ask her what her name is?” This will make the interview go more smoothly and enhance the feeling of talking to each other directly.
  • Introduce yourself by name and ask for the name of the service user, if you do not know it. Try to get the pronunciation right and the prefix. Monsieur Frederic Dubois would probably prefer to be addressed as “Monsieur Dubois” rather than “Fred”.
  • Explain what your role is. There are often no direct equivalents of some of our services in other countries
  • Introduce the interpreter.
  • The interpreter will explain his/her role and that she/he will adhere to the following principles:
    • confidentiality
    • impartiality
    • word for word accuracy
    • non-advocacy
  • The interpreter will also explain that she or he may make notes to aid recall, and that these will be destroyed after the interview.
  • Behave as you would if you shared the same language – as much as possible recognising and respecting individual backgrounds.
  • You are responsible for the meeting.
  • Do not speak for more than a few sentences at one time.
  • Explain words and procedures. Make sure the client understands what you are saying.
  • Ask the service user directly if you are not sure of relevant, culture-based facts, attitudes or perceptions.
  • You cannot always rely on being able to read non-verbal signals accurately across a culture. For instance, in some cultures it is discourteous to make direct eye contact – this should not be interpreted as being shifty. If you are not sure what something means, ask the service user directly. Remember, a smile means the same in any language.
  • Ensure you have correct client contact information.
  • Summarise what has been decided and clarify the next practical steps to be taken – when, why and how.

At the end of the interview

  • Sign the interpreter’s timesheet. This is a form requiring your signature once the assignment has been completed by the interpreter. This is to confirm the number of hours that the interpreter has interpreted.
  • You may make arrangements with the interpreter at the end of an appointment for any follow up appointments. This is a provisional arrangement. You must then formalise the booking with BCC TIS.
  • Be aware of any contentious or distressing issues – debrief the interpreter, allowing a few minutes to discuss how the interview went, as you would with any other colleague. Do not, however, expect the interpreter to offer an opinion about the client or their circumstances.
  • Complete and return the interpreting monitoring form (pdf, 85k) (opens new window) and return this to the TIS office. On this you should state if the interpreter arrived late, or any other points you wish to raise regarding the assignment.