Interpreting services

The Interpreter Symbol endorsed by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governmentsWhen working with clients from diverse backgrounds, community and disability services workers often need decide whether an interpreter is required to assist in the communication process. The following are situations where an interpreter is needed:

  • when it is obvious that there is no shared language between you and the client or when the client’s English language skill is very limited
  • when the client makes a request for language assistance or if they specifically request an interpreter to assist with communication
  • when clients rely on people who accompany them to speak on their  behalf or interpret for them.

If you are unsure about the client’s level of English, you need to make a decision if an interpreter is required or not by:

  • Asking simple questions that require an answer, for example, ’How did you come here today?’ Avoid yes/no questions.
  • Avoiding asking overly familiar questions such as ’How old are you?’ or ’Where do you live?’.

For more details on when and how to engage interpreters, you can work through the Working with Interpreters in Early Childhood Services eTraining course or find more information in the Community Door section on Accessing interpreters and translators.

Engaging an interpreter

When the client has language barriers, community and disability services workers may need to engage an interpreter to assist in information gathering.

If you decide that assistance from an interpreter is required, the following tips in engaging with interpreters should help you:

  • Find out what language or dialect your client prefers.  Do not make assumptions according to the country they came from. For example, a client from Afghanistan may speak Farsi or Dari.
  • Find out the ethnicity of the interpreter and what language they prefer. Clients might reject a particular ethnic group within their country. For example, people of Croatian background might refuse to have Serbian interpreters, although both are from the former Yugoslavia.
  • Check with the client if they have gender preferences for their interpreter.

It is important for you to treat interpreters as part of the team.  Briefing and debriefing is critical for an interpreter when dealing with difficult situations, such as torture and trauma issues.

Role of the interpreter

An interpreter’s role is to convey information provided in a language other than the one/s the client can understand, as well as interpreting information given by the client into English. All information obtained by the interpreter must be kept confidential by the interpreter and the community services worker.

Interpreters are not responsible for the analysis of information, nor should they be considered as cultural experts or consultants. Their role requires that they do not comment or provide advice.

Using professional interpreters

Professional interpreters are those who have passed an examination and are accredited with the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters Ltd (NAATI). Community and disability services workers should use professional interpreters whenever possible for the following reasons:

  • Accuracy. Professional interpreters ensure a high level of competence both in their home language and in English. This will help ensure an accurate transmission of the message and avoid any unnecessary mistakes. A client who is deaf may require an Auslan or other sign language interpreter.
  • Professional ethics. Professional interpreters are bound by professional ethics such as confidentiality and impartiality.
  • Duty of care. It is your responsibility to ensure that clients receive the best service that meets their needs through accurate information collection.
  • Government policy. The Queensland Government has language policies to guide community services workers in using professional interpreters.

In the larger cities, many services are available for assisting people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. There are also many services available for young people and people with a disability who may also be from CALD backgrounds. In the following situations, you are recommended to use a professional interpreter:

  • conducting comprehensive client assessments
  • admission to and discharge from a hospital
  • any business dealings (e.g. signing a contract)
  • any dealings with police, solicitors or lawyers or court proceedings
  • dealing with child protection agencies.

(modified from QTMHC 2000)


Interpreting and Translating – Department of the Premier and Cabinet. Information on Queensland Government supplied interpreting services and the Queensland Government Multicultural Policy 2004, which incorporates the Language Services Policy.

Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 4:28 PM