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Community Interpreting Best Practices Corner

Welcome to the OCCI Community Interpreting Best Practices Corner, where we weigh in on various aspects of community interpreting - considering the perspectives of interpreters, consumers, and interpreting service agencies.


The topics here are based on questions sent to OCCI.  If you have a question about interpreting best practices,

please email us at

 - Filling out forms -


in a nutshell...

interpreters should not fill out a client/patient's form

interpreters support discussions, interpreters' performance is spoken

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INTERPRETERSHow do I tell the customer that I can't fill out a form?


OCCI:  Explain to the customer that an interpreter's scope and skills sets are focused on rendering a message in spoken form only.  You might also need to explain that an interpreter is supposed to be present only when a discussion between other parties is taking place, and that is why it is not appropriate for you to be alone with the client.


For your own professional protection, you should not perform a task that is outside your role as interpreter and most definitely not one for which your skills have not yet been assessed.  (Neither the ILSAT nor the CILISAT assess your written skills.)


Suggest the following best practice to the customer or refer the customer to the ISP.

CONSUMERSCan the interpreter sit with my client and help them fill out a form?


OCCI: You should not be asking the interpreter to (1) be alone with your client or (2) to help your client to fill out a form. 


While the National Standard Guide on Community Interpreting Services does not explicitly state that an interpreter may not render anything in a written form, interpreting is defined as specific to "spoken communication", meaning that the source message may be delivered in the target language only in spoken form.  (see pages 11 and 12)


Please see the following best practice for this situation.  Consider what you would do if your client were English speaking but not literate or could not physically fill out the form.

ISPsHow do I tell the customer that the interpreter cannot fill out a form for their client/patient?


OCCI: Explain to the customer that interpreters are trained and tested based on their spoken skills, not their written skills.  Written vs spoken performance is not a matter of a hierarchy of sklls - just differrent, like writers vs singers.


Be ready to hear that previous interpreters have not objected.  Reiterate that you will follow up with those interpreters and review best practices with them.


Consider that Errors & Omissions insurance coverage for your interpreters may not cover written renderings.  


Offer the following the best practices.

Recommended best practice when a form must be completed by/for a client/patient with limited English proficiency with an interpreter present:


  • A person from the customer's organization (service provider, staff, volunteer, student) must be present along with the client and interpreter.

  • The interpreter provides sight translation and interpreting, the client provides their information, the agency person clarifies any questions or issues related to the form being filled out and captures responses on behalf of the client.

 - Signing as Witness -

in a nutshell:

an interpreter may not sign as witness

Recommended best practice for documenting language support when obtaining informed consent:


  • (text to come)

ISPsHow do I tell the customer that the interpreter cannot sign as witness?


OCCI: (text to come)

CONSUMERSCan the interpreter sign as witness?


OCCI: No.  (text to come)

INTERPRETERSHow do I tell the customer that I can' sign as witness?


OCCI:  (text to come)

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 - Checking for comprehension -

in a nutshell:

the interpreter should not comment on the client/patient's understanding   

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INTERPRETERS: How should I let the customer know that I can't comment on what I perceive of the client's comprehension?


OCCI:  (text to come)

CONSUMERSHow can I check that my client/patient is understanding the discussion?


OCCI: Rather than asking the interpreter if she/he thinks the client/patient understands, use a  "teach back" method:  ask the client/patient to repeat back key information from the discussion.

ISPsHow do I explain to the customer that it is not the interpreter's role, but rather the responsibility of the customer, to confirm comprehension?


OCCI: (text to come)

Recommended best practice for confirming comprehension during an interpreter-facilitated discussion:


  • (text to come)

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