Two false assumptions are commonly made with regard to language interpretation:
1. Being Bilingual makes anyone an Interpreter: FALSE
Most people incorrectly assume that a bilingual person can interpret effectively by virtue of being bilingual. In truth, bilingual individuals who have not received interpreter-specific training are more likely to add or omit information in the exchange between the parties . They also have a tendency to interject their own opinions and assumptions into the discussion, resulting in the transmission of incomplete and/or inaccurate information. This introduces bias in the conversation and potentially threatens the accuracy of the interpretation.
In addition, untrained interpreters are more apt to engage in conversations with the parties that are unrelated to the encounter. These extraneous exchanges or “side conversations” are counterproductive: time is wasted during the conversation; the parties become distracted from the task at hand; and the non-English speaker may feel ignored or even offended.
Non English speakers should not rely on their own family members or friends as interpreters, for the same reasons described above. Moreover, using interpreters with whom the non English speaker has an existing relationship places confidentiality at risk. Despite these factors, non-English speakers often prefer to use a family member or friend to interpret for them . Sometimes they may even refuse to talk to anyone unless a relative or friend accompanies them as their personal interpreter. For obvious reasons, children must never be used as interpreter.
2. Working Effectively Through an Interpreter Comes Naturally: FALSE
How to work through an interpreter is often taken for granted. Using an interpreter to communicate is not as straightforward as is commonly assumed. People who have little experience working through interpreters are more likely to avoid speaking directly to the non English speaker. This alienates the person by converting the exchange into a dialogue solely between the English speaker and the interpreter. Side conversations also become more tempting when the English speaker and interpreter exclude the the non English speaker from the interaction.
Additionally, when the English speaker addresses the interpreter instead of the person, this ignores the fact that many of the people who needs interpretation can understand English despite limited English-speaking ability. Initially it may feel strange for the English speaker to address the person directly, for fear of being impolite. In reality the opposite is true: It is disrespectful to avoid speaking to the limited English person on the assumption that she or he cannot understand.
English speakers who are unfamiliar with language interpretation tend to speak in long segments. Sometimes they speak too fast for interpreters to completely and accurately express the information. Also, individuals often make the unconscious mistake of patronizing or infantilizing adults with limited English proficiency. Another common oversight is to raise one’s voice when the issue is a language barrier rather than a hearing impairment.