It’s not uncommon to want to use a friend or family member as an interpreter in a professional setting.
Friends and family members can be comforting if someone is in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. If someone needs to respond to questions or information from authorities, then a close friend or family interpreter seems like a good idea.
However, having a friend or family member as an interpreter is rarely the best thing to do. Here are three reasons why.
1) Friend & Family Interpreters Aren’t Neutral Parties
Friends and family members have personal and emotional attachments. They do not want to confuse or upset their loved one, and they do not want to be the bearers of bad news.
As a result, friend or family member interpreters can end up adding their own opinions or withholding crucial parts of the message being conveyed.
2) Friend & Family Interpreters Aren’t Professional Interpreters
Friends and family members may be able to speak more than one language, but there is a good chance that they are not fluent in all of the legal, medical or technical terminology that they may need to interpret. They may not be aware of the professional and ethical responsibilities of trained interpreters.
This means that they may omit key words or summarize the message, which results in an inaccurate interpretation.
3) Inaccurate Interpretations Have Serious Consequences
The US Department of Health and Human Services released a statement on having friends and family act as interpreters, along with several real stories of what has happened in cases with family interpreters.
For example, a man convicted of raping a minor avoided a life sentence because police officers used the mother of the victim to interpret during their initial interrogation. She threatened the man instead of reading him his Miranda rights.
In many settings, professional interpreting services can be arranged and provided for. This may be in everyone’s best interest. In addition to the possibility of inaccuracy, having friend and family interpreters can strain relationships due to stress or mistrust. It’s best not to risk it!