How to work with interpreters
Knowing how to work effectively with interpreters supports equitable access for all participants.
Interpreters are accustomed to working in a variety of teams and situations. If you have not worked with an interpreter before, the tips below can help you to understand how best to work with interpreters.
Qualified interpreters must adhere to a strict professional code of conduct and continuous professional development. Qualified interpreters must be impartial, confidential, professional and truthful. It is the right of the client to have a qualified interpreter present at appointments. This is for legal and non-legal reasons, including informed consent.
Sometimes it is necessary to have two or more interpreters working in tandem. This usually occurs if the appointment or situation is longer than 1 hour. You can clarify the need for tandem interpreting with any Deaf society or interpreter-booking agency.
Interpreters will not speak on behalf of the Deaf client. They convey all communication to the Deaf person at all times. Focus your attention and eye gaze on the deaf / hard-of-hearing person, not the interpreter, even if they are looking at the interpreter and not at you.
Interpreters tend to arrive early for an appointment to introduce themselves to the Deaf client. Try to spend time with the interpreter before you start. Explain any jargon or specialised language you will use. Provide the interpreter with preparation materials (copies of notes, presentations and videos) when you book, so they can familiarise with the topic. A copy of an agenda and the names and titles of participants (where applicable) is useful, especially when there are multiple people being referred to during the session.
Appropriate lighting and seating arrangements support clear communication. Allow interpreters to position themselves appropriately and try to accommodate any suggestions the interpreters make to create a more accessible environment.
Present clearly and at your usual pace and volume. It is easier for the interpreter to establish the context and a natural signing flow if you speak normally. Do not pause and wait for the interpreter to catch up after each sentence. This is not necessary. The interpreter will tell you if you are required to change your pace.
Depending on the situation, an interpreter may choose to interpret consecutively, which means they will not begin interpreting until you have finished speaking or signing. If this is the case, please speak or sign in short sentences so that the interpreter can easily remember what you have said.
The interpreter does not provide a literal word-for-word interpretation. An interpretation may take more or less time, depending on the context and content. Auslan is a language in its own right and has a different sentence structure to English, with its own grammar and idioms.
Do not make asides that you do not want interpreted. The interpreter is ethically bound to interpret everything that the deaf / hard-of-hearing person would have understood if she/he could hear and speak a spoken language.
Be aware that humour does not always translate well from one language to another. Many English jokes involve a play on words, or the specific way in which something is said. Do not be offended if the deaf / hard-of-hearing person does not laugh or react to these jokes.
Ensure participants speak one at a time. It is impossible to interpret more than one person at a time. Establish rules around turn-taking when speaking right from the start.
Always allow enough time for the deaf / hard-of-hearing person to respond to any questions or read any materials before continuing. Note that it is impossible to watch the interpreter and read/write at the same time. It is also important to remember this if overheads, presentations, or note taking is involved. The degree of delay will vary with interpreters and the complexity of the material. This is especially important during group discussions.
In accordance with Occupational Health and Safety laws, agree on regular breaks before your session with the client and interpreter.
Deaf / hard-of-hearing clients and persons booking interpreters should let agencies know if they are unhappy with the interpreter who attended a session or appointment. This feedback will help the interpreter to improve and the agency to better match interpreters to specific client or booking requirements.
Deaf / hard-of-hearing people and interpreters are used to working with people who have never worked with an interpreter before. It is normal to be unsure in new situations. Just behave naturally and everything will go smoothly.
Some deaf and hard-of-hearing people have both limited or minimal English and/or Auslan skills. In such cases, it may be necessary to also use a Deaf Relay Interpreter (DRI). Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander clients may require the use of an Indigenous Deaf Relay Interpreter (IDRI) in addition to an Auslan interpreter.
An IDRI factors in cross-cultural explanations and caters to the linguistic needs of the client (i.e. those who use an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander dialect of Auslan). Auslan interpreters are not able to match this cultural and linguistic level.
The National Auslan Booking and Payment Services (NABS) provide free Auslan and Indigenous Deaf relay services for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Deaf consumers. Clients can contact their local or district Interpreter Service Coordinator to book your Auslan and IDRI interpreter through NABS.