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Safety Alert: If you believe your computer activities are being monitored, please access this site from a safer computer. To immediately exit this site, click the escape button. If you are in immediate danger, contact 911, a local crisis line, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.

Facilitating Language Access: Working with Interpreters (Part I)

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Language access provision is crucial for any organization serving domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking survivors. The existence of a well developed and implemented language access plan could very well determine the difference between survivors reaching out for services or continuing to endure the abuse. While Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network has developed extensive tools to help organizations and agencies develop Language Access Plans, this document highlights important considerations to work with interpreters.

First, however, it is important to differentiate between translation and interpretation, as people often confuse the two terms. Translation and Interpretation are used to facilitate language access to those who don’t speak English as their primary language and have limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand it. Translation and interpretation both essentially consist in receiving a message in the source language and delivering it in the target/desired language. The main difference between the two is that translation uses the written word whereas interpretation employs the oral medium.

Translation involves work with written materials, as is the case with flyers, intake forms, conference programs, blogs, newsletters, power point presentations, printouts, and organizational posters. Translators can typically work remotely from a computer. Interpretation, on the other hand, involves the spoken word and requires the presence of the interpreter whether on site or via phone.


While there are different types of interpretation methods, this section focuses on four main types that you have likely seen or used while working with survivors and service providers.

Simultaneous interpretation: This type of interpretation requires the use of interpretation equipment, typically a microphone for the interpreters to speak into and headphones for clients to receive the translated message. Interpreters versed in this type of interpretation listen to spoken content and simultaneously convey the meaning of the message in a target language.  This mode of interpretation allows only a few seconds between the words that the interpreter hears and the translated words delivered to the clients.

In some settings, organizations using simultaneous interpretation provide a booth for the interpreters, where they can be acoustically isolated and only able to hear the source language via a headset.  The use of a booth minimizes any surrounding noises that would otherwise feed into the interpreters’ microphones were they not isolated. The availability of a booth often depends on the level of formality, the size of the event, and resources available.

Consecutive interpretation: This mode of interpretation requires the speaker to make frequent stops so that the interpreter may render into the target language. The speaker and the interpreter will not speak at the same time but will instead ‘take turns.’ Typically, the speaker pauses after having completed a full sentence or idea to allow time for the interpreter to then render the meaning of what was said. Often, interpreters conducting consecutive interpretation take notes while the speaker is talking, as most people cannot commit entire paragraphs  to memory while keeping accurate details. This type of interpretation is commonly used when working with a single client, for example, in a medical or other setting where clients will need to interact with other individuals who don’t speak their language.

Whisper interpretation: Whispered interpretation is a kind of simultaneous interpretation that does not require the use of equipment. The interpreter situates him/herself closely to the clients and whispers the target language interpretation loud enough so he client can hear it while not disrupting the speaker. This type of interpretation is often seen in courts while judges are speaking so the person will know what magistrates are saying as they speak. It is also commonly used in trainings where participants are broken up into small groups for smaller workshops where the interpreter’s role is to allow the conversation to take place in a natural way while facilitating the full participation of the person who has limited English proficiency.

Over the phone interpretation: Telephone interpretation can either be scheduled or on demand.

Scheduled phone interpretation can either be simultaneous or consecutive, depending on whether the participants in the call may or may not feel comfortable hearing only the voice of the interpreter –in which case it would be simultaneous- or if they prefer listening to the other person talk and then hear the translation –in which case it would be consecutive. If the interpreter doesn’t have visual access to the persons speaking or to extra-linguistic cues to the speaker’s meaning and context, it is recommended that the phone interpretation be consecutive as this ensures higher accuracy. At Casa de Esperanza we have used over the phone consecutive interpretation for scheduled media interviews with participant survivors.

On demand phone interpretation is used when there is an immediate need to communicate across language barriers. This interpretation is often used by hotlines, call centers, organizations, medical or legal institutions who work with LEP clients needing on-demand language access. On demand phone interpretation is made available when an individual or organization calls a specific service, indicates the language pair needed and is connected to an interpreter who joins the call to interpret the conversation. The advantage of this type of interpretation is that it allows flexible access to an interpreter. Given the time sensitive nature of the interpretation needs, on-demand phone interpretation draws from a large pool of interpreters who may or may not have received training on domestic violence and sexual assault terminology or trauma informed interpretation, which could become one potential pitfall with this particular method of interpretation

Some established organizations serving survivors from a wide range of languages contract with outside Language Lines for on demand interpretation. Some language lines offer the flexibility of providing interpretation services on an ‘as needed’ basis and don’t require more expensive permanent contracts.

This two parts blog on Language Access around working with interpreters was developed by Patricia Celis Gonzalez, Bilingual Content Coordinator of the National Latin@ Network p.celis@casadeesperanza.org.

Stay tuned for the release of Part II next week.

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