The interpreter is there to make sure that users of English understand British Sign Language users and vice versa.

Interpreters listen to the spoken English and interpret it into sign language, then watch the sign language before translating it into spoken English.  The interpreter has to listen and watch before they can interpret, so there may be a short time delay.

Occasionally interpreters will need to clarify what has been said or signed to ensure a correct translation can be given. This is an important part of interpretation and contributes to better communication and understanding.

It is important to understand that the interpreter is not there to give opinions, advice or to support either side. Occasionally, an interpreter may interrupt proceedings to clarify what is being said or signed.

Simultaneous interpreting of dialogue between two languages is very demanding and becomes tiring after prolonged periods.  Please be aware that any assignment over two hours will usually require two interpreters. Some assignments may require more than one interpreter; all day events and conferences may require a team of interpreters.

It is helpful for the interpreter to see any relevant documents which will allow them to prepare for the booking in advance. This would include an agenda, minutes of previous meetings, presentations, notes or theatre scripts.

For lengthy and complex appointments please allocate time for breaks. Research has shown the optimum period for interpreting is twenty minutes and then ideally a short break is required. Any longer than this and the quality of the interpretation will deteriorate. We also have to consider the danger of our interpreters suffering from Repetitive Strain Syndrome (RSI). Furthermore, a deaf person watching an interpreter for a long period of time can also be very tiring.


Ideally, the interpreter should sit opposite the deaf person, as near to the main speaker as possible. Ensure the deaf person is seated with a clear view of both the interpreter and the speaker and try to avoid sitting the interpreter or deaf person in front of a window or distracting background.

Ensure that only one person signs or speaks at a time – in larger meetings it may be useful to raise your hand when you want to speak as this also indicates to the deaf person who is speaking.

The two parties should speak directly to each other without asking the interpreter for their opinion or advice. The interpreter would normally be using the first person when voicing over the deaf person and so should not be considered as the views of the interpreter themselves.

Who should I look at?

Speak directly to the deaf person, at your normal pace. However, the deaf person will mainly focus on the interpreter. Avoid phrases such as ‘will you tell him’ or ‘can you ask her’ as these are unnecessary and confusing.

Signed responses from the deaf person will be voiced by the interpreter as “I” or “we” – those are not the views of the interpreter themselves.