6 Common Mistakes When Using an Interpreter

Feb 23, 2022 12:00:00 AM | 6 Common Mistakes When Using an Interpreter

6 mistakes people & businesses make when using an interpreter

Never before have Interpreters been so widely used. You see them on TV, in classrooms, at concerts, in courts and in hospitals. When I first became an Interpreter and people asked me what I did and I told them I was a Sign Language Interpreter, most of the time no one knew what that was. Now, everyone knows what that is.


It always looks so easy, but sometimes people have a lot of questions. Take a look at some common mistakes when working with Sign Language Interpreters and Foreign Language Interpreters.


Talking at the Interpreter

Always talk directly to the Consumer, not to the Interpreter. The Interpreter tries very hard to allow communication to flow as naturally as it can between you and the Consumer. They will not interject their own opinion or add to the conversation unless it’s necessary for interpretation, so please do not ask them questions about the Consumer.


If you are recording the interaction, make sure everyone is on the recording and there is a good view of them. Make sure the sound is adequate and clear and lighting avoids any shadows.


Leaving the Interpreter to Explain

Interpreters will not interpret written material if you are not present. If a person can read English, then they can read the material themselves. If they cannot and they need you to explain it to them, an Interpreter will assist you in explaining paperwork to them (by interpreting while you read or explain the written material). An example is if Miranda Rights are written on a piece of paper. A police officer must be present in order for the Interpreter to say what is written. It is important that a professional is in attendance.


We will say - we translate documents for businesses and can help you translate your most common documents into other languages if you need them available.


Bad Lighting

Lighting is important for Sign Language Interpreters and for any Consumer who may be hard of hearing and reading the lips of the Foreign Language Interpreter. Remember, hearing loss can happen to anyone.


If there are shadows on the Consumer or the Interpreter then it’s difficult to understand what is being signed. If there is too much light behind the person it can be hard to look at them; for example - standing or sitting in front of a window.


Putting Interpreters in Bad Locations

Foreign Language Interpreters need to sit or stand next to the Consumer and Sign Language Interpreters need to stand or sit in front of the Consumer and next to you. The idea is for the Consumer to see you and the Interpreter at the same time with Sign Language Interpreters. With Foreign Language Interpreters the idea is for the Interpreter to be able to give the interpretation without disrupting the entire room of people. In all instances you need to make sure the Interpreter is able to hear all parties and be able to control communication so that they can do their job.


Asking an Interpreter to Omit Information

Interpreters will interpret everything they hear; what you say, what others say, environmental noises and what the Consumer says. If we can hear it they will interpret it. Please do not ask an Interpreter not to interpret something. It’s extremely rude and makes the Interpreter choose between making the Consumer distrust them by seeing communication is happening and they are being left out and having to be rude to you. The Interpreter will be rude to you. They will not create distrust with the Consumer. Please know if you do not want the Consumer to know what you are saying you must go to a place where you cannot be heard.


Not asking if the communication is understood

If you are unsure if the Consumer is understanding, or if a behavior seems strange to you, this is when you should ask questions of the Interpreter. Sometimes a cultural barrier presents itself and what you perceive as a behavior that is strange is absolutely normal in the Consumers culture. Generally an Interpreter routinely asks or checks for understanding during their Interpretation and will gladly share that information with you. Never wonder what happened during an interaction, but do ask what is happening while the Consumer is there to prevent the appearance of impropriety. It is unethical for the Interpreter to discuss the job once the Consumer has left.


Interpreters want to be a part of your team. They want to see a successful interaction. With a little thought and preparation every time you work with an Interpreter will be a great experience.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan