Steps to Start a Community Interpreter Program

There are several steps towards starting a community interpreter program. This section will introduce the steps from advertising the need for interpreters to what to focus on during trainings.

Advertise the need for interpreters

An advertisement with key information- for which languages you need interpreters, that no prior interpreting experience is necessary, and whom to contact- is a good way to introduce the program to your clients and community. The below advertisement can be placed in your waiting room and handed out to clients.

You may also create versions of this advertisement both the local language and the languages for which you need interpreters in order to reach a larger group of people- this may catch the attention of someone who is not able to interpret but who knows someone who may be qualified.

Where else might you try advertising?

  • online volunteer boards catered to your region
  • local language schools
  • local universities- language, political science, international relations departments
  • volunteer groups on social networking websites such as “couch-surfing”, “meet-up”. While candidates found from these sources should be thoroughly screened, this is a good source of foreigners living in your local community who will likely have language skills and the time and resources to volunteer to interpreting.
  • develop partnerships with other local organizations that also use interpreters
  • approach local hospitals that may already have working interpreters

Interpreter intake

Individuals identifying as interested should fill out an Interpreter Application Form, enabling you to get a quick sense of the individual’s experience, interest, and language abilities. You can find an example of this form below, which you may download and alter to fit your organization.

The individuals who submit an application form should also be added to some kind of registry or list of possible interpreters. This will allow the individual in your organization responsible for managing interpreters to follow-up easily.

Initial training

The objective of the initial small group or one-on-one interpreter training is to introduce new interpreters to the organization, its work, and the responsibilities of interpretation. Some of them may already be clients of the organization and therefore already have an idea of its work, but officially stating its mission and general objectives will serve as a introduction to their new role as interpreter and also empower them as contributing in a valuable way to the organization’s mission.

This is also a time to explain exactly what kind of work interpreters will be doing- the situations in which their services will be needed, roughly how often they can expect to be called for interpretation, how their reimbursement and time tracking will work, and give them some basic interpretation tips. It’s also important for them to understand that they are not obligated to interpret in situations in which they are uncomfortable- for certain religions, genders, or when refugee testimonies include aspects that may cause them to be re-exposed to trauma.

Finally, this initial training will serve as the introduction to the Interpreter’s Code of Ethics, which should be thoroughly explained and signed. Tips for how to avoid situations in which they may unknowingly betray confidentiality or the Code of Conduct may be provided. The organization should also have an Interpreter Agreement, which should be signed at this time.

Below you will find an introductory Powerpoint which you can use to guide the initial training as well as other useful documents and orientation handouts, which you may personalize to better fit the needs of your organization.

Add interpreters to roster

Once the interpreters have gone through the initial training and signed the interpreter agreement and code of conduct, they should be added to the organization’s Roster of Interpreters. This Roster should include basic information: the interpreters’ names, contact information, interpretation languages, gender, availability, and general notes about their proficiency.

All legal services providers in your office should have easy access to this document so they are able to find an interpreter quickly when they need one. They can also add notes as they work with and develop relationships with various interpreters. This will be a useful document as new volunteers and staff come to work for the organization.

Below is a sample roster that you may download and alter.

Secondary training

Designing and providing training to follow-up on the initial training that your community interpreters go through can drastically improve their skills as interpreters, thereby improving the quality of your client representation, and it can also provide a form of compensation for the interpreters’ work. The topic of the secondary training depends on the interpreters needs for skill building, and may include but is not limited to English skills, body language during interpretation, interpreting for group sessions, specific jargon, or translating official documentation.