Interpreting Services

Situations that would be most suitable to use a trained interpreter (tips for health providers)

A trained Interpreter shall be provided :

  • When the patient has no or a limited command of English
  • When there is a concern that the patient does not understand the clinical information
  • When the patient is deaf and understands sign language
  • When family are consulted regarding the patient treatment and they need an interpreter to help communicate
  • When an interpreter is indicated on the patients written consent for participation in research
Failure to use an interpreter in these circumstances is a breach of the Health and Disabilities’ Commissioner’s (Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights) Regulations 1996 Remember the Interpreter is there to enable you to do your job competently, not only for the patient/client.

Situations where untrained interpreters could be used

Generally family members or friends are not to be used as an interpreter, however in some instances, for example small ethnic groups, it may not be appropriate to go outside the immediate family group. This is a decision to be made by the patient and their family in conjunction with the health professional and the reason should be clearly documented in the patients’ clinical record.

'Untrained' interpreters are usually only used :

  • To interpret information:
    • Which is not clinical or technical, confidential or sensitive, or of a critical nature
    • Which does not necessarily need to be accurate
  • If a patient expresses a preference and the health provider agrees
  • In emergency situations where immediate access to a professional interpreter is not possible and a delay in obtaining a professional interpreter would result in harm to the patient

Note for health providers: the use of an untrained interpreter can be unsafe from a clinical safety perspective and can be culturally inappropriate: It is NOT recommended that:

  • Untrained interpreters be used (see identified risk)
  • Children under the age of 20 be used to interpret for parents.


  • Omission (e.g. leaving out part of the sentence/explanation)
  • Addition (adding their own words to those of the client's)
  • Substitution (e.g. because the interpreter cannot think what is meant; or does not know an exact synonym, or concept does not exist in target language or culture)
  • Role exchange (interpreter takes over session)
  • Closed/open Statements (interpreter changes closed into open statements and vice versa)
  • Normalisation (strange statements 'normalised' for the benefit of the practitioner which increases the possibility of misdiagnosis)
  • Condensation (summarising what the client says)

Interpreting Process

The Interpreter is required to interpret what is said accurately and faithfully, without alteration and addition.

If there are any doubts about the accuracy of interpreting, it is appropriate to ask the interpreter what they have been saying.

To assist with accurate interpretation avoid the use of jargon. While interpreters are trained in medical terminology, jargon can lead to misunderstanding by the interpreter.


  • Interpreters may need more words to explain the concept in the client’s language
  • Word for word translation may make absolutely no sense in other languages thus restructuring is needed
  • Cultural protocol may make interpreter to reframing a question in a different way but maintain the same meaning of the question

How to provide feedback to ADHB Interpreter Service

If there are concerns regarding the interpreting service provided, please feel free to provide feedback by email to or contact us by phone