The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Segment III: Interpreting as a Multilingual Staff Member

This segment seeks to provide basic training and self assessment for multilingual advocates and staff members who are used as interpreters or translators in their organization. It is important to note that interpretation (oral) and translation (written) are two very different skill sets and require different types of training. The training videos and self assessment address both of these skill areas.

Being multilingual is an huge asset, particularly when working in the legal services community. There is a huge different between a multilingual individual and a trained interpreter or translator. Even the most fluent and confident multilingual individuals, native and non-native, can find interpreting and translating to be very challenging. Bilingualism or multilingualism is the foundation for interpretation and translation; however, it takes many years of training and practice in order to master the necessary skills to be an effective interpreter or translator. Some skills an interpreter must have include, but are not limited to:

  • Knowledge of specialized vocabulary in relevant areas (e.g.. custody, immigration, housing, consumer, etc.)
  • Broad knowledge of language, cultures and regional differences in language.
  • Ability to think quickly and understand completely what others say in either source or target language.
  • Good memory and note taking skills.
  • Ability to quickly find equivalent expressions in each language even when there are no equivalent words.
  • Knowledge of and adherence to a strict code of ethics.

It is essential that those who are used to interpret between an advocate and client are qualified and trained, in order to provide quality services and equal access. Multilingual individuals used as interpreters who are not trained or not qualified to interpret must be very cautious when asked to interpret or translate. There are certain situations when a professional, certified interpreter must be used.

The below modules, 1) Interactive Interpreter & Translator Skills Training and 2) Self Assessment of Language Proficiency, are helpful tools to increase your interpretation and translation skills and assess your language proficiency. 


(This training segment only provides basic information and is not in anyway designed to detract from the importance of using a professional, certified and paid interpreter or translator. Multilingual individuals who are not formally trained interpreters or translators, but used to interpret or translate, should continue to educate themselves and engage in more formalized interpreter and translator training opportunities.)

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