Best Practices for Communicating Through an Interpreter - Speak Your Language | Australia

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Best Practices for Communicating Through an Interpreter

Posted on: July 20, 2023 by admin

As our society continues to grow increasingly diverse and interconnected, effective communication is crucial now more than ever. In many situations, language barriers can pose a significant challenge to effective communication. This is where interpreters play a vital role. Whether conducting business negotiations, attending an academic conference, or even seeking medical care, working with an interpreter can bridge the gap and assist in facilitating meaningful communication. To help ensure a successful outcome when communicating through an interpreter, it is important to follow best practices. Below, we will outline the best practice that you should follow in any interaction with an interpreter.

1. Plan and Prepare in Advance

Before the interpretation session, take time to prepare yourself and the interpreter. When possible, provide any relevant documents, presentations, or background information that will help the interpreter familiarise themselves with the subject matter. Clearly communicate your goals, expectations, and any specific terminology or nuances that are relevant to the conversation. By planning and preparing in advance, you can maximise the efficiency and accuracy of the interpretation process.

2. Use Clear and Simple Language

It is essential to use clear and concise language when communicating through an interpreter. Avoid using long and complex sentences, idioms, or colloquialisms that might not be possible to translate efficiently or accurately. Speak slower than usual to ensure all words are heard by the interpreter to allow for correct translations — this is even more important if using an interpreter via phone or the internet. Any background noise or reception problems can add difficulty to the art of interpreting. Being patient and aware will help the interpreter to convey your words faithfully and accurately.

3. Address the Speaker, not the Interpreter

Even though the interpreter is the conduit for the conversation, it is important to remember that they are not the person you are having the conversation with. It is essential to address the person you are communicating with directly to establish a personal connection and respect. You are also more likely to see and understand the other person’s non-verbal cues if you are looking at them and addressing them specifically.

4. Allow Time for Interpretation

Remember that interpretation takes time. All spoken information needs to be repeated in another language, which will at a minimum take double the amount of time of a regular conversation in one language. When speaking, ensure that you pause regularly to allow the interpreter to translate your message accurately. Rushing through your sentences can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Additionally, be patient when waiting for the interpreter to provide the translation from the other party. Avoid interrupting or speaking over the interpreter, as this can disrupt the flow of communication.

5. Seek Clarification

If you are unsure about the accuracy or meaning of the interpretation, don’t hesitate to seek clarification. Misunderstandings can occur, and it is better to address them promptly rather than let them persist. Much like in a regular single-language conversation, politely ask for clarification or confirmation from both the interpreter and the other party involved. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and promotes effective communication for both parties.

6. Respect Cultural Differences

When working with an interpreter, it is important to respect the cultural differences of both the person you are speaking with and the interpreter. All cultures have distinctive communication styles, norms, and expectations in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Familiarise yourself with the cultural backgrounds of all people you will be speaking with to ensure you make everyone feel safe and supported. Be sensitive to cultural nuances and adapt your communication style accordingly. Respecting cultural differences fosters a positive and inclusive environment for effective communication.

7. Assess Performance and Seek Feedback

After the interpretation session, ask the interpreter for feedback. Ask them to let you know what aspects of your communication were effective and areas where you can improve. If it is likely you will communicate through an interpreter in the future, it is helpful to know how you can make it a smoother process in the future.


Effective communication is important in our busy society, and it is even more so when communicating through an interpreter. By following these best practices, you are on your way to having a successful interaction that can overcome language barriers. These 7 practices can assist you in ensuring your messages are accurately conveyed and understood, leading to successful business, professional, and personal outcomes.