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Why is it best to use professional interpreters and not a family member?

August 31, 2021by Ragda Hasan

Why is it best to use professional interpreters and not a family member?

In many cases, a non-English speaker might need advice or counselling and an interpreter’s assistance is required, however, that person’s child can speak English and is volunteering to assist. In this position, you might be considering allowing their child to interpret. It saves you the trouble of having to find a professional interpreter, plus, the child is not requesting to be paid. Win-win situation! Unfortunately, this is not true in most situations.

Advantages of Using a Family Member For Interpreting?

Although using a family member as an interpreter is not recommended, and in some cases, it can endanger the level of care and services to be provided to service users, there are advantages to using friends and family members of non-English speakers as interpreters:

Family Translator Environment
  • They can provide comfort in an unknown location or situation
  • They may have more background information about the non-English speaker which could help in some situations
  • Saves time
  • Saves money
  • The non-English speaker may feel more comfortable sharing sensitive information with a friend or family rather than with an interpreter

Disadvantages of Using a Family Member for Interpreting

So yes, there are some positives to using a friend or family member for your interpreting needs but there are many more negatives which prove why is it best to use professional interpreters and not a family member:

  • Family members are not professional interpreters; therefore anything they interpret will not be in accordance with the Government’s guidelines.
  • It is very unlikely that they will know all of the necessary industry-specific terminology used in the medical, legal, or technological domains.
  • The non-English speaker may receive news that they do not want to share with friends or family.
  • They are not impartial and are biased
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Family or friends may adjust any bad news to comfort the non-English speaker; however, this would result in miscommunication and incorrect information
  • A friend and family members are not neutral and may attempt to protect the non-English speaker by withholding or changing information.
  • Unless the family member is qualified and accredited then they cannot interpret any legal information due to bias and confidentiality
  • Putting pressure and high expectations on them may cause stress and negatively impact their mental health or their performance. It could also result in them having a position of power and changing family dynamics.
  • In a medical setting, a family member or friend could miss key information when interpreting resulting in misdiagnosis.
Tired unshaven young business man exhausted, stressed and sleepy

The use of an inappropriately trained (or untrained) interpreter poses risks for both the patient and healthcare provider.” -NHS

There are many disadvantages of using a non-professional interpreter and the risk they impose should any errors occur during the interpreting is very high.  So yes you may save yourself some time and money but overall it is not worth the risk and uncertainty.

It is particularly inappropriate to use children as interpreters for adults.” ­– Gov.uk

Interpreting Challenges

group of professional translators wearing suits

Interpreting is very important as the 2011 census shows there were nearly 1 million people in the UK who could not speak English at all. Therefore there is a high demand for interpreters and it is crucial that they are properly qualified and can guarantee high-quality results.

Not using qualified interpreters can result in some serious mistakes and that could lead to guilt and stress for the family member.  Interpreting is very challenging and even qualified interpreters could make mistakes sometimes.

Advantages of Using Professional Interpreters

Professional interpreters have to complete many different accredited qualifications and courses and attend frequent training throughout their careers to ensure that they provide accurate interpretations and translations. Professionals are reliable, accurate, and certified but most importantly they are neutral, impartial, and non-biased. Interpreters receive industry-specific training so that they know all of the required terminologies.

Conclusion

In an emergency or an unavoidable situation, a friend or family member of the non-English speaker can be used. In a medical environment, the care of the patient comes first so you must ask what they want and respect their choice. On the surface, interpreting may seem like a simple job that can be done by a family member or friend, it is actually a very complicated task that should be handled by professionals.

When using a non-professional like friend or family member, bear in mind the above disadvantages which vastly outweigh any advantages.

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    Ragda Hasan

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