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

September 20, 2020by Emily Thomson

Have you ever had a non-English speaker require advice or assistance and you need to provide an interpreter, however their child can speak English and is volunteering to assist? In this position you might be considering allowing their child to interpret. It saves you having to find a professional interpreter, and the child is not requesting to be paid. Win-win situation! I am sorry to inform you that in most scenarios that is not the case and it truly is better to use professional interpreters and not a family member.

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 it is best to use professional interpreters:

  • They 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 terminologies such as medical, legal, or technological.
  • For example, Legal or Medical interpreting and translation requires a professional
  • The non-English speaker may receive news that they do not want sharing with friends or family
  • They are not impartial and are biased
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Family or friend may adjust any bad news to comfort the non-English speaker however this would result in miscommunication and incorrect information
  • Friend and family members are not neutral parties and may try 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 expectations on them may result in stress and negative impacts on their mental health or alternatively it could result in them having a position of power and changing family dynamics.
  • In a medical setting, a family member or friend may change key information when interpreting resulting in misdiagnosis.
Tired unshaven young business man exhausted, stressed and sleepy

The use of an inappropriately trained (or no) 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.” ­–

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 well or 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 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 non-Biased, neutral and impartial. Our interpreters receive industry specific training so that they know all of the required terminology.


In an emergency or an unavoidable situation then 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. Although 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 and in reality you should leave it for the professionals!

When using a non-professional, bear in mind the above disadvantages- there are many more disadvantages than advantages!


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    Emily Thomson

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