Working through interpreters

by Dr Chris Fear and Professor Saeed Farooq


Last updated: November 2018


'Unmet language need is one of the key drivers of social exclusion…and inequity in access to services (Aspinal, 2005).


Language is an essential psychiatric tool for eliciting symptoms and signs; diagnosis and treatment are handicapped if there is no common means of understanding between doctor and patient. 


Linguistics and the use of interpreters are rarely mentioned in psychiatric texts despite the increasing population of migrants and displaced persons entering the UK each year. Studies of British Asians indicate that more than half have experienced difficulties in communication and report dissatisfaction with interpretation services.


Many UK hospitals have access to interpretation services but few psychiatrists have experience in using them. Inexperience on the part of doctor or interpreter can give rise to errors in understanding symptoms and there are numerous accounts of the serious problems that can arise in such cases.


This module aims to offer an introduction to the concept of interpreter-mediated interviews, exploring the common errors and pitfalls and offering advice on how to avoid them. It considers the use of relatives or other unqualified people as interpreters, reviews the role of bilingualism and provides practical tips for working with interpreters. 


All UK psychiatrists should understand the basic principles of interpreter-mediated interviews. This module is aimed especially towards those who work in areas of rich cultural and linguistic diversity.


Start the module



If you like this module, you may also be interested in:


Diversity training for psychiatrists by Dr Nisha Dogra


Cultural competency by Dr Micol Ascoli, et al


Cultural psychiatry by Dr Arabinda Narayan Chowdhury


Exploring spirituality with people who use mental health services by Dr Sarah Eagger and Dr Sumudu Ferdinando



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