How Can I Ensure Effective and Accurate Interpretation?

Establishing effective procedures to minimize language barriers will allow you to maximize your assistance to victims who do not speak English or Spanish well. In order to best serve victims, you must have a deep understanding of what their potential needs are when they seek your help.

Use professionally trained interpreters. It is never appropriate to use children or other family members as interpreters. It is also unwise to use other untrained community members as interpreters because of their possible relationship with the perpetrator, the shame and embarrassment involved for the victim, and the community member’s potential lack of training on issues involving sexual violence and interpretation.

Locate interpretation resources. Familiarize yourself with the languages spoken in the community, the agencies or businesses providing interpretation locally in those languages and the national telephonic services available to provide services in those languages and determine what, if any, training the interpreters may have received on sexual violence.

Know the difference between translation and interpretation. Translation refers to communicating one language into another in a written format. Interpretation is oral communication from one language into another. There are three different types of interpretation: consecutive, simultaneous and relay. Consecutive interpretation occurs when a person speaks and pauses for the interpretation to occur. Simultaneous interpretation has no pause and is therefore occurring on a continual basis. Relay interpretation occurs when more than one interpreter is required such as English to Spanish then Spanish to Mixteco Alto (an indigenous language).

Look for indigenous language interpretation. There can be many different languages spoken within one country. In Mexico and Guatemala, for example, many people speak Spanish. However, there are also many people who speak pre-Columbian indigenous languages.

These languages are commonly referred to as dialects but individuals who speak these languages often feel that the word dialect is pejorative. They speak their own distinct language that is in no way related to Spanish. You need to understand what country they come from, what language they speak and, sometimes, what region of the country they come from to more accurately determine whether they speak a certain dialect. For example, some indigenous people in Mexico speak the language called Mixteco. Depending on where they are from in Mexico, they may speak Mixteco Alto, Mixteco Bajo or Mixteco de La Costa, all of which are dialects of Mixteco. Therefore, determine what language they speak and whether they speak a language other than the predominant language spoken in their country to ensure that the proper interpreter is identified.

Conduct a conflict check. Be sure that the interpreter is not known or associated with the victim or perpetrator in any way. This could compromise the victim’s comfort, confidentiality and safety as well as the interpretation.

Work with the interpreter. Talk to the interpreter about what will be discussed during the interview. If the interpreter feels embarrassed by the subject matter, cannot adequately interpret everything said or feels that it is disrespectful to say the words used by the perpetrator, you must find a new interpreter. Additionally, practice working with the interpreter before the session begins. Have victims meet and speak to the interpreter before the proceeding or interview to ensure that they understand each other. If they cannot understand each other, locate a new interpreter.

Allow your interpreter to educate you about cultural context. The interpreter working with you is a valuable resource to aid in your understanding of what the victim is telling you. Literal interpretation or literal translation sometimes leads to misunderstandings and may be insufficient without a cultural context to add the full meaning. If you reach a point in the interview where the victim is not understanding what you are asking or if the victim is not responding to the question you are asking, it may be because literal interpretation is not capturing what you intend to say. Ask the interpreter for any insight into what the issue may be and to help explain the cultural significance of certain statements. Discuss how you might do this in advance.


  • What are the languages spoken by farmworkers in my area?
  • What agencies or businesses provide interpretation locally?
  • What national telephonic services are available?
  • What training on sexual violence can I offer to the interpreters with whom I work?
  • What other resources are available to me regarding working with interpreters?


Tips For Working With Interpreters

Identify a pool of interpreters with whom you:

  • Meet with in advance to ensure that you discuss how the interpretation will be 

    conducted and practice if necessary;


    Establish a signal that the interpreter might use to ask you to slow down;



    Decide whether the interpreter must ask first to provide a cultural context or explain  

    afterwards; and





    Train on sexual violence generally, how to work with a victim and the terminology.

When working with a specific victim and the interpreter:

  • Conduct a conflict check with the interpreter to ensure that the interpreter is not 


    related to the perpetrator or any involved parties; and

  • Arrange for the victim and interpreter to have an opportunity to meet and to speak  


    briefly to ensure that they indeed understand one another.