The first things the provider notices are your timeliness and your appearance.

Arrival time:

Check in with the provider on time, but…

Never check in early to any appointment. Go elsewhere until 10 min. before the appointment and then check in. Hospitals/clinics do not want to pay for checked in time earlier than 10 min. before an appointment.

Interaction with the LEP:

Once you check in: If the LEP is there, introduce yourself briefly and keep a professional distance, with a courteous demeanor.

I have heard medical providers complain about how much interpreters socialize with the non-English speaking clients (LEP). They do NOT like to see that behavior from the reception desk! One of the reasons for this is that the “chumminess” developed in the waiting room sets the stage for the LEP expecting to be able to engage in side conversations in the appointment.

Don’t set the stage for a chummy situation. Set the stage for a professional encounter right from the start. It is probably unnecessary to move across the room after helping with paperwork, but working on starting conversations to start a one day friendship is probably too much.


The key is to be unobtrusive, to blend with the setting. We interpret in professional settings, and must dress like professionals.

Go to meeting attire:

  • Neat, clean and in good condition.
  • Comfortable shoes for walking and for standing for long periods of time.
  • Badge: clearly visible, identifying you as a professional. If possible, wear it around where your shirt pocket would be.

Don’t dress down:

  • No overly casual pants or shoes.
  • No T-shirts. Dress shirts and woven fabric are great. Dress for the setting where you will interpret.
  • Shoes must be closed toed because pathogens can enter your skin from the floor.

Don’t call attention to yourself.

  • Your jewelry should not draw excessive attention to you.
  • Dress modestly. Your clothes should not be a source of attention.
  • No scented products. Many hospitals forbid them, since some people are allergic to them. See this article from the WebMD site.
  • Sit like a professional, confidently. Feet on the floor, showing that you are in command of your work. If you use your phone for taking notes or terminology, you should introduce it as a resource.

This is why it is so important to know where you are going. Dress according to the site where the interpreting will take place and the level of formality of the encounter. When interpreting in court, I wear dress pants. When at a Christmas tree farm, on a mountain slope… I wore hiking boots and hiking sticks. This interpreter is not going to lose her footing on the job!

How to start the interpreting encounter:

Walk into the room with your notepad and pen in hand, ready for immediate action.

“Good morning. I am Mary Smith, your interpreter. As an interpreter, I will interpret everything you say without adding or omitting anything, so please speak directly to the provider. To ensure my accuracy and completeness, I occasionally take notes. I will voice your message in Spanish, and the patient’s message in English. When needed, I will ask for a repetition or a clarification.”

“Intro in other language”.

Doctor, I always like providers to know how I introduce myself to patients. In the waiting room, I explained that I will…

Then, you start… This should take less than a minute. By doing this, you establish that you know the rules of the road, and make them clear to others. Since you set the stage, when you need clarification you can now say:

“The interpreter requests clarification of…”

“The interpreter needs the patient/doctor to pause so the interpreter can interpret.” You should only have to do this once. After that, the gesture you used to introduce this should give them the signal.


Back to the same role you had in the waiting room. This keeps you out of being asked for medical advice after the session.

Comment from one of my clients:

What is really important to me as someone who hires an interpreter is that everything that is said, is interpreted – even if it’s a misunderstanding or an answer that doesn’t make sense.  Nothing makes me crazier than when an interpreter has a 5 minute back and forth with the subject then turns to me and says, “He said no.”  One gal I used for years who is out on maternity now, even interpreted side conversations that were going on in my presence.  I appreciate that.