Working with an interpreter is more common nowadays than ever before in our world of global business and diversity. Professional community and medical interpreters provide effective communication between LEP (Limited English Proficiency) clients and providers, businesses and government organizations.

Whether it’s a medical appointment or a business meeting, an interpreter’s greatest reward is being able to break down language and cultural barriers and provide understanding and communication. As working with a community or medical interpreter may not be an everyday encounter for most people, there are a few things providers can do to ensure that a session with an interpreter goes smoothly and offers the best results.

Here are 10 tips to effective communication when working with a medical or community interpreter:

1) Allow time for a pre-session with the interpreter to explain what the interpreter should expect during the appointment. When working with a community or medical face-to-face interpreter, a pre-session can be helpful to both the service or healthcare provider and the interpreter. The pre-session in medical interpreting is an opportunity to be clear about the nature of the upcoming encounter and any particular concerns that the provider would like to address regarding the patient’s condition.

2) Speak more slowly rather than more loudly.

3) During the appointment, speak directly to the patient/client, not to the interpreter.

4) Speak at an even pace in relatively short segments. Pause so the interpreter can interpret.

5) Acknowledge the interpreter as a professional in communication. Respect his or her role.

6) Assume, and insist, that everything you say, everything the patient/client says, and everything that family members say is interpreted.

7) Be aware that many concepts you express have no linguistic or conceptual equivalent in other languages. The interpreter may have to paint word pictures of many terms you use. This may take longer than your original speech.

8) Do not hold the interpreter responsible for what the patient/client says or doesn’t say. The interpreter is the medium, not the source, of the message. If you feel that you are not getting the type of response you were expecting, restate the question or consult with the interpreter to better understand if there is a cultural barrier that is interfering with communication.

9) Give the interpreter time to restructure information in his/her mind and present it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. Speaking English does not mean thinking in English.

10) Avoid: Highly idiomatic speech, complicated sentence structure, sentence fragments, changing your idea in the middle of a sentence, and asking multiple questions at one time. Also avoid making assumptions or generalizations about your patient or their experiences.  Common practices or beliefs in a community may not apply to everyone in that community.

Get the necessary, in person training to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter TrainingLegal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.

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Yana Fisher

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