What people should never tell an interpreter… (Part I)

Often I’ve observed (and read) comments full of sadness, anger, or annoyance from many colleagues once their interpreting assignments are over. Of course, for professional and confidentiality reasons, we never disclose anything beyond ethics as it shall be. Interpreters are humans, just like you: they feel pain, hunger, sadness, anger, you name it. Either a client did something imprudent, one of the parties encountered discrimination, or an LEP said something offensive. Believe me, my fellow interpreter: we got it. Many of us know how it feels to be in situations that put your career (and patience!) in jeopardy.

Here are a few examples of uncomfortable ‘situations’ our colleagues have faced during an interpretation assignment:



“Are you pregnant? It’s because you look fat and I wanted to recommend you a diet”

“Wow! You gained a lot of weight. I couldn’t recognize you!”

Whether you’re a client, a colleague, supervisor, or a stranger: please, don’t do that!  I know some people would excuse themselves by saying that ‘’it’s part of the Latin culture to call you like that’’, but manners are universal and not all Hispanic dare to do so. So, out of courtesy, refrain from stating your opinion towards your interpreter’s physical appearance IN HER/HIS FACE.

“Your hair is ugly”

“You look like a man” (being a woman in fact)

“Can I tell you something? I sell MK and there’s this new facial product that would absolutely improve your imperfections… you really need to get rid of your acne”

Advice: Going back to the previous advice, please, please, please: REFRAIN FROM DISTRACTING THE INTERPRETER BY DISRESPECTING HIM/HER.



“Give me your phone number. You’re hot.”

Advice: Who doesn’t like be called ‘pretty’? Many of us do, but interpreters are impartial and don’t get involved with clients. Believe me, that’s pretty uncomfortable for us.



There is no need to mention the examples as many of you already imagine a number of case scenarios. I totally advice you to not ask about his or her religious beliefs in order to avoid distractions, awkwardness, and other ‘unfavorable’ results for the incumbent or participating parties. I get it. There is nothing wrong with religious beliefs, but we need to keep impartiality in order to deliver accurate results.



“I had sex with my boyfriend. I’m 14. Don’t interpret that for my mom, ok?”

“I feel like committing suicide. Don’t interpret that part”.

Advice:  Interpreters don’t get involved in client’s personal matters. So, just don’t try, ok? Now, regarding the last example, interpreters are legally bound to tell the nurse, doctor, or psychiatrist so that they can proceed to contact the proper authorities for said case. Remember: EVERYTHING YOU SAY WILL BE INTERPRETED.


I know this list of examples was pretty short, but Part II is on the way ;-). Feel free to share your own experience or examples via email (let’s stick to confidentiality, ok?).

Thank you!


One thought on “What people should never tell an interpreter… (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Weekly translation favorites (June 5-11)

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