Working Effectively with Interpreters

por Liliana Diaz abril 29, 2021 1 Comentario

Working Effectively with Interpreters

It is our responsibility as speech language pathologists to be able to effectively treat and work with people who have communication disorders regardless of the language they speak. There are several state and federal regulations that protect the rights of people who's native or first language is not English and it is our role as bilingual and/or monolingual speech language pathologists to be aware and understand the regulations in place as well as identify when an interpreter is needed and how to effectively assess and treat our clients with the use of an interpreter. 

When I used to work in the early intervention setting, I worked with several families who's first language was not English. I was completely used to working with families who spoke Spanish as their first language, and as a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech language pathologist, I rarely needed to work with interpreters because I speak both English and Spanish fluently. However, I began to receive referrals to work with families who spoke Arabic. Finding a bilingual speech language pathologist in the area that I worked in who spoke Arabic was a challenge. Therefore, the only way to provide these families with speech services was to utilize a licensed interpreter during my sessions.  

I learned several tips and other information as I began to work with an interpreter for the first time. For the very first time, I knew exactly how it felt like to be a monolingual SLP. I took this opportunity as a learning experience and reflect on how I can improve my family communication skills, cultural awareness and humility while working with these families. Continue reading to learn about some of the key points I took away while working with interpreters. 

Choosing an Interpreter 

Perhaps you own your own private practice and you will decide which contract company to hire. Or perhaps you work in a school district, and you cannot pick an interpreter because your school district selects the contract company to work with. Regardless of the situation you are in, you need to know what qualifications to look for in an interpreter. Also, keep in mind that the education and training requirements for interpreters may vary by state, however, the following qualifications should still remain the same.

  • Ensure that your interpreter is licensed or certified
  • The interpreter should be proficient in the target languages. 
  • The interpreter should be able to convey meaning and understand linguistic variations
  • The interpreter should be familiar with your fields terminology
  • The interpreter should be able to express confidentiality 
  • The interpreter should also be familiar with the family's culture. Culture awareness is important! Keep in mind that just because someone speaks the languages does not guarantee that he/she understands the culture. You can ask the interpreter questions regarding his/her culture awareness or their own experiences.

Preparing Before the Session

When working with an interpreter, often I would arrange for a 15-30 minute discussion prior to the client's session in order to discuss  the activities that were going to take place during the client's session. This allowed for the interpreter to review any specific terminology that might be needed for the session. It also allowed for my sessions to run smoothly because the interpreter knew exactly what the goal for the session was. Therefore, sessions did not need to be paused in order to answer any questions regarding clarity of the activity. In addition, we were able to review the family's expectations and cultural differences that would impact how I would interact with the family. For example, I learned that before entering the family's home, I had to take off my shoes and leave them in the hallway out of respect for the family's culture. Had I not known this, I could have possibly offended the family. Other tips I would suggest include:

  • Meet prior to your sessions to discuss the activities that will take place.
  • Establish rapport and discuss scheduling if necessary.
  • Discuss any prompts or cues that you are going to use in the session.
  • Review the client and family's goals
  • Review any procedures for capturing the client's verbal and behavioral responses.

Tips for During the Session

During my sessions, it was important that we discuss the SLP and interpreter roles with the family. We also discussed communication methods in case the family had any questions– it was important that the family knew that they can ask ME the questions instead of heavily relying on the interpreter only. One thing that I learned immediately was to address the family during interactions and not the interpreter. Often times, it was easy to fall into the trap of looking at the interpreter while discussing the client instead of looking at the family directly. Remember, the interpreter is YOUR voice and NOT your communication partner. Ensure that you direct all conversations with the family by making eye contact (as deemed culturally appropriate). Also be sure to: 

  • Address the parent or family not the interpreter
  • Make eye contact as deemed culturally appropriate
  • Remember to take pauses and check for questions. Talking from experience, I can't stress this tip enough. I've had to interpret several meetings before in the past and it is definitely difficult to capture and interpret all the information if someone is speaking too rapidly without taking any pauses. You want to ensure that the interpreter does not skip any important information. 
  • Remember to take note of the family's nonverbal language to assure clarification. As mentioned, make sure that you are looking at the family during interactions. It made it easier for me to detect any confusion or possible questions that they may have based on their facial expressions. 
  • Avoid over simplification of diagnoses or recommendations. Provide information as you normally would with any family. Don't over simplify information simply because it's being interpreted. All family's deserve the same kind of treatment and explanation of services, treatment and assessment.  

Tips for After the Session

After each session, the interpreter and I would debrief for 15-30 minutes in order to make sure we both were on the same page in terms of the outcomes of the session. We also discussed any possible questions that the family had to ensure the questions were addressed properly. Lastly, we both would compare our observations of the session to ensure there was no miscommunication. 

  • Meet after the session to debrief
  • Discuss questions that family had
  • Compare observations 
  • Prepare for the next session if necessary
  • Answer any questions that the interpreter may have


Hopefully these tips are useful in your practice. I highly recommend checking out ASHA's website for more detailed information about working with interpreters. You can learn more by clicking on this link "Collaborating with Interpreters, Transliterators, and Translators." 

What other tips would you recommend to a SLP working with an interpreter? What has your experience been? I would love to know! Leave a comment down below! 


Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz


1 Respuesta

Olivia Smart
Olivia Smart

octubre 09, 2022

Thank you for explaining how you should make sure to address the parent or family and not the interpreter during the session. My sister is going to be working with an interpreter for one of her clients. I’ll share this advice with her so she can make her clients feel more comfortable during the session.

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