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Working with an Interpreter

Interpreting is an inherently difficult activity. It seems as if it ought to be simple: just rendering in one language what was said in another. However, communication is complex, with shades of meaning and a rich cultural context that shapes it. Interpreting involves understanding what was said, extracting the underlying meaning and intent, and then expressing the message in a different language in a way that evokes the same meaning, all within a few seconds. This work requires a high level of cultural competence, sensitivity to meaning and rapid processing of two languages and cultures at once.

The basic purpose of the medical interpreter is to facilitate understanding in communication between people who are speaking different languages and come from different cultures.

The most basic role is to interpret everything that is said, exactly as it is said: add nothing, omit nothing, and change nothing.

If you are requesting our services expect for the Medical Interpreter to give a standard introduction. At this time, the interpreter will:

  • Introduce herself/himself.
  • Inform you that he/she will interpret everything that is said, exactly as it is said.
  • Ask for the patient and the provider to speak directly to each other.
  • Ask for the patient and the provider to pause frequently to allow interpretation.
  • Inform you that the interpreter keeps everything confidential.
  • If the interpreter sees the need for clarification, he/she will intervene to ensure clear communication.
When using the interpreter expect for the session to last longer since everything will be repeated in the target language.

Tips and Suggestions



  • Remember to offer the services of a medical interpreter, as we are required to do by law.
  • Conduct a pre-session with the interpreter to make available any information that you think will contribute to a more transparent communication.
  • Allow the interpreter to do an introduction.
  • Address the patient, not the interpreter, and maintain your conversation in first person.
  • Keep a comfortable pace that will allow time for interpretation.
  • Document in the patient’s medical record from what source the services were obtained (i.e. CyraCom phone, Deaf-Talk System or face-to-face medical interpreter).
  • Document in the patient’s medical record when the patient refuses to use the medical interpreter and decide to use a family member, or friend.
  • Give full information on diagnosis, test, and treatment.
  • If our services are used to obtain a consent form, the Medical Interpreter is able to sign as the interpreter but not as a witness.
  • Ask the Medical Interpreter for cultural clarification when needed.
  • Confirm understanding and agreement with the patient to ensure compliance.
  • Use the interpreter as a resource for you. 
The Medical Interpreter will NOT sign consent form or any type of form/document unless the healthcare provider has fully explained information to patient.


  • Do not suggest or request from the patient to bring their own interpreter, we are required by law to provide a trained medical interpreter at no cost to the patient.
  • Do not ask the medical interpreter to keep the patient company while waiting to be seen. Medical interpreter cannot stay in the room with the patient while waiting for the medical staff.
  • Don’t “think out loud,” remember we interpret “everything you say exactly as you say it” and sometimes patients do understand more than they can speak.
  • Avoid medical jargon and idiomatic expressions to make the encounter less complicated.
  • Do not ask the Medical interpreter to take the patient’s medical history.
  • Do not ask the Medical Interpreter to explain or read procedures or instructions to the patient, the information has to be given by the healthcare provider.
  • Do not use bilingual staff for interpretations unless they are trained to do so.
  • Minor children should never be used as interpreters in any patient care encounter.
  • Do not ask the Medical Interpreter to escort patients. 


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