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Interpreter Guidelines

Interpreter Preparation
Prior to an interaction with a family that requires interpretation, time should be set aside for the preparation of the interpreter. This time should include a briefing which the worker identifies 1) the major goals and purposes of the contact or session with the family, 2) the important points to be made as well as potentially sensitive areas that will be discussed, 3) specific terms that will be used (the interpreter might review and share corresponding word/phase equivalents or variations in the family’s language), 4) written documents that will need to be shown or referred to. The interpreter also may be invited to meet directly with the family before the session to exchange basic background information and establish report.

Guidelines for Working with an Interpreter
A number of guidelines for interventionist to follow when working with an interpreter have been suggested (Hagen, 1989; Langdon, et al., 1994; Randall-David, 1989; Shilling & Brannon, 1986):

  • Learn proper protocols and forms of address (including a few greetings and social phrases) in the family’s primary language, the names they wish to be called, and the correct pronunciation.
  • Introduce your self and the interpreter, describe your respective roles, and clarify mutual expectations and the purpose of the encounter.
  • Learn basic words and sentences in the family’s language and become familiar with special terminology they may use so you can selectively attend to them during interpreter-family exchanges.
  • During the interaction, address your remarks and questions directly to the family (not the interpreter); look at and listen to family members as they speak and observe their nonverbal communication.
  • Avoid body language or gestures that may be offensive or misunderstood.
  • Use a positive tone of voice and facial expressions that sincerely convey respect and interest in the family. Address the family in calm, unhurried manner.
  • Speak clearly and somewhat slowly but not more loudly.
  • Limit your remarks and questions to a few sentences between translations and avoid giving too much information or long complex discussions of several topics in a single session.
  • Avoid technical jargon, colloquialisms, idioms, slang, and abstractions.
  • Avoid oversimplification and condensing import explanations.
  • Give instructions in a clear, logical sequence; emphasize key words or points; and offer reasons for specific recommendations.
  • Periodically check on the family’s understanding and the accuracy of the translation by asking the family to repeat instructions or whatever has been communicated in their own words, with the interpreter facilitating, but avoid literally asking, “Do you understand?”
  • When possible, reinforce verbal information with materials written in the family’s language and visual aids or behavioral modeling if appropriate. Before introducing written materials, tactfully determine the client’s literacy level through the interpreter.
  • Be patient and prepared for the additional time that will inevitably be required for careful interpretation.
Hagen, E. (1989). Communicating effectively with Southeast Asian patients. Los Angeles: Immaculate Heart College Center.

Langdon, H.W. et al. (1994). The interpreter translator process in the educational setting. Sacramento, CA: Resources in Special Education.

Lynch, E.W. & Hanson, M. J. (Eds). (1999). Developing cross-cultural competence: A guide to working with young children and their families. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Co.