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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 code of ethics so you know what the interpreter’s role is and what he can and cannot do.

We also recommend downloading and reading this brochure produced by the ATA.

Essential Guidelines for Working Effectively with Interpreters

Before the meeting

  • Make sure that you are working with a qualified interpreter and not a family member nor 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
    • 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 English as a second language 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.

Who Should Facilitate This Session?

Ideally, an ‘inviting’ physician or other professional from your organization, and a trained, experienced, interpreter should facilitate the training together. You will likely need to compensate for the facilitator’s time, unless they are employed by your organization.


We welcome your feedback on these materials. Did these materials meet your training needs? How were they received by the participants? Do you have any suggestions for future improvements? Please send your comments to [email protected].

Thanks to the Bush Foundation

These training materials were created as a not-for-profit endeavor, using funds provided by the Bush Foundation and the curriculum is provided free of charge.

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