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A Guide to Working with a BSL Interpreter



The role of a BSL/English interpreter is to facilitate communication between people who use British Sign Language and people who use spoken English.

Interpreters use their knowledge of the two languages and understanding of cultural differences to receive information in one language, analyse its meaning, then interpret it into the other language, including the emotions and cultural values of the speaker/signer.

There is not always a word for sign correspondence between BSL and English as each language has its own grammatical structure.


If communication is due to take place between a Deaf person whose bsl mEDICAL 2preferred or first language is BSL and a hearing person.

Examples of situation where an interpreter would be needed are:

Hospital Consultations, Physiotherapy Appointments, MRI Scans.


  • Ensure the interpreter has the full details of the appointment, such as: date, time (start and finish), nature of appointment and a contact name and number.
  • Request an interpreter who is the same gender as the patient, specifically in appointments of a personal nature.
  • Provide the interpreter with any information which will aid them to prepare, for example: in preparation for an examination, explain beforehand what will happen.
  • Give an opportunity for the interpreter to discuss the session in advance if requested this assists the communication process.

For example: by informing the interpreter of any terminology that may be used and its meaning, avoid use of “in house” jargon.

  • Allow the Interpreter to arrange/advise suitable seating positions, as lighting, visibility and equipment need to be taken into consideration.


  • Try to speak directly to and face the Deaf person rather than interpreter.
  • Speak clearly and at a steady pace.
  • Good practice means that one person speaks at a time. It is impossible to interpret two     people at the same time.
  • There will be a short time delay when an interpreter is working from BSL to English because the interpreter needs time to comprehend and reproduce in spoken English what is signed in BSL and vice versa.
  • An Interpreter would only intervene/interrupt the interpreting process for means of clarity or explanation of a term in order to prevent any misunderstanding.
  • The interpreter shouldn’t be asked for their advice/opinion and personal details, as they are only present for the purposes of communication.
  • Avoid blocking sight lines between the interpreter and patient, if the patient is on an examination table, you should allow the interpreter to stand level with the patients shoulders, so that they can maintain eye contact and dignity is kept.


  • Preserve the patient’s dignity at all times
  • Adhere to the Code of Ethics developed by the Council for Communication with Deaf People (SIGNATURE)
  • Treat all information as confidential-unless required by law to disclose information.
  • Remain impartial and will not offer any advice or opinions
  • Interpreters are duty bound to interpret all information that occurs at the assignment, without omitting or adding any information. This could include for example: a conversation which takes place when a nurse enters the room to speak to the consultant.
  • Not be discriminatory to any parties either directly or indirectly on any grounds.