ASL interpreting with text that reads what not to do when working with an interpreter

Apr 26, 2022 10:15:00 AM | interpreting What Not to Do When Working with an Interpreter

We have written about the dos and don’ts of working with Deaf people, and the cultural barriers you may encounter with the languages that Interpreters assist with. Let's talk about the other side. What do Interpreters and Translators find offensive? What really grinds them? I’ve got the goods and I’m willing to share!

“Tell him/her….”
Interpreters really hate when they are interpreting and they have told a client to please speak directly to the Consumer, and then the Client (English speaker) says, “Please tell him/her…” We want the interaction between the parties to seem as natural as possible. We want everyone to talk directly to each other. You don’t have to ask us to tell the consumer anything, just say it, we will interpret it.

“This document should only take a couple of hours.”
If you are not in the translating business, how do you know how long it will take them to do their work? Do you know how complex the language is on those pages? Do you know if they will have to do any research? It takes time to do their work correctly. If not, Google Translate would get it right each time!

Figuring out the intent of the document and ensuring that all the grammar is accurate takes time. There are many small details involved in translating, just like looking at the body language of a person when you are speaking with them. You know when someone is being sarcastic by their tone and facial expression. Translators know when a document has that same “tone” by the language being used and they will make certain to use the equivalent language choices (using cultural norms) when deciding on translations. No computer could possibly do that and it takes a lot longer than an hour in most cases.

“How do you say….?”
I’m an Interpreter, not a walking naughty word dictionary. I don’t mean to sound crass but if you heard that question as many times as Interpreters did you would understand. Look, we love to share the languages we know, it’s not that we don’t, but ask us for useful information…not naughty words! Many cultures consider those words private and for use by members of those communities only.

“I took a class in High School and was thinking of going into the Translation field. I bought a book to brush up. Think you can help me?”
If you think you can do what a professional Translator does with a High School class taken many years ago and a book…(insert eye roll here), think again. It takes time to develop the skills necessary to be able to translate well. The more experience a Translator has the better they are. So no, a Translator will not help you get into their field. They have had schooling or many years of experience and are most likely native speakers of the languages they translate.

“Don’t interpret this, but…”
Interpreters must interpret everything we hear. Please do not ask us to have a private conversation with you in front of a person who either cannot hear or speak English. Please do not have a conversation about the person with someone else in front of them and ask us to ignore that conversation even though we can hear it and understand it. By doing so, we have more information about the person than they have about themselves putting us in an unfair position of “power” over the person. If you want to have a private conversation, please leave the room.

“Why are you taking so long with your interpreting? What are you saying? Please say what you are Signing. Tell me what you said.”
Sometimes it takes fewer words to say something in another language and sometimes it takes more words to say something in another language. It’s all about the grammar and the way that it has to be explained. If the person doesn’t understand the way we said what we said, we have to say it a different way. We watch our consumer's facial expressions and body language for comprehension and may even ask them if they understood what was explained to them. If we feel we need more information, we will ask you for more information. If you want us to tell you what we said, we will tell you, but let us do our job first, which is interpreting what you said. We will then tell you if we had to break down that information or if we just simply interpreted what you said. If we are a Sign Language Interpreter, it may not be possible to Sign and speak at the same time, Sign Language is not English on the hands. If we are not able to speak and Sign at the same time, we will be happy to explain what we said when we are done Interpreting.

Please know, we have a Code of Professional Conduct. We are not interjecting our own opinion or adding to the interpretation. We are doing our best to stay to your intent and to interpret meeting the needs of the Consumer.

“You did a great job! I just love watching your arms and hands move like that!” or “I just love listening to that language, it sounds so lovely or interesting.”
Of course, we want to hear we did a great job, and thank you for the compliment. However, instead of commenting on the language, maybe you could comment on how well we interacted with your staff or the consumer. You could comment on our professionalism or the way we were able to assist the consumer with communicating and making your job easier. I love hearing that my signs were lovely (being that I am a Sign Language Interpreter) and I am sure other Interpreters enjoy hearing that they have nice speech, but the other things are nice to hear and we do not hear them as often.


When an Interpreter arrives at your place of business, we just want to do a good job. We want to make sure everyone is satisfied and that the consumer achieves communication, which is our number one goal. Translators want to make sure that the documents they translate are accurate and look good, ready for use. While our families may have thought our jobs were hobbies at first, they are well-paying jobs and require a lot of skill not only with languages but with human interactions. We must take into account cultures, languages, and personalities each and every time. Hopefully this gives you a little insight the next time an Interpreter walks through your door, or you need a document translated.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan