Working with Interpreters

GIS recognizes that working with interpreters and interpreting agencies is a new experience for many people. To familiarize you with what to expect and how to work with interpreters, the following points might be helpful:

  • When interpreters arrive on site, they will seek out the contact person and the client(s) to get any instructions and to familiarize themselves with the communication needs.
  • It is helpful for the interpreter to be shown the room arrangements prior to the event so that optimal visual communication can occur. The interpreter may offer suggestions on the best location for their placement.
  • When speaking with a deaf person, direct your comments to him/her (not to the interpreter). Speak at a normal pace. If your speech is rapid, the interpreter may ask you to repeat or to slow your pace to make sure that all your comments are being conveyed completely.
  • Allow only one person to speak or sign at a time.
  • It is helpful, and makes communication smoother, if you provide the interpreter with a copy of the materials/terminology that will be used during the meeting or presentation (in advance, if possible).
  • Make sure that the line of sight between the interpreter and the client is unblocked and that traffic in front of the interpreter is kept to a minimum.
  • Understand that the interpreter will interpret all communication that occurs.
  • Interpreting is physically demanding and interpreters may require occasional breaks. Assignments of an hour or more in length that are technical, non-stop, or high profile may require a team of interpreters.

If you are at an interpreted event and believe that significant interpreting errors have occurred, there are several options for providing assistance:

  • You may ask the presenter to repeat or rephrase a particular statement for clarification.
  • You may write the correction on a piece of paper and have it passed to the interpreter, allowing the interpreter to work this correction into the process in a natural manner.
  • You may discretely approach the co-interpreter and quietly provide the correction so that the co-interpreter can inform the working interpreter at an appropriate time to make the correction.

Public correction or criticism of interpreters is not productive and may cause the interpreters to be unable to continue their work.

For answers to other questions about requesting services or working with interpreters, please refer to our FAQ page or contact GIS at (202) 651-5199 (VP/V/TTY) or email at

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