Working with Interpreters

1. Position the interpreter appropriately. Ask the client and the interpreter about seating

arrangements. It is usual for the interpreter to be seated next to the attorney so that the

client can observe both the interpreter and the attorney simultaneously.

2. Speak directly to the client as you would to any client. For example, say, “What is your

legal issue?” rather than “What is his legal issue?”

3. Speak clearly and at your usual pace and volume. It is easier for the interpreter to

establish the context and (for interpreters for the deaf) a natural signing flow if you speak

normally. The interpreter will tell you if it is necessary to change your rate.

4. Focus your attention and eye gaze on the client, not the interpreter.

5. Please do not ask the interpreter’s opinion. Interpreters are bound to a Code of Ethics

which prohibits them from giving opinions about the legal matter for which they are

interpreting. The court interpreter’s role is to interpret, and not serve as a ‘cultural

broker’ for the attorneys or the court.

6. Do not make asides you do not wish interpreted. The interpreter is ethically obligated to

interpret everything that the client would have understood if he/she had understood

(spoken) English.

7. Give a little extra time for the client to answer any questions you have asked, as there is

always a time lag as the interpreter interprets from spoken English into a different

language. The degree of delay will vary with interpreters and the complexity of the

material. This is especially important during group discussions. Depending on the

situation, some interpreters will choose to interpret consecutively – that is, they will not

begin interpreting until you have finished speaking. If this is the case, please speak or

sign in short ‘chunks” so that the interpreter can more easily remember what you have


8. For deaf clients, allow time for the client to take notes or read any printed material. It is

impossible for a deaf person to watch an interpreter and read/write at the same time.

In order to ensure that you, the client, and the interpreter have a shared understanding of the

extent of the interpreter’s professional services, we suggest that you communicate the following points at the beginning of a session involving an interpreter.

  • We are going to communicate through an interpreter.
  • The interpreter will interpret everything you say into English and everything I say into____[client’s preferred language].
  • The interpreter cannot participate in the conversation. The interpreter’s only job is to interpret what each of us says.
  • If you do not understand something, ask me, not the interpreter. Please talk to me, notto the interpreter.
  • If you have a long question or a long answer, please pause frequently so that the interpreter can interpret everything accurately.
  • Please speak loudly and pronounce your words clearly so the interpreter can hear you easily.
  • It may take longer to say everything through an interpreter. Please say everything you need to say.
  • If you have any difficulty hearing the interpreter or understanding me during the conversation, please tell me.
  • Are you able to hear and understand the interpreter?
  • The interpreter will get a break every 15 minutes or so.2
  • (To the interpreter.) Are you ready to proceed? Can you hear and understand everyone adequately? Would you like pen and paper to assist you?

For more information, please visit Minnesota Court Interpreter Website.

Resources for attorneys are listed at:

For resources for interpreters are listed at: ( including:  legal glossaries in many languages; the Interpreter’s Code of Professional Responsibility; Do’s and Don’ts for Working with Interpreters.

Based on the New Jersey Courts Language Services Section ( Recommended by the Minnesota Courts Interpreter Program.

Interpreting requires intense concentration and not giving breaks can result in mistakes.