Interpreting in social work settings

When a person or family is involved with social services, they are usually already facing some significant issues. Communication barriers between them and their social workers, such as lack of linguistic fluency or a hearing impairment, can mean they do not get adequate support. People who need communication support often face discrimination, which can be an additional obstacle.

It is the responsibility of the social worker to ensure that their clients receive access to the services they are entitled to; this is where interpreters become a crucial part of the relationship.

In the past, it has been common for informal interpreters, ie friends and family, to step in to bridge the gap. This may seem like a good approach: clients may trust family or friends more than they do external support, and these informal interpreters can be easier to access at short notice. However, research into their use (Lucas, 2015; Dorner and colleagues, 2010) and Serious Case Reviews have highlighted the importance of using professionals. Informal interpreters have on occasion been found to intentionally and unintentionally obscure meaning, collude with clients and prevent opportunities for intervention and support.

At TLS we have interpreters who are skilled and experienced in working in social work settings. We will always work with you to provide the best individual for your service users and will try to accommodate requests at short notice wherever possible.

Here are some tips to help you make the best use of our professional interpreters, to ensure the best support for you and your service users.

  • Familiarise yourself with the logistics of booking and using interpreters before it becomes necessary, so that you can be responsive at short notice. Are you set up on and familiar with our bookings system? Do you know how to use telephone interpreting? Do you have access to a desktop computer for video interpreting?
  • Consider whether your service user needs an interpreter, even if they have not requested one. Research has found that some women in maternity settings have not requested language support for fear of feeding into negative stereotypes about minority ethnic groups (Crowther and Lau 2019).
  • Be prepared for your service user to have reservations about using a professional interpreter in place of family or friends, and be clear about why using professionals is usually best practice.
  • If possible, factor in time with the interpreter before the booking begins, to discuss the issues at play, any sensitivities and, if relevant, seating arrangements (the Chartered Institute of Linguists advises that the interpreter should be able to see both parties; a triangular arrangement is usually best).
  • Try to avoid using jargon and explain any terminology clearly; even if you think the interpreter will know what you are talking about, it is best for the service user to have this explained in your words.
  • Keep your sentences short and clear, and leave time for the interpreter to translate.
  • Reflect afterwards: could anything have gone better? Can you ask your service user for feedback?

If you want to learn more, Stirlingshire University have written a report available here:

Talk to us if you would like to know more about how we support social work settings, either by speaking to your account manager or calling 020 3373 4000.



TLS meets Customer Service Excellence Standard

This month, we were audited on how we support our customers as part of the Customer Service Excellence quality framework.

The Customer Service Excellence Standard focuses on what matters most to customers: delivery, timeliness, information, professionalism and staff attitude. The audit also scores us on how we manage customer insight, understand the user's experience and measure service satisfaction.

The assessor did not just rely on what we said, but also spoke to some of our customers. For us this is the true measure of our customer service quality.. These conversations confirmed that we strive to “engage and work closely with our customers, consulting with them in a meaningful way and efficiently measuring the outcomes of the services we provide”.

The customers that were interviewed valued the services we provide and the resulting outcomes for their service users, and how we manage any problems that arise.

We are delighted to report that we continue to meet the Customer Service Excellence Standard.

Zainub Patel, Customer Relationship and Account Manager, leads on complaints and feedback. She would love to hear from you regarding the service you receive. For linguist performance, customers can leave feedback in the timesheet, give us a call, email to discuss ideas that you may have to improve the service or to explore efficiency/improvement led projects, please email and address to Zainub.

your month ahead - important upcoming dates for your calendar

Sundown 10 March to sundown 9 April (subject to moon sighting) – Ramadan  Ramadan is one of the most important times of the Islamic year. It marks the revelation of the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, to the Prophet Mohammed. Muslims celebrate the Holy Month in a number of ways, including giving to charity (zakat), increased prayer and giving up bad habits. Ramadan is perhaps best known for the fast, which takes place during daylight hours. Most observant Muslims will refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset, for the entire month (elderly, menstruating and ill people, children and those travelling are exempt). Fasting can be very tiring and it’s a good idea to keep in mind that your Muslim friends and colleagues may be feeling the strain, especially as the month goes on.  How to support fasting colleagues and linguists

  • TLS will be supporting our staff to work flexibly during this time and have put in place processes to ensure the team are available to respond to your needs, However, please note there will be fewer interpreters available over this period so please try to book as far in advance as possible.
  • If you are booking an appointment for a service user who may be fasting, consider whether the appointment need be face to face, or whether you could use a remote video or telephone option. These can also save you time and money. If the appointment is not time-sensitive, consider whether it could take place after Ramadan is over.
  • If you have fasting colleagues, bear in mind that their energy levels and productivity may be better in the morning and wane towards the end of the day. Anything intensive is best scheduled for the morning hours.
  • Be considerate about booking lunch meetings or any work events that have a focus on food. Think about whether these need to take place during Ramadan.

