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It is a scene played out nearly every day in UK hospitals. A patient speaking little English, arrives in need of care. A family member or friend takes the initiative and begins interpreting for them. On the face of it, this can seem beneficial for both the staff and the patient.

However, this approach can do more harm than good in many instances. It is common for children of migrants to take on this role in helping family members or others in the community. When families migrate, children in general find the language easier to pick up due to schooling, and having more opportunities to practice and learn.

When a young person/family friend/relative takes on the role of interpreter, it can impact them in a number of ways.

Here, we will explore the reasons why a qualified interpreter can be a much more suitable option than a family member/or friend, and in some cases is essential.

Lack of impartially/emotional attachment

In many of the cases when an interpreter is needed, it is crucial that all parties are allowed to communicate clearly and precisely. Without the risk of the interpreters emotional attachment affecting the content and delivery of information.

This can put both the interpreter and the patient in an awkward situation. An example of this is the family member/friend framing the information in such a way to protect the patient. With an experienced qualified interpreter this is avoided.

They are experienced in performing all differing types of interpretations in a professionally and accurate manner on a day to day basis.


Relationship dynamic

When a child interprets for a parent it can shift the family dynamic, giving the child authority, which can in turn result in frustration from the parent for this judged loss of authority.

Technical understanding

Whilst the family member/friend may have a good level of English and good intentions. In many cases, very technical and specialist vocabulary in the area is essential.

In the medical field, small differences and mistakes relayed back can make all the difference to the diagnosis. A qualified interpreter will be aware of this technical vocabulary, and ensure it is communicated clearly for the benefit of everyone involved.

Strain on relationships

If the interpretation is a sensitive subject matter, it is a great reassurance to patients for example, that they can rely on doctor/patient confidentially.

In some cases, potentially uncomfortable/embarrassing information is exchanged and it can be a burden on not only the person interpreting, but also the patient. In particularly in the case of a young person, the task of interpreting in a sensitive matter can cause undue stress and pressure.

Ensuring only the most accurate information is interpreted –

In some cases the family member/friend, may have a good level of English. However interpreters receive a lot of training and need an exceptional level of English.

Professional interpreters can ensure there will be no key information omitted, avoid misuse of technical terms, and deliver the message in a professional neutral manner.

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DA Languages are currently looking for freelance interpreters, and we’d like to hear from you! Send your CV to recruitment@dalanguages.co.uk.

Finally, if you’re interested in our services, take a look here for more information: we’d be happy to assist with your own Interpreting or Translation needs!

Written by Andrew, DA Languages Marketing & Content Manager  |   Andrew.Tattersall@dalanguages.co.uk  |   Say  Hi! on Linkedin