Good Practice Guidance For Front-Line Practitioners When Working With Interpreters

  1. Before booking an interpreter, ensure that you have the correct details of the client’s background (e.g. language, dialect, country of origin) to avoid a clash e.g. interpreter speaks a different dialect or is from a background that clashes politically with the client’s.
  2. Once you have details for the interpreter, check with the client that they consent to that particular interpreter being present. The client may know the interpreter socially and may not want to share personal stories.
  3. Plan the session. Think how you will manage beginnings and endings of sessions. Allow enough time for de-briefing at the end.
  4. Plan the session to ensure that the client and the interpreter are not left on their own at any point; before, during or after the session. If you need to leave the session for any reason (e.g. to collect paperwork, consult with colleagues, etc.) invite the interpreter to leave with you. This is vital to safeguard both the interpreter and the client and to ensure that you remain in full control of the session.
  5. Spend time with the interpreter before the session and explain relevant background to the case, purpose of the interview, orientation and your style of practice. Share your expectations of working together and ask the interpreter to do the same. Check the interpreter is comfortable to interpret in terms of the expected contents of the meeting. Let the interpreter know if you will be using any specific terminology.
  6. Remind the interpreter of the duty of confidentiality and explain that you will be asking the interpreter to explain this duty at the beginning of the meeting to ensure that the client feels safe and comfortable during the meeting. In situations where the client is uncomfortable with the use of an interpreter, it might be helpful to sign a confidentiality agreement at the start of the session.


  • Have you seen the interpreter’s identification badge?
  • Do the interpreter and client know each other at all?

Make sure:

  • Your interpreter and client are not waiting for you together. They should not have contact before the session takes place
  • Enough time has been allocated for the session to take place without it being rushed
  • An appropriate/private room is available to use
  • Seating arrangements have been considered

Before the session:

  • Allow 5-10 minutes to brief your interpreter
  • Ensure the interpreter and your client can communicate with the same language and dialect
  • Cover what you expect from the interpreter

i.e. that you expect everything said in the room to be interpreted.

  • Discuss possible safety issues
  • If you request any cultural information do this now
  1. Arrange seating so that everyone can see each other.
  2. Speak directly to the client; speak in first person and make sure any communication is being interpreted as such
  3. Introduce yourself and the interpreter
  4. Set the ground rules including confidentiality and the fact that everything spoken in the room will be translated. This includes conversations that may take place between family members in the same room
  5. Clarify that you, the practitioner/clinician, have ultimate responsibility for the session. It is necessary that the interpreter feels able to trust you to hold that responsibility
  6. Actively monitor the body language of the client and the interpreter (including eye contact) and the tone and pitch of the spoken language
  7. If it becomes apparent that there are problems of communication between the interpreter and the client or if the client appears uncomfortable in front of the interpreter, the meeting should be stopped. The client may be reluctant to continue because of issues relating to ethnicity, gender, fear, guilt or other factors. In this event the meeting should be stopped in a manner which does not draw attention to the fact that the meeting has been terminated prematurely because of the client
  8. If it becomes apparent that the interpreter is struggling to interpret, either because the client is not accustomed to working with an interpreter, or because of fatigue or secondary trauma, it is your responsibility to stop the meeting and assess whether to continue after a short break or to adjourn the meeting entirely
  9. Be aware of cultural differences
  10. Ask for clarification if there is misunderstanding
  11. Speak in small chunks so that the interpreter can translate accurately
  12. Work collaboratively together with interpreter to form a team

During the session:

  • Allow the interpreter to introduce themselves to you and to your client
  • Speak slowly and clearly allowing your interpreter time to communicate everything said
  • Direct your questions towards your client

i.e. “How are you today”. Do not speak directly to the interpreter

i.e. “Ask the client how they are doing today”.

  • Reassure your client that confidentiality rules will be applied to the session
  • Avoid using complicated terminology or using jargon that is not likely to be understood by a non-English speaker
  1. Using a member of the family or friend to interpret certain parts of the conversation
  2. Use of jargon
  3. Referring to the client in the third person
  4. Giving responsibility for the session to the interpreter
  5. Having a private conversation with the interpreter in the client’s presence
  6. Expecting the interpreter to be a general assistant or to look after the client
  7. Interfering with the interpreting process if you have some knowledge of the language
  1. The practitioner should accompany the client to the door when the client leaves or if it is a home visit, then the practitioner and interpreter should leave together
  2. After the session, spend some time with the interpreter; ask the interpreter to comment on whether they were comfortable with the content and conduct of the meeting and seek any suggestions for the conduct of future meetings
  3. Remember the interpreter works alone and does not have access to supervision. Where the meeting has involved discussion of particularly emotive, violent or upsetting events, try to actively discuss the interpreter’s own wellbeing and encourage her/him to seek any available support from his/her employing agency if required. Accessing safe and appropriate support is important for the interpreter’s wellbeing and also avoids situations where the interpreter breaks confidentiality by venting his/her feelings by discussing the session with his/her family and friends
  4. The practitioner should separately contact the client to ask whether s/he was comfortable with the interpreter’s service during the meeting and seek any suggestions for the conduct of future meetings

After the session:

  • Check your client has understood everything covered and were happy with the session
  • Debrief your interpreter addressing any issues which may be emotionally challenging
  • Use the interpreter to arrange any follow up appointments for your client
  • Do not ask the interpreter to fill in any forms on behalf of your client
  • Always ensure your client and interpreter leave at separate times in order to avoid familiarity or conflict after the session
  • Please where possible provide feedback on the interpreter’s performance