Top tips for working with BSL/English interpreters

If you’re new to working with interpreters, we’ve put together this essential guide so you know what to expect.

Interpreters aid communication between deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) and hearing people who use English. The interpreter will relay information by listening to spoken English and interpreting it into BSL, or will watch the BSL and translate it into spoken English. Working with interpreters is a crucial part of accessibility for deaf people, whether in the workplace, appointments or events, allowing them the same level of access and inclusion as their hearing peers.
Be clear

It’s natural to feel a bit unsure what to do if you’ve never worked with interpreters before, but speak at your normal pace. Consider your seating plan, and ensure the deaf person is seated with a clear view of both the interpreter and the speaker.

Talk to the deaf person

Remember to look at the deaf person when you’re speaking, not the interpreter. Address the person directly and avoid phrases such as “tell him…”, or “ask her…”.

Provide information in advance

Providing prior information and materials for interpreters allows them to work more effectively and prepare for the meeting in advance. Prior information may include minutes of previous meetings, presentations, notes or theatre scripts.

Plan regular breaks

Interpreting between two languages is very demanding and can become tiring after long periods, so it’s important to have regular breaks for the interpreter so the quality of interpreting doesn’t dip. Some bookings may even require more than one interpreter, such as all-day events or conferences

Be patient

The interpreter has to listen or watch before they can interpret, so there may be a short time delay.

Occasionally interpreters will need to clarify what has been said or signed to ensure a correct translation can be given. This is an important part of interpretation and contributes to better communication and understanding.

The interpreter is only there to interpret

A BSL/English interpreter is not an advocate or a social worker and adheres to a strict code to conduct. They are not allowed to offer personal advice or opinions.

Book in advance

Did you know there are approximately 87,000 deaf people in the UK, but less than 2,000 interpreters? Interpreters are in high demand and usually have busy diaries, so book well in advance to make sure your meeting or event is accessible.

Book an interpreter

Deaf people have a right to access information in their preferred language, so if you’re looking to make your organisation or event more accessible to deaf people, get in touch with our bookings team.

Want to know more? Try a deaf awareness course or sign up to start your British Sign Language journey.