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How to work with a BSL/English Interpreter

Working with a British Sign Language Interpreter – ten things you should know!

If you’re working with a British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter for the first time or it is something you’re considering, read our top tips on what to do:

1. Book in advance
Due to the demand and limited number of BSL interpreters nationally, giving as much notice as possible is always really helpful. There will of course be situations where this is not feasible, such as in an emergency; however in these cases we always do our best to provide an interpreter as soon as we can.

2. Attention to detail
When booking an interpreter, provide as much information as possible: date, times, venue, context, people attending etc.

3. Help the interpreter to prepare
Where possible, provide preparation materials before the assignment. If this isn’t possible, then contact the office to explain at least the aim of the meeting / training / appointment etc. It is important our interpreters are as prepared as possible before going into a booking as this allows the best possible service to be provided.

4. Be realistic about the duration of the meeting
We know sometimes appointments and meetings can over run, but it’s important to only use the time that you have booked the interpreter for as they have other bookings either side of the assignment. While the interpreter may be able, on occasion, to stay, it is usually not the case so booking enough time needs to be planned carefully.

5. One voice
During the booking, please try to ensure only one person is speaking at a time. This could be done by making people raise their hand if they want to speak. The interpreter is only able to sign for or voice one person at a time. You could risk important information being missed if everyone talks over each other.

6. Breaks needed
If there is only one interpreter available/booked, they will need breaks approximately every 45 minutes. However, this depends on the content of the assignment so it’s always best to check with the interpreter or with the office when you book.

7. Leave time for reading
If handouts or a power point presentation is being used it is impossible for the Deaf person to read the handout and watch the interpreter at the same time. Give the Deaf person a few minutes to read the information before you start adding or explaining the document.

8. Explanations needed
Acronyms, Abbreviations, Idioms and Initials can be hard to interpret if the meaning is not clear, so explain them as you use them. Again, you don’t want the Deaf person to miss out on any important information.

9. Create the right setting
The set up of the room can really help in an interpreting situation. It’s not something that people usually think about, but it’s best if the interpreter is not stood against any bright lights/windows, and that they are positioned in the best place for the Deaf person to see clearly. The acoustics can also make a difference depending on the situation, so large rooms with high ceilings that echo are best avoided.

10 Eye-to-eye contact
Finally, it is important to look at the Deaf person with whom you’re talking, rather than the interpreter. Often, in a one-to-one situation, the hearing person will say to the interpreter “can you tell him/her....” which can be unintentionally rude.

If there is anything else you want to know about working with an interpreter, or you have any other questions, please contact our office on 01392 49 49 22 or or visit our website at You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook

We are the preferred supplier for the following service providers

  • Devon County Council
  • NHS Devon
  • Exeter City Council
  • Royal Devon and Exeter - NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Devon Healthcare - NHS Foundation Trust
  • Torbay NHS - Care Trust
  • Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education
  • Living Options

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