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G54(P) Children acting as interpreters
  1. F Finlay1,
  2. J Dunne2,
  3. G Guiton3
  1. 1Child Health, Sirona Care and Health, Bath, UK
  2. 2Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Devizes, UK
  3. 3Medical School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK


‘I hate interpreting for my parents. I don’t always know the proper words so I just make it up.’

Introduction Many children,including asylum seekers and refugees, act as informal interpreters for their parents when interacting with health and social services, schools and the local community.

Aim/method To conduct a literature review looking at the advantages/disadvantages of using children as interpreters


  • Children may lack the fluency in both languages and the emotional maturity to act as a linguistic and cultural mediator

  • They may have little knowledge of medical terminology and be unable to translate anatomical details/concepts of diagnosis/treatment, raising concerns about their ability to gain informed consent

  • They may provide inaccurate information/withhold information to suit their own views

  • They may be exposed to disturbing information eg about serious illnesses, domestic abuse, termination of pregnancy

  • They may have to give ‘bad news’ to their parents

  • Parents may omit important information, wanting to protect their children or not embarrass them

  • Children may be asked to maintain confidentiality – keeping ‘secrets’ may place an unfair burden of responsibility on them

  • Potentially an altered dynamic in the parent/child relationship through role reversal

  • The child may miss school to attend appointments


  • The consultation can go ahead if a child is present/willing to interpret

  • The child will speak the same dialect

  • Some parents prefer to use their children as interpreters as they are concerned about confidentiality if an interpreter from their local community is involved

  • Interpreting may improve a child’s self-esteem

  • Children will learn how to access health care for themselves

Conclusion Although it is recommended that children do not act as interpreters, it can be argued that with limited availability of professional interpreters, children are acceptable if the consultation is likely to be straightforward. There is often a need to proceed with a consultation, this priority over-riding the reluctance to involve a child. At the same clinicians express an ideological opposition to this, the added responsibility potentially denying the child their right to a worry-free childhood (Cohen, 1999).

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