If you aren’t used to working with an medical interpreter in a health setting, then it can be a daunting prospect.

Sometimes it can be difficult enough to explain how we are feeling to a doctor, without worrying about whether it actually makes enough sense for an interpreter to share on your behalf.

Similarly, if you are reading this as a medical professional expecting to work with an interpreter for the first time, it is great to know what to expect. We’ll also cover how to best prepare to adapt your interviews to speaking through an interpreter.

We don’t always have the luxury of time to prepare for this, but if you are here because you know you need to work with an interpreter for an upcoming appointment, then here are 6 super simple rules to remember to ensure that you can get, or give, the best care possible.

working with a medical interpreter

Medical Professional: Before You Work With A Medical Interpreter


1 Find the Right Person

An interpreter and a bilingual person are not always the same thing.

Interpretation is a taxing, challenging role and it is not fair to rely on another member of staff because they happen to be bilingual. If you are preparing to deal with patients where you know there will be a language barrier, source an experienced and accredited interpreter whenever possible.


2 Meet Them First and Brief them, if possible

If you are using any form of script/list of questions, then make sure the interpreter has a copy. If you can have a quick chat before you start talking to patients, it can also be a great opportunity to check the best approach with the interpreter in terms of what you’re planning to cover.

Some topics are culturally sensitive to cover, even in a medical setting. An interpreter should be able to advise on the best way to approach certain questions or parts of your examination, as far as cultural expectations are concerned.

3 Plan your questions/time accordingly

Languages do not translate word for word.

Sometimes, a phrase in English can be expressed in far fewer words in Wolof. Conversely, it requires far more words in French, for example.

This means that you might need to plan for an interview to take at least twice as long, due to the interpretation time. Don’t rush it, and give yourself more time than you think you’re going to need to avoid unnecessary pressure on you, the patient and the interpreter.

Medical Professional or Patient: How to Work With A Medical Interpreter


medical interpreter


4 Introduce Yourself

Introduce yourself to both the interpreter and the person you will be talking to. It helps to break the ice a little!

5 Talk Directly to the Patient/Doctor

Using an interpreter is one of the few times when it’s acceptable not to look at someone when you are talking to them.

You are essentially only talking to the patient/doctor, so don’t worry about trying to make eye contact with the interpreter, too.

Even though there is a language barrier, body language is a very powerful thing. You will find that your conversation flows far better if you keep your focus on the person you are communicating with, rather than the interpreter.

6 Be Patient!

We mentioned this a little earlier, too, but be patient when talking through an interpreter.

Some ideas cannot naturally be expressed in some languages. Speak clearly and stop every few sentences. This allows the interpreter to form it into a logical sentence in the target language.

Allow them a few moments to think and try not to make jokes or be overly colloquial! We aren’t trying to ruin your fun. Humour is just really difficult to translate sometimes and the last thing you want is to start laughing at something that the other person has missed, or even worse, offend them.

Even if you naturally love a bit of light-hearted humour in your speech, be aware of this limitation with an interpreter and try instead to make your body language open and relaxed, if you feel unable to put the other person at ease.

We really hope this has given you some helpful tips. At the end of the day, a good interpreter will be able to slip into working with you fairly easily. This will allow for seamless and straightforward communication where it’s needed most.

If you are looking for a Scotland-based interpreter, or a phone interpreter, then do give us a call. We’d love to help out.

Otherwise, best of luck with your appointment and don’t worry. It’s surprisingly easy to get used to speaking via an interpreter. By the end, you won’t know what you were stressed about.

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