3.3 Use of Interpreters

When to use an interpreter:

  • When it is apparent from the referral that the client speaks another language and has limited use of English.

  • Client requests one.

  • When there are concerns that the client is unable to express themselves fully and freely due to language barriers.

Prior to the appointment:

  • Know the client’s country of origin.

  • Check the language that they speak- do not assume that because they come from a particular country then they speak a particular language native to that country.

  • Check the dialect that the client speaks- different dialects are sometimes spoken in different parts of a particular country.

  • Check whether the client has any preference in relation to the gender of the interpreter.

  • Be mindful of ethnic, cultural, regional tensions which might impact the quality of interpretation-although if it is a professional interpreter this should have no bearing on their interpretation

During the appointment:

  • Check that the interpreter is competent to interpret both in the client’s language to English and then from English back again to the client’s language.

  • At the beginning of the session the interpreter should introduce him/herself to those in attendance.

  • You should introduce yourself to the interpreter, to the client and clearly explain everyone's roles.

  • Explain that the interpreter is bound by a confidentiality agreement and will not discuss the case with anyone external to the session.

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting/session.

  • You should talk directly to the client, maintain good eye contact (where culturally appropriate) while speaking and always addressing the client directly, e.g. “how are you today?”

  • Ensure that the interpretation is in the first person (‘I’ was beaten not ‘he’ was beaten).

  • Observe the client’s non-verbal communication but bear in mind that gestures can mean different things in different countries or cultures.

  • Speak clearly and slowly. Pause after each sentence to allow the interpreter to translate a manageable amount of information at a time.

  • Speak in simple, plain English and try to avoid jargon and acronyms where possible.

  • Keep explanations simple- longer and information packed sentences may make it difficult for the clients to understand.

Dos & Don'ts

Interpreters should:

  • Act in an impartial and professional manner

  • Be fluent in the language(s) specified

  • Not pretend to understand something when they haven't

  • Interpret accurately without anything being added or omitted

Interpreters should not:

  • Engage in long conversations with the client or family and then provide summarised versions of what he or she said at the end.

  • Assume the role of an advocate for the client.

  • Reply on the client’s behalf.

  • Help the client to answer the questions.

Using family or friends for interpreting

It is often inappropriate for family or friends to interpret on behalf of client for the following reasons:

Lack of confidentiality:

Family members may not fully understand the need for strict confidentiality - matters are especially sensitive when a child interprets for a parent, as the child may not be aware of his/her family‘s immigration status.

Disclosure of sensitive information:

The family member may not want to disclose issues about family problems or conflicts which might be the origin of the current crisis.

Lack of impartiality:

A friend or relative may 'side' with you or the client, or not pass on information they do not agree with.

Conflict of interest:

A family member may want things for the client that the client does not want for themselves.

Advice giving or advocacy:

Often with an understandable wish to be 'helpful' or 'supportive', friends and family may misinterpret your instructions or advise the client what to say.

Further reading and resources:

PDF: Handbook for Interpreters in Asylum Procedures (UNHCR)

This handbook is intended to offer guidance and support to interpreting practitioners, trainers and authorities and that it will advance efforts to promote the use of trained and qualified interpreters in asylum interviews.

Webpage: Managing language barriers for refugees and asylum seekers (BMA)

Refugee and asylum seeker patient health toolkit for managing language barriers for refugees and asylum seekers.

Webpage: Guidance for UKVI Freelance interpreters (GOV.UK)

This is a guide about Interpreters that are used by the UKVI, how the UKVI engage and assess interpreters, and are responsible for them.

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