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  • Writer's pictureShelley Purchon

Working effectively with interpreters.

Updated: Oct 15, 2022

Holding a conversation via a third party is a strange experience. It’s slow, it’s a little clunky and even with the best of interpreters it isn’t easy. Have you provided your staff with training in this difficult skill? Without training, they may not be making the most out of the expensive resource which you are providing them with.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for people who use interpreters at work but rely purely on instinct to recognise the behavior of a skilled interpreter, and have not yet been trained in the conventions of working with an interpreter. It covers both face to face and telephone interpreting and will be useful for staff in the following settings-

  • Health care

  • Social work

  • Advocacy

  • Social care

  • Legal and judiciary

  • Policing

What might your team be doing wrong?

Here are some common mistakes among staff who have never received training of this kind-

  • Booking the wrong dialect or language.

  • Forgetting to speak directly to the client.

  • Leaving the interpreter alone with the client.

  • Saying things like “Tell him ….”/ “Ask him..”

  • Failing to check that the client is happy with the interpreter before proceeding.

  • Using jargon or other vocabulary which is hard to interpret.

  • Speaking in long chunks or incomplete thoughts.

  • Not briefing the interpreter beforehand.

  • Rushing the interpreter due to time pressures or unrealistic expectations.

  • Saying things ‘off the record’ which they do not wish to be interpreted.

Worth their weight in gold.

Registered interpreters have received training and know what they're doing. It can slow them down or throw them off if the professional they are helping is unaware of the basic conventions of managing interpreted speech. Given the fact that interpreters are costly and a good one is worth her weight in gold, why not help them out by making sure your staff know what to do?

What drives interpreters crazy?

The first thing attendees learn is how to make their interpreter's' life easier. This section of the course is built around comments made by experienced interpreters. When attendees see their own role from the interpreters point of view, they develop an insight into how they themselves can work in a way that makes it easier for accurate interpretation to take place.

Did you know?

Unqualified interpreters are permitted to work in the UK. The National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) have been lobbying for years to change this situation, which has caused problems in a range of settings including law courts and the police. To read our free guide to interpreter qualifications, click here.

How to know a good interpreter when you've got one.

Have you ever had a hunch that something wasn’t right when working with an interpreter? It is difficult to address a hunch like that when you don’t know how a professional interpreter is supposed to work. This is why it is crucially important to recognise competence in an interpreter, something you will cover on the course. You will also look at problematic situations taken from real life and develop practical ways of dealing with them.

The code of ethics constrains us all.

Like all professionals, interpreters registered with the NRPSI must abide by a professional code of conduct. This guides their behaviour but it must also guide yours. It puts interpreters in a difficult position if staff are, though blissful ignorance, asking them to do things which contravene the code. This is where training helps. An awareness of the code will also enable you to be more confident that the interpreter you are working with is behaving professionally.

When is it OK to manage without an interpreter?

Each organisation needs its own guidelines on this so that staff can act with confidence. For example these guidelines from NHS Health Scotland give explicit examples of situations where it is not permissible to use alternatives to a professional interpreter. I liaise with the person commissioning the training event so that the guidelines we refer to are tailor made to the circumstances of your team, and in some cases this means collaborating to produce guidelines together.

This training fills a gap.

This course was originally developed in partnership with Northumberland County Council in March 2020. If you would like to book training for your team, please get in touch with Shelley Purchon, founder of English Unlocked. To find out about our eLearning and webinar versions of this course, click on the links.

How to manage when an interpreter isn't there.

For those occasions when interpreters are not required, your staff may also benefit from this course, in which they will learn to simplify their speech without dumbing it down.

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