Communication Tips for Working With an Interpreter

Working with an Interpreter

Healthcare workers, school staff, and law enforcement officials often find themselves trying to communicate with individuals who do not speak fluent English. Here are some tips to improving communication. These suggestions also would apply when communicating with someone who happens to be Deaf.

translate-110777_640An Interpreter is a Tool

If an interpreter is being used, look directly at the person you are speaking to rather than at the interpreter.  A good interpreter is simply a vehicle for communication.  In the same way that a telephone or radio transmits a message without altering it, so too, an interpreter should simply relay the message.

Two-Way Conversation

An interpreter should not be asked to participate in the conversation unless you can provide some very specific guidelines.  Do not ask an interpreter to “find out what he knows about accident.”  Rather, speak directly to the witness and ask the interpreter to repeat exactly what you say.  In short, speak to the person you are communicating with, not to the interpreter.  In some cases, it may be beneficial to have the interpreter give some input. If, for example, there is a term that needs to be defined, first ask the interpreter to give an explanation of the term to you, then ask the interpreter to relate that information.


A qualified interpreter is an interpreter who is able to relate all information accurately, including the use of technical information.  While a family member or friend may be of assistance during an informal conversation or in a phase of an investigation, there are times when an expert should be hired in order to make certain that legal requirements are met and that specific legal terminology and concepts are translated accurately.

When no interpreter is available, there may be an online service or over the phone service (such as the ATT Language Line) available.

Rose Godfrey

Rose Godfrey

Rose Godfrey is a speech pathologist, writer, world traveler, and mom of 12.She earned her Masters Degree from California State University, Chico. Rose is licensed as a speech pathologist in several states and she holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Rose Godfrey

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