How to work with an interpreter

To use interpreters in an effective way, staff should be able to identify those situations where an interpreter is required. This should happen the first time that the client enters in contact with the service as well as at other key points, such as in the initial assessment. 

When to engage an interpreter

  • When the client requests one.
  • At the point of entry into the service, when undertaking assessment and review.
  • When essential information needs to be communicated and understood.
  • Whenever any party assesses that the client may be disadvantaged without an interpreter.
  • When the client is required to make informed decisions about their care.
  • When explaining the details of the service and options.
  • For client and carer feedback and complaints, for risk assessment and referral.

Good practice when engaging an interpreter

  • Where possible, work with NAATI accredited interpreters and maintain continuity.
  • Do not use children, relatives and unqualified bi-lingual staff as interpreters.
  • Make clear that all information discussed must remain confidential at all times.
  • Use Plain English, avoiding jargon.
  • Remain flexible but in control of the interview, and develop a professional partnership with the interpreter.

The interviewer

  • Get your list of questions ready before the interview.
  • Ensure to book the right language/dialect.
  • Ensure appropriate environment and seating.
  • Brief the interpreter before starting the interview.
  • Explain purpose of the interview and interpreter’s role.
  • Always stay in control of the interview and be prepared to manage challenging aspects of the interview.
  • Stop the interview if it isn’t working.
  • Know how to manage feedback and complaint handling.
  • Debrief with the interpreter after the meeting.
  • Provide feedback to the interpreter and to the company from which you booked the interpreter.

The client

  • Can request or refuse to use an interpreter.
  • If preferred, can speak English even if an interpreter is present.
  • Can ask questions and seek clarification.
  • Can request the dialect and gender of the interpreter.
  • Should be encouraged to become an active partner.
  • May prefer to use telephone interpreting services.
  • Has the right to provide feedback and lodge complaints.

The interpreter

  • Should make participants linguistically present by interpreting everything.
  • Should try to facilitate communication so that everyone can communicate effectively.
  • Should ask for clarification when necessary.
  • Should take notes.
  • Must remain impartial: an interpreter is not a cultural broker and is not an advocate.
  • Must follow the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translations (AUSIT) Code of Ethics.
  • Must keep exchanges confidential.

Telephone interpreting

When engaging an interpreter over the phone ensure to apply the same considerations applied when engaging interpreters in person such as booking the right language/dialect and ensuring that all the people taking part at the meeting understand their role. 

Telephone interpreting:

  • Is suitable for short and simple exchanges.
  • Can be more practical for emergency, crisis and ad hoc communication.
  • May be challenging as no visual clues are available.
  • May be more difficult for participants as they have to stop after 3-4 sentences.