Working with interpreters

Interpreters include language interpreters and cultural interpreters, who can provide a cultural context for communication. Translators work specifically with written materials. When you are working with interpreters:

  • The interpreter or translator should be neutral: their purpose is only to relay the message from one person to another.
  • The interpreters should not provide advice or give opinions.
  • Be aware of factors that could impact on the interpretation process. For example, differences in dialect or conflicting politics, beliefs or values may cause a person to reject an interpreter.
  • Make it clear to the interpreter that the message must be communicated as you intended. Ask them to check with you for nuances or to clarify meaning to ensure this occurs.
  • Address all questions, eye contact and body language to the client as if you are asking the questions directly. The focus of the communication should be on the worker and the client – not on the worker and the interpreter.

Professional interpreters are available for a fee from the Translating and Interpreter Service (TIS), which provides a 24-hour Telephone Interpreter Service (131 450), as well as arranging on-site Interpreting services (1300 655 082).


How to use an interpreter (1983)This video provides tips for using an interpreter, presented in a client interview context.

Working with an interpreter (1987). This video is targeted at those using interpreters for people who are deaf; however, much of the information presented in the beginning is relevant in any interpreting situation.

Issues in case management for CALD clients

A study by the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and NSW Community Options on best practice for case management of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) clients discusses some of the problems encountered with interpreters.

Within the discussions on language, interpretation and interpreters was a major discussion point, particularly around the sub-theme of effective communication, which relates directly to difficulties in conceptual understanding.

Whilst interpreters were seen as vital to working with CALD clients, some sense of dissatisfaction was expressed. This appeared to refer to 'effective communication', both verbal and non-verbal. For example,

I've used formal interpreters, and my own staff as bi-lingual interpreters, and havefound that both scenarios have pros and cons. Neither of them is a really effectiveway of communicating because of the emotional contact and understanding of thecultural stuff, where they may say this is what they really mean where in fact it maynot be.

Participants cautioned against using family interpreters. One pointed out that,

ECC and NSW Community Options 07/04 p.21, Case management report.

I had a situation - case conference - husband interpreting for a Turkish lady. When I organised a home visit I took an interpreter, and the picture and story were entirelydifferent from the one that the husband provided.

However, this same participant felt that family could be of use ‘for providing feedback about how things are going with the service provision – certainly.’

(ECC and NSW Community Options 2004)

Last modified: Monday, 11 November 2013, 2:12 PM