Interpreter Protocols and What They Mean: FAQ

Jan 13, 2021

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Interpreting is a well-established profession with many protocols and standards. These protocols might seem a little perplexing or startling for those who may have never used an interpreter before. Here are the answers to some questions you may have about how an interpreter conducts an interpretation session.

Q: Why is my interpreter speaking in the third person?

A: One of the first protocols an interpreter learns is interpreting in the first person, speaking as if they were the limited-English proficient person (LEP) or client. For example, if the LEP says “I don’t know,” the interpreter must also say “I don’t know,” as opposed to “She doesn’t know” or “The patient doesn’t know.” In this role, the interpreter acts as each party’s voice, and it’s clear to the listeners that they are not summarizing or narrating.

Q: Why did my interpreter say, “this is the interpreter speaking” during the conversation?

A: The interpreter may need to interject to clarify or verify what was said. They do this by announcing the change in speaker with “the interpreter is speaking.” What follows is the interpreter’s words, not the patient’s, so there is no confusion about who is speaking.

Q: In what instances would the interpreter need to clarify or verify what was said?

A: Interpreters use various tools that ensure their interpretation is correct and understood by all participants. These include interpreter “clarification,” “verification.”

An interpreter will request clarification if they are unfamiliar with a term used. For example, in a medical scenario, an interpreter might say, “Doctor, the interpreter is unfamiliar with the term. To remain accurate, the interpreter will need clarification.”

An interpreter will ask for verification if they are unsure what was said. For example, if the English speaker says, “The phone number is 795-9867,” the interpreter can say, “The interpreter would like to verify. Sir, did you say 795-9867?” The speaker can then confirm or correct the interpreter’s understanding.

Q: What does the interpreter mean when they say, “as a side note”?

A: An interpreter may interject a side note to avoid misunderstanding or miscommunication between the English speaker and the LEP person. For example, “Sir, this is the interpreter speaking, and as a side note, I would like to let you know that the LEP person doesn’t seem to know what you mean by congenital.”

The Interpreting Profession

Interpreting is a profession, complete with extensive training and regular monitoring. These are just a few of the many tools an interpreter needs to provide accurate and complete interpretation. 

Want to read more about the skills needed to be an interpreter? Read our recent blog post here.

Topics: qualified interpreters

Written by Regina Wetzel

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in how language works and translation services.