Tips for Working with Interpreters

Open Handout



  • Clinician introduces self to patient and interpreter
  • Clinician defines the role of the interpreter
    • Tells the patient that the interpreter will repeat everything that they say and asks patient to speak in short phrases
  • Reassure the patient that information is confidential
  • Position the interpreter correctly (interpreter is next to patient, ideally a little behind)
  • Speak in short phrases, maximum one to two phrases or sentences at a time, to allow interpreter time to interpret
  • Avoid jargon or slang, use simple language
  • Don’t get frustrated if it seems to take too long to interpret. In many languages, the words we use in English, especially for medical conditions, either don’t exist or are longer.
  • Maintain eye contact with patient
  • Speak to the patient in a normal tone of voice (no shouting!)
  • Speak directly to the patient (not to the interpreter) for most of the interview
  • If you are asking a question of the interpreter, e.g., for clarification, let the patient know that you are doing this
  • Remember that everything you say will be interpreted