UMTIA: Upper Midwest Translators & Interpreters Association, A Chapter of the ATA

How to Work with an Interpreter

Will you be working with an interpreter sometime soon? The tips and downloadable training below are meant to help guide you through the process. First off, be familiar with the codes of ethics so you know what the interpreter’s role is and what he or she can or can not do. 

We also recommend reading these brochures produced by the American Translators Association (ATA). Furthermore, here are some guidelines for psychologists on working with interpreters in mental health settings. Some of these guidelines can be applied to other areas as well. 


Before the meeting

  • Make sure that you are working with a qualified interpreter and not a family member or friend.
  • Brief the interpreter on what to expect in the meeting, where necessary.
  • Plan enough time – it may take longer than an English-only appointment.

During the meeting

  • Expect the interpreter to enter and leave the room when you do, rather than staying alone with the patient or client.
  • Remember that the interpreter is required to interpret everything said in the room – curse words, side conversations, and ‘irrelevant’ or repetitive comments included.
  • Face the patient/client and speak to them directly, as if you both spoke the same language.
  • Don’t speak too fast. Pause after each complete thought and/or when the interpreter signals to you to allow for the interpretation.
  • Ask only one question at a time. Don’t ‘chain’ questions.
  • Confirm understanding by asking the patient/client to repeat key information back to you.
  • Be aware of the education level and/or health literacy of your client/patient in order to phrase your message at an appropriate level. Avoid using acronyms and idioms.
  • You are communicating THROUGH the interpreter but TO the client/patient. Dealing with cultural differences and the personality of the client/patient is primarily your job, not the interpreter’s. Some examples of things to keep in mind regarding cultural and linguistic differences are:
    • There may be less eye contact with the client than you customarily expect.
    • A smile or nod on the part of the patient may not indicate total agreement.

The downloadable training below will help you figure out how you can work effectively with an interpreter in a healthcare environment to create better outcomes for Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients.

Review the training yourself and read through the notes within the PowerPoint. Then we recommend that you share it with your staff to explore the subject further.

Further Resources for Working with Interpreters


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