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Role of the interpreter in a client situation

Sometimes, the authorities and client do not have a common language or it is necessary for the client's legal protection that they are allowed to use their native language. In these situations, an interpreter assists the client and the authorities. Section 18 of the Language Act (423/2003) provides for interpretation: “If a person has the right under law to use his or her own language but the language of an authority or the language  of  proceedings is different, the authority shall arrange for interpretation free of charge unless it itself takes care of the interpretation or unless otherwise provided under
subsection 2.”

Community interpreters act as a mediator between the client and the authorities. Interpreters follow the community interpreter’s professional Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics sets guidelines for high-quality interpretation. The interpreter must be impartial and independent, and is bound by professional secrecy. The interpreter may not have conflicts of interest, and a client’s child may never be used as a community interpreter, for example.

Working with an interpreter requires experience 

Using the services of an interpreter reduces the risk of misunderstandings. However, working with an interpreter involves a few special features that professionals should be aware of. For example, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has compiled instructions on how to work with the assistance of an interpreter. 

If the use of an interpreter is not already commonplace in the organisation, it is recommended that interpreter service provider trains employees in working with an interpreter. The organisation should also have its own guidelines for arranging and working with interpreters. When meeting with clients, the recommendation is to use interpreters with a vocational or higher education degree in order to guarantee the quality of interpretation.

Client service situations take while as long when using an interpreter than when both parties share the same language. The roles of the interpreter and the professional and the client’s rights in the situation involving interpreting must be explained to the client.

The At home in Finland project has produced a video about the role of the interpreter in 10 languages. The video “What you should know about officials’ and interpreters’ roles in Finland” is available in Finnish, Swedish, Sorani, Farsi, English, Dari, Arabic, Thai, Russian and Somali. 

Read more:
The community interpreter’s professional Code of Ethics (Asioimistulkin ammattisäännöstö) (In Finnish)
What you should know about officials’ and interpreters’ roles in Finland – videos
Guidelines by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare on working with the assistance of an interpreter
Avoid misunderstandings – use an interpreter guide (in Finnish)
Use of interpreters in work with immigrants (in Finnish)