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New course: how to work with interpreters effectively

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Immigration lawyers will occasionally, or in some cases frequently, take on a client whose level of English is limited. Or they may not speak any English at all. It’s crucial that lawyers understand their instructions and that clients understand the advice given. Misunderstandings can have devastating results in immigration cases. To overcome a language barrier, it might be necessary to instruct an interpreter.

Interpreting accurately is difficult. Interpreters with the highest qualifications will have studied the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree and have undertaken hundreds of hours of training. They will often have learned aspects of the English legal system, covering topics such as the asylum process.

Lawyers generally do not receive any training on how to work with an interpreter. We’ll end up using our intuition and common sense. You may think the way you have been conducting client meetings with an interpreter is the best way to do it, or perhaps you haven’t given it much thought at all. But working effectively with an interpreter is a skill in itself. Learning the best way to work with an interpreter will limit the scope for mistakes, save time, convince your client of your professionalism and make the interpreter’s job easier.

For instance, rearranging the furniture in your meeting room might be necessary, as there’s an optimum way to seat your meeting participants where there’s an interpreter involved. And you shouldn’t skip providing a good brief to an interpreter in advance of your meeting. It gives the interpreter an opportunity to revise specialist terminology, which can save time and money. Also, interpreters can suffer vicarious trauma, so providing them with a little warning can make discussing upsetting content easier to handle.

It’s important to be aware that interpreting is not a regulated profession. Anyone can interpret in the legal sector, so the interpreters you will encounter are likely to have varying levels of skills and training. And since they are working for half the time in a language that you don’t understand, you will want to be confident that they are doing a good job.

We’ve been working with Shelley Purchon, director of English Unlocked, to bring Free Movement members a new course: Working with interpreters. Shelley created this course to bring the challenges of working with interpreters to the forefront. It is aimed at those working with public service interpreters, which includes immigration advisers, solicitors, barristers and the judiciary.

In the course, you’ll learn:

  • the difference between a translator and an interpreter
  • what it’s like to be an interpreter
  • the key to clear communication
  • how to brief and debrief your interpreter
  • the interpreter qualifications you should look out for and how to assure quality
  • what you can and cannot ask an interpreter to do – interpreters have an ethical code, too
  • and more

We hope this practical course will be very beneficial for some of our members. The style is different to our normal approach, making much more use of videos to communicate key points. The course has been devised in collaboration with a number of professional interpreters who have spent years in the industry, some of whom have worked with senior lawyers and judges. Their advice may be revelatory to those who are new to the profession, and even to those with decades of experience in immigration law practice.


The course is available to Free Movement members and includes a short quiz at the end, after which you can download a certificate to record your CPD training hours. Take a look at the outline of the course below:

Module 1 Preparing to work with an interpreter
Unit 1 Introduction  
Unit 2 You try being the interpreter  
Unit 3 Clear communication  
Unit 4 How to brief and debrief  
Module 2 During the interview
Unit 1 Getting started  
Unit 2 The dynamics of interpreted speech  
Unit 3 How not to drive the interpreter crazy  
Module 3 Interpreter qualifications and ethics
Unit 1 Booking the right interpreter  
Unit 2 How do interpreter ethics affect you?  
Unit 3 Final quiz  
Unit 4 Feedback form  
Unit 5 Course materials  
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Jasmine Quiller-Doust

Jasmine Quiller-Doust

Jasmine is the Training Manager at Free Movement and a non-practising solicitor specialising in immigration and asylum law.

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