6 Reasons why you shouldn't use friends or family as interpreters

  • 04/03/2019
  • 0
  • Admin

Oftentimes, individuals who need language assistance, such as medical consultation or financial advice appointment ask, ‘Can I use a friend or family member as my interpreter?’ This is understandable, as people generally trust their family members and perhaps they have used them in the past to interpret information. However, the risks of using non-professional interpreters outweigh the benefits, especially in a professional capacity. Professionally trained interpreters require standards of accuracy, share specialist knowledge and maintain impartiality that is sacrificed with non-professionals.

Some people may be hesitant to work with professional interpreting and translation services because they have concerns around costs, convenience, or confidentiality—but actually, working with a professional interpreting and translation agency ensures that things are kept confidential, professional and easy for everyone involved.


What are the disadvantages of using a friend or family member as an interpreter?

1. Lack of impartiality / emotional investment

Family and friends aren’t professionally trained to deal with sensitive situations or information such as health or money in an impartial way. They may feel embarrassed or emotionally invested in the situation such as, illness symptoms being discussed in a medical appointment, financial family investments being discussed or perhaps they may feel embarrassed to ask for help if they don’t understand what’s being communicated. 

2. Insufficient professional knowledge

Professional language interpreters and translators are fully trained with subject knowledge across a wide range of areas. Many interpreters are fully qualified in the specialist area and still work in the industry.  When it comes to medical diagnoses or prescriptions, the consequences of miscommunication can be life or death. Understanding clinical information is a skill that professional interpreters and translators offer and they are accountable for sharing this information accurately.

3. No guarantee of client confidentiality 

Confidentiality is a key concern for many people and it’s often a reason why friends or family are requested instead of professionals. However, because family and friends aren’t professionals, they’re not bound by any codes of practice and could intentionally or unintentionally share sensitive information with others. They are therefore not bound by the professional laws and consequences for lack of confidentiality.

4. Inadequate understanding or communication of target language

A friend or family member may have a good conversational level of English or a foreign tongue, but this may not be enough when discussing specific details with service providers. Information needs to be carefully understood by someone who is completely fluent in the target language to ensure any details aren’t missed. This not only requires listening skills but speaking, reading, and professional writing skills. Complex information such as medical or financial details should be dealt with by a professional who’s qualified to a high standard with subject matter expertise, or it may result in costly mistakes.

5. Risk of omitting vital information due to personal or cultural reasons

Another concern that relates to impartiality is that some well-meaning friends or family members may be influenced by their culture or personal beliefs when it comes to relaying information. For example, there are situations where religious beliefs or pressure from other family members may influence what information is being shared or omitted and this can affect the decision-making process for the person who relies on the interpreter.  Professional interpreters or translators are trained not to undermine, but to impower the individual through understanding.

6. Exposure to personal/potentially traumatising issues

Hiring a professional interpreter not only helps protect the person who needs language assistance but also their friends and family members too. It can be upsetting for friends and family to hear about the physical or mental health issues a loved one is facing or past experiences they have been through and continue the communication/translation/interpreting.  A professional interpreter or translator is trained in safeguarding and sensitive situations when sharing information with the specific individual who needs assistance. 

In conclusion, while it’s often helpful to get support from bilingual friends or family for booking appointments or even to request support from a professional interpreter—we hope that these reasons highlight some of the issues that you may face using a family member or friend as an interpreter.  

Contact Us

Vandu Languages is a leading Sussex interpreting service provider. Our dedicated team of linguists deal with a range of personal and business situations professionally and sensitively. From popular languages like Spanish and French to rare languages like Amharic and Tigrinya, our team speak 135+ different languages along with specific dialects. Feel free to contact us to learn about our translationinterpreting, and bilingual advocacy services.

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