  FREE online events

The Gender Penalty - Women and Inequity at Work - Diversity and Inclusion Leaders – Accelerating workplace inclusion (
 Promoting diversity and cultural sensitivity in social work Tickets, Wed 20 Mar 2024 at 11:00 | Eventbrite  FREE WEBINAR: Driving Diversity and Inclusion: The Next 10 Years! Tickets, Thu, Feb 22, 2024 at 12:00 PM | Eventbrite   February’s dates at a glance  Religious/cultural  1 – St David’s Day, Christian1 – Nineteen-Day Fast begins, Baha’i3 – Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Orthodox Christian8 – Maha Shivratri, Hindu9 – Saturday of Souls, Orthodox Christian10 – Meatfare Sunday, Orthodox Christian10 – Ramadan begins, Islam14 – Nanakshahi (New Year), Sikh16 – Saturday of Souls, Orthodox Christian17 – Cheesefare Sunday, Orthodox Christian17 – St Patrick’s Day, Christian18 – Great Lent begins, Orthodox Christian19 – Feast of Saint Joseph, Christian20 – Ostara, Wicca and Pagan20 – Nowruz (New Year), Persian and Zoroastrian20 – Naw-Rúz, Bahá’í23 – Saturday of Souls, Orthodox Christian24 – Purim, Judaism24 – Holika Dahan, Hindu24 – Palm Sunday, Christian24 –  Feast of Orthodoxy, Orthodox Christian25 – Annunciation to the Theotokos, Orthodox Christian25 – Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, Christian25-27 – Hola Mohalla, Sikh26 – Holi, Hindu26 – Khordad Sal, Zoroastrian28 – Maundy Thursday, Christian29 – Good Friday, Christian31 – Easter Sunday, Christian  Awareness and events  1 – Zero Discrimination Day1 – Self-injury Awareness Day (Siad)1 – International Wheelchair Day3 – World Hearing Day6-8 – TUC's Women's Conference8 – International Women’s Day10 – Mother’s Day18-24 – Neurodiversity Celebration Week20 – Spring Equinox20 – International Day of Happiness21 – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination21 – World Down Syndrome Day24 – World Tuberculosis (TB) Day25 – International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic         Slave Trade27 Mar - 2 Apr – World Autism Acceptance Week30 – World Bipolar Day31 – International Trans Day of Visibility 

in other news: stories from the language industry and beyond

Reforms to encourage more students to take up language GCSEs

The government has introduced changes to modern language GCSEs, following consultation with a panel of experts. The new GCSEs will feature more commonly used vocabulary and be structured in a way that allows students and teachers to more easily track their progress.

Banks not legally required to provide Welsh-language services  The Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, recently passed a controversial rule that banks would not be obliged to offer their services in the Welsh language. This followed HSBC axing its Welsh language phone service to customers. While the major parties agreed that Welsh language services were crucial, the ruling wasn’t passed as they felt other issues should take precedence.

language fact file: Punjabi

Spoken in: India and Pakistan.

Number of native speakers: 113 million.

Learn some: The general greeting, which you can use at any time of day, is ‘sat sri akaal’.

Fast facts:

  • The region where Punjabi originates is called Punjab, which means ‘five rivers’: panj means five, aab means water. This refers to the rivers Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej, which give the region its incredibly fertile land, making it now as the wheat bowl of India.
  • Punjab is where the Sikh religion was founded in the 15th century. It is home to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for Sikhs. Included in the temple is a huge langar hall, a place where hundreds are fed for free every day.
  • Punjabi people have a reputation for being fun, lively and hospitable. An important word in the language is masti, which means 'intoxicated with life'.

the linguist's story - Parmjit Butler

Tell us about the work you do for TLS.

I am a freelance interpreter working for TLS. I have varied roles, from doing face to face, telephone and teams online meetings.

What's been your favourite project at TLS?

No one project – my favourite thing is the variety of meetings and calls I have to interpret.

What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge I would say is interpreting personal matters of clients, knowing they are going through challenging, stressful times and having wellbeing issues. It can become hard to switch off at times.

Can you tell us about a time your work has made a difference to someone’s life?

A few days ago I had to interpret for a young lady who was going through a very difficult domestic violence issue at home, and just to hear in her voice that she could speak out and somebody was going to listen and be her voice so she could try and get the support she needed... She was so thankful for me to be on that phone line.

Tell us something interesting about you.

I was born in England but my first language growing up at home was Punjabi, as my mother didn’t speak any English. I wish I had started interpreting a lot sooner in life, as I get a lot of joy from helping to speak for people with language needs. I feel as if I finally have found my forever job.

What are your ambitions for the next 12 months?

My ambition for the next 12 months is to work as hard as I can doing what I love. I get such a great sense of achievement doing this. I want to try and start doing some voluntary work too.

Session on cultural competency a big hit

We recently contributed to a training day, helping NHS staff to work in a culturally competent way with linguists. The training was delivered by Central and North West London NHS Trust Community Development Manager, Michelle Poponne, who is conducting a piece of work with the BME Health Forum on the subject.

On the day, the BME Health Forum gave a presentation, covering topics such as:

  • Understanding differences in dialects – not all Arabic, for example, is the same.
  • The importance of booking the right interpreter for the patient.
  • Why the TLS bookings team will sometimes check if there are interpreter groups that a patient would prefer not to work with, for geo-political reasons.
  • Why some service users do not want to have translators from their own community and why this could cause patients to disengage.

