The consequences of using uncredentialed interpreters

Cultural support workerPractitioners in early childhood services would be advised to conduct a risk assessment before accessing language support for their clients. Engaging unaccredited / uncredentialed interpreters and translators could result in:

  • a breach of confidentiality
  • partiality from friends
  • emotional involvement
  • tendency to filter information
  • limited language ability which may lead to inaccurate interpretation and translation. This may lead to financial loss or claims of negligence against the early childhood service
  • families not getting the right dialect. For example an Arabic speaker might speak Egyptian Arabic rather than Sudanese Arabic. The language spoken by both interpreters is Arabic but the dialect spoken by Egyptian and Sudanese people is very different
  • missing the real context and content of the message as family and friends are not bound by any code of ethics. This may lead to misunderstandings
  • miscommunication and unclear expectations with family and friends 
  • Children being engaged as interpreters
  • a service provision but not language or cultural support for children in early childhood services

The following examples are from real life situations in a court of law, a hospital and a school. They demonstrate how easily the real meaning of a message can be misinterpreted and changed by an uncredentialed interpreter through the incorrect translation of only a few words.

As you read the following messages think about the unintended impacts and implications on a family of a poorly interpreted message.


sad boyIncorrectly interpreted message:

The situation here is that a parent is expressing to the court that if his son’s behaviour is good he can come back and live at home. The message was interpreted as:

“He’s good, he can come back and live with us”

The message as it was intended:

“Provided his behaviour is good, he can come back and live with us”.

court sceneIncorrectly interpreted message:

The situation is that a judge wants to know how a mother reacts when her son visits her.  It was interpreted as:

We will count how many times he visits his mother”

The message as it was intended:

“We will take into account how his mother reacts to his visits”.

document and penIncorrectly interpreted message:

The situation here is that the witness wants the client to sign a document in his presence. The interpreter said:

I have to sign your signature”

The message as it was intended:

“I have to sight your signature”

sad womanIncorrectly interpreted message:

In this situation there was a woman from a Spanish speaking background who had been raped and was at a hospital being treated for her injuries. When the police arrived to take her statement a Spanish speaking nurse interpreted for the woman. The woman said that she was ‘robbed’ meaning she was ‘robbed of her honour’.

 The interpreter therefore said:

 “ He robbed me”

The message as it was intended:

“He raped me”

Two boys fightingIncorrectly interpreted message:

In this scenario two boys had a fight at school. A spanish speaking child told the teacher (through the school employee) that he was hit by another boy.

 The interpreter said:

 “He bashed me up”

The message as it was intended:

“He hit me”

Dog picture

Incorrectly interpreted message:

In this situation the local council wanted to ensure that residents picked up after their dogs. The interpreter at a community event said:

“Collect your dog from here later”

The message as it was intended:

"Pick up after your dog".


Think about other examples from your own experience of using unaccredited interpreters. How might your intended message have been interpreted and what might have been the implications of these messages being delivered incorrectly?

Last modified: Wednesday, 19 December 2018, 3:04 PM