An interpreter

An interpreter is a trained professional, fluent in at least two languages. The interpreter facilitates communication between parties who do not have a common language, or have limitations in communicating.

A competent interpreter must be bilingual, bicultural and have:

  • Good linguistic and communication skills in at least two languages
  • Intimate understanding of two cultures
  • A good educational background to be able to deal with a great variety of subject matter
  • Personal maturity and life experience to deal with sensitive matters
  • Familiarity with the subject matter and terminology
  • Good listening skills
  • Good memory skills
  • Ensures achieving participation and communication on both sides
  • Respect the confidentiality and integrity of both parties
  • Abide by the Interpreters' Code of Ethics.

The interpreter must:

  • Ensure the client understands what is happening (i.e. the interpreting process)
  • Explain to staff factors underlying the client's responses or decisions
  • Point out misunderstandings and challenge prejudiced statements or conclusions
  • Remind health professionals to use simple language and not to use jargon that may lead to misunderstanding by the interpreter.

Interpreters roles are threefold ONLY:

  • To act as a Conduit - to process the spoken language accurately so that the equivalent is provided in the target language, with no omissions, additions or editing (when language is perceived to be nonsensical, interpreting needs to be literal)
  • To act as Clarifier - to interpret underlying and metaphorical meanings within the cultural context
  • To act as Cultural Adviser - to provide a necessary framework for the message being interpreted. The interpreter would inform either party about relevant cultural practices and expectations, ethics and etiquette when there is either apparent or potential misunderstanding, and assist in maintaining a good therapeutic relationship through mutual cultural respect and understanding

Expected competencies of trained interpreter

  • To understand and adhere to the prescribed roles (see above)
  • To be able to do sight translation (i.e. translate documents in sessions such as consent forms, Mental Health Act etc. Written translations not part of role)
  • To be able to do simultaneous interpreting (when interpreter and 2nd party speak simultaneously with the interpreter one or two sentences behind)
  • To be able to do consecutive interpreting (when interpreter interprets after 2nd party has finished speaking)
  • To have some knowledge of mental health within their own culture/community
  • To have some knowledge of the mental health system in NZ and basic terminology
  • To have knowledge of, and to adhere to the Interpreters' Code of Ethics. These include the following clauses:
    • Accuracy
    • Confidentiality
    • Impartiality
    • No conflict of Interest
    • Professional courtesy
    • Declining work
    • Contractual obligations
    • Self education
    • Standard of Conduct
    • Regular peer supervision (if available)


  • 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)
  • Normalization (strange statements 'normalized' for benefit of practitioner which increases possibility of misdiagnoses)
  • Condensation (summarizing what client says)