An interpreter is required when:
Requested by the client
The client cannot comprehend or respond to basic questions in English
The client is difficult to understand or can only respond in a limited way
The client relies on family or friends to communicate
The client prefers to speak in his or her own language
The client speaks English as a second language, and is in a stressful, complex or unfamiliar situation” (State Government of Victoria, 2014, pg. 15)
An interpreter should be called at all points of contact with the consumer: at assessment; during treatment; at support meetings; when treatment and discharge plans are being made; and at discharge.
Considerations when determining the need for an interpreter
Interactions between consumers/carers and service providers in a mental health setting are unique and can be quite complex. Even for people who present with a high standard of spoken English, capacity to communicate in a second language can be compromised when attempting to describe complex and abstract concepts such as emotions. Language competence and fluency are likely to vary with a consumer’s experience of mental illness. For example, bilingual or multilingual people are more likely to experience psychotic symptoms in their first language.
As previously mentioned, the need for an interpreter should be determined prior to the first appointment (Foundation House, 2012; State Government of Victoria, 2014). This can be achieved either by speaking with the referring provider or by asking the consumer/family when setting up the appointment on the phone. At this moment, it may be unclear whether an interpreter will be required. For example, the consumer may have sufficient English language to book an appointment, but may have difficulty answering more in depth questions.
A method for assessing English language proficiency is to conduct a short, informal interview, using questions that require a sentence to respond, rather than a simple word. This will help to identify both the person’s ability to understand, and explain things (Department Health and Human Services, 2017).
Questions may include:
What is the reason you came here today?
How did you come here today?
How long was the wait before your appointment?
Another technique is to ask the consumer/carer to repeat back in their own words, what you have just said.
If unsure about a consumer/carers ability to understand and discuss their concerns, it is always recommended to ask:
What language do you prefer to speak?
Do you need an interpreter? (Department Health and Human Services, 2017)