Nurses: Tips for using an Interpreter

Quick tips for using an interpreter for speakers of a different language

Using an interpreter can make conversation more tricky however, the tips below should help communication flow more naturally.

  1. Firstly it is important to ensure you use a professional interpreter and do not rely only on family/ friends to interpret for your patient.  Your patient may not feel able to be truly honest when speaking via family/ friends. There is also the risk that family or friends may also add their own concerns into the communication and provide answers based on what they want you to hear. 
  2. Ask the interpreter if she (he) will be doing simultaneous or consecutive interpreting. In simultaneous interpreting the interpreter interprets and speaks at the same time as you speak. In consecutive interpreting the interpreter waits until you have completed a segment of speech and then interprets while you pause and your client listens.Make sure you give a clear introduction and explain who you are and why you are there.  It is also helpful for the interpreter to have prior clarification of this which helps them in their role.  You can set the scene whilst maintaining your client’s confidentiality with regard to clinical information.
  3. Arrange the seating so you are facing your patient.  The interpreter should be close but not in the line of sight between you and your patient. 
  4. Your communication should be directed at your patient and you should look at them whilst speaking / listening. It is really important that you interact with the patient and you do not focus your attention on the interpreter.
  5. Try to start with some general conversation before getting into the business end of things.
  6. Try to avoid long questions and break your questions up as much as possible to give the interpreter the opportunity to ask everything you want to know. If your questions are too long winded then you run the risk of the interpret summarising your questions and you may lose valuable information.
  7. Avoid colloquialisms. English is a language with a vast and rich store of colloquialisms. However, even excellent interpreters can miss the subtleties of the language, especially if English is not their mother tongue
  8. It is usually best to break conversation into small chunks, check with the interpreter prior to starting as to how much they are comfortable interpreting in one go. 
  9. Ask interpreters not to change or alter what you say even if they think it may cause offense. If you plan to talk about a controversial issue let the interpreter know.
  10. Keep your language simple!