For ease of description this guide is written with the assumption that the worker is an English speaker. There are circumstances when nobody will be speaking in English. However the same principles will apply. The guide is also applicable to signers for people with hearing difficulties.


Using an interpreter

When using interpreters always leave space at the beginning for preparation and at the end for debriefing. This should in total be a minimum of 1 hour.

Plan for the fact that meetings with interpreters take twice as long as without. In relation to using signers for people with hearing difficulties it will be appropriate to consider taking breaks in meetings for the signer. The signer will be able to advise. However, the general length of time a signer can sign is approximately 20 minutes before requiring a break. In many cases consideration of the employment of two signers will be appropriate.

Decide with the interpreter before the interview how s/he will interpret. Will it be a word for word interpretation or a general summary? Will the interpreter have separate discussion with the family (in order to clarify) or only repeat words that the worker uses?

Brief the interpreter before the interview about the case. Describe any difficult concepts, such as: sexual abuse, child protection plans, assessment.

Ensure that the interpreter signs a confidentiality letter confirming that they have been made aware of the confidential nature of the material that they will be covering which should include:-

I accept that the information that I am made aware of during the interviews with the ______________ family will not be discussed with anyone without the specific permission of children's services.

Stay in control during the interview. If you are confused or concerned about anything that the interpreter is doing, ask them. Ensure that everyone in the interview is having fair access to the communication. This can be particularly difficult when interviewing more than one person where one person can hear well and others can't.

Do not get involved in conversations with people who can understand you when there are people in the room who cannot understand you. Make sure that everything is being interpreted.

Use the following checklist during the interview

  • halt the interview/meeting at frequent enough intervals for the interpreting to take place
  • allow time for the interpreter to feedback the responses of the service user
  • ask the interpreter to feedback on any exchanges between family members or between the family and the interpreter
  • make it clear when the interpreter, as opposed to the service user, is being addressed and asked for a contribution to the interview/meeting. Allow time afterwards for the interpreter to summarise to the service user what has been said
  • be prepared to clarify terminology or difficult concepts in order to help the interpreter to be as accurate as possible
  • take full advantage of feedback opportunities to check for misunderstanding
  • if you feel that any family member or the interpreter is becoming anxious, distressed or overtired, check this out, and if necessary take a break.