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Why Family Members and Friends Fail as Interpreters

We at Translators USA pride ourselves to offer the highest quality interpreting services but we also pride ourselves to offer professional advice on anything related to interpreting. We help our clients understand their options and the best solutions for their specific needs and requirements as well as approaches to interpreting that should be avoided. In this blog article, we will focus on the latter, more specifically on why family members and friends fail as interpreters.

What's Wrong with Using Bi/Multilingual Family Members and Friends as Interpreters?


Most people have used their bi/multilingual family members and friends on many occasions to help them break the language barrier, for example order from foreign-language menus, ask for direction of a hotel or local attraction, etc. However, there is a big difference between using family members and friends as interpreters in informal situations requiring translation of a few simple sentences and in settings such as hospitals, federal/local government agencies, police stations, legal institutions, etc. Why? Because an eventual misinterpretation can be much more serious than having a bad dinner or making the wrong turn and get lost. This is because interpreting requires much more than just knowing the language.

Family members and friends most often fail as interpreters for the following reasons:

  • Lack of interpreting skills. Professional interpreters are trained to render the communicated message exactly as it is being said, without adding or omitting anything. In contrast, bi/multilingual individuals, even though they may understand perfectly what the speaker is trying to say, may struggle to find the right words. To avoid losing time (and often to demonstrate their knowledge), they may choose to render only what they consider to be essential. And by doing so, they may alter the communicated message which in turn can lead to serious misunderstandings.
  • Lack of impartiality/inability to control emotions. The goal of interpreting is to translate everything what is being said and maintain impartiality and neutrality at all times. This, however, is very difficult to achieve when the interpreter is emotionally attached to any of the parties in any way. They may alter information with an aim to help their family member or friend which is violating one of the fundamental ethical standards of interpreting. Furthermore, they may fail completely in emotionally-charged situations, for example in emergency situations. The same is true for professional interpreters which is why they refuse to interpret for their family members and friends.
  • Increased risk of disclosing private/confidential information. Unlike professional interpreters, bi/multilingual individuals are not bound to adhere to the Interpreters' Code of Ethics which, among other things, also bounds them to confidentiality. It isn't that they mean harm but they are more likely to reveal something they shouldn't, usually without even being aware of it. Professional interpreters, on the other hand, treat all information learned while interpreting as highly confidential.

Professionalism You Can Count On!

Translators USA interpreters are highly trained professionals who have the expertise and experience to provide the highest quality interpreting in every situation and setting, nationwide and 365 days a year. To hire our interpreters who provide simultaneous, consecutive, whisper and phone interpreting as well as ASL interpreting services, please call 888-790-8872 or contact us through our website.

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Wednesday, 17 January 2018
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