Staying in the Loop: Understanding Transparency

by Nicole Pandl

Transparency in interpreting


Transparency: “The principle that during the encounter the interpreter informs all parties of any action he or she takes, including speaking for him- or herself, outside of direct interpreting” (National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, 2005, p. 12).

Those familiar with the interpreting field may have heard the word “transparency” used in the workplace or conferences for professional development but may not know what it truly means in practice. When we state that our interpreters strive to be transparent, we refer to their primary goal of ensuring that all parties in the interpreting encounter are fully informed about what is being said by each person in the conversation. In other words, an interpreter’s primary job is to keep all participants “in the loop” during an encounter, as unnatural as it may feel at times.

There are various practices an interpreter can employ to be sure they are being transparent. Interpreting everything that is said in an encounter, including conversations between providers or comments from family of the patient or consumer, is an excellent way to maintain transparency because it allows all parties to be aware of what is taking place. When asked not to interpret something spoken during the encounter, it is best practice for the interpreter to remind either party that his or her job is to interpret everything that is said in the presence of the users of interpreting services.

Being transparent also means that the interpreter speaks in third person when speaking as him or herself to avoid confusion and maintain his or her role as a neutral third party. Neutrality, or impartiality, is a core value of the professional interpreter. To best exhibit this value and avoid crossing the line to where being kind is perceived as unprofessional, it is recommended to minimize time spent alone with either party in the interpreting encounter.

In the same manner, a transparent interpreter maintains neutrality by refraining from counseling or advising any parties involved in the encounter. This is especially important for dual-role employees who may serve as both a provider and interpreter at their place of work. Once they put on their “interpreting hat”, these employees must maintain the professional boundaries of an interpreter and put aside their responsibilities as a nurse, social worker, or other professional.

Lastly, a transparent interpreter discloses his or her limitations and potential conflicts of interests and knows when to respectfully withdraw from an assignment. If an interpreter has a close, personal relationship with a patient or the nature of the appointment may trigger emotions that can impede the interpreter from accurately and impartially conveying a message, it is best to withdraw from the assignment.

By following these standards of practice regarding transparency, interpreters not only uphold one of SWITS’ core values but a crucial value stated in the National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care. Together we can work to ensure that this industry standard is enforced by all interpreters and that no patient or provider will ever feel “out of the loop”.

Works Cited

National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. (2005). National standards of practice for interpreters in health care. Santa Rosa, CA.