TLS supported the presentation and explained:

  • The services we offer.
  • How to book an interpreter.
  • Best practice when working with an interpreter.

Customers who attended found the session informative and useful, one commenting: “I learnt so much from you both. I certainly believe it has helped the team to understand how vitally important it is that we get it right when requesting and working with interpreters, how best to access the interpreting service and how important it is to really listen to our patient’s needs.”

If your organisation is planning to run a session on interpreting, equality and diversity or accessibility, we are happy to help incorporate communication support into it. Speak to your account manager in the first instance.

How your views have changed VISTA

We launched our new VISTA bookings system in November last year and the reception has been very positive. But here at TLS we strive for continuous improvement! That’s why we have invited feedback on the system from all our customers.
 We’re so grateful that many of you took the time to reach out, and are delighted to say that we have incorporated the following new features as a direct result of your comments:

  1. A new way to sign-up to fast-track registration is by providing a registered colleague’s email.
  2. Advanced search features to enable users to filter by language and service type.
  3. When creating a new booking, users can now specify whether they would like to be offered an alternative service type, if we are unable to offer the original request type.
  4. If booking on behalf of someone else, bookers can now add a contact email in addition to the requester. This person will receive all the necessary information directly. This cuts down on administrative tasks and streamlines communication about bookings.

Keep them coming! If you have any more feedback on VISTA, please get in touch by emailing

Your month ahead - important upcoming dates for your calendar

On the calendar

1 February – Time to Talk Day

Mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness launched Time to Talk Day to encourage us all to talk more about mental health and harness the real benefits of chatting – something many of us can get behind! 

Freeing mental health problems from stigma is an important step in getting everyone the help they need, but it is only part of the answer. We know that many of your service users have profound mental health needs, and we provide specialist interpreters where those needs are compounded by communication barriers. 

Make your interactions count

How do you connect with a patient when you can’t talk directly to them? TLS will never assign you an interpreter without the specialist skills for this work, but there are a number of ways to make your meetings more effective and comfortable.

  • Ask your interpreter for a brief pre-meeting chat so you can share any relevant information, such as cultural norms around mental health. When the interpreter and provider work together as a team, the outcome is often improved for the patient. 
  • Never leave the interpreter alone with the service user. This is for their safety as well as to avoid any blurring of the boundaries in their role. 
  • Factor in some time for a debrief with the interpreter. As during a mental health appointment, it’s not just the words used but the way they are used that is important, a post-appointment debrief will give you both the chance to talk about how things were said, eg any peculiarities of speech.


In your diary

LGBT+ at Work Conference - Diversity and Inclusion Leaders (

Inclusion, Equity & Diversity - beyond box ticking. Tickets, Tue 6 Feb 2024 at 09:30 | Eventbrite


February’s dates at a glance


2 – Imbolc/Candlemas, Wicca and Pagan 

3 – Setsunbun-sai, Shinto

7 – Lailat al-Miraj, Islam

10 – Losar begins, Buddhist Lunar New Year Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist

13 – Shrove Tuesday, Christian

14 – Ash Wednesday (start of Lent), Christian Valentine’s Day, Christian Vasant Panchami, Hindu, Sikh and Jain

15 – Nirvana Day, Buddhist

18 – Zacchaeus Sunday, Orthodox Christian

22 – Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Catholic Christian

24 – Magha Puja, Buddhist

25 – Triodion begins, Orthodox Christian Lailat al Bara’ah, Islam

26-29 – Intercalary days, Baha’i

Awareness and events

1-29 LGBT+ History Month

1 – World Hijab Day

1 – Time To Talk Day

1-7 – World Interfaith Harmony Week

4 – World Cancer Day 

5-11 – UK Race Equality Week

5-11 – Children’s Mental Health Week

6 – International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation 

6 – Safer Internet Day 

11 – International Day of Women and Girls in Science 

12 – Red Hand Day for Child Soldiers

15 – International Childhood Cancer Day

17 – World Human Spirit Day 

20 – World Day of Social Justice

Language News Multi Cultural

In other news: stories from the language industry and beyond

US study reveals that language-based discrimination limits access to mental health services

A recent study in California showed the implications of not offering language support on access to mental health care. Using the example of Spanish, a very widely spoken language in California, the study demonstrated how difficult it was for service users to receive good quality care if they were not fluent in English. One of the report’s key findings was for interpreters to be included in healthcare planning as well as delivery. 

UK Parliament Q&A on the Accessible Information Standard for public sector health providers

In December, MP for Crawley, Henry Smith, asked the Commons about levels of compliance with the Accessible Information Standard, a way of ensuring access to healthcare for those with communication needs. Click on the link above to read the response by MP Maria Caulfield, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Care). 

And finally…

Lost in translation! Tourists share signs they spotted on holiday that didn't quite cross the language barrier 

Machine translation has come a long way, but this article about mistranslations spotted on holiday is a hilarious demonstration of how far it still has to go! Knowledge is powder…