How to Request an Interpreter from a Referral Agency

Do you remember the last time you tried to request an interpreter from a referral agency and didn’t have a good experience?

Or maybe you’ve never requested an interpreter before and are looking to learn about the request process.

If either of these cases is applicable to you, continue reading.

I will explain what you should be looking for in a referral agency when it comes to requesting qualified interpreters for your specific setting, as well as how to request interpreters.

Requesting an interpreter should be easy.

And it can be, right?


Whether you’re looking for a spoken language interpreter or one specializing in American Sign Language, the interpreter referral agency you’re working with must have a clear and consistent process in place to take your request.

Before I get into the details of the request process, there are some things you need to keep in mind prior to requesting an interpreter. The more educated you are about requesting interpreters, the better things will be for your organization and consumers.

Before You Request an Interpreter

If you can do anything before you start requesting interpreters, make sure to do these three things.

1. Set up an account with an interpreter referral agency if you don’t have one already.

Try to be proactive before you find yourself urgently in need of an interpreter and establish a relationship with a referral agency when you have some time for such a task. And believe me, I know that time is valuable since I’m a busy professional myself.

But try to carve out some time and get all set up as a customer with a referral agency you would like to work with.

That way you’re not scrambling last minute and not getting the answers you want when the need for an interpreter does arise.

2. Familiarize yourself with the interpreter request process.

If you’re an existing customer of a referral agency, that’s great!

You should be familiar with how to request an interpreter. If not, read on for the suggested methods.

Also, get in touch with the referral agency and ask to be trained on their request process.

3. Give as much lead time as possible when requesting interpreters.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but placing your request on a Friday for that weekend event you have coming up is a bit last minute.

Interpreters get booked very quickly for other events and assignments, so the more lead time you can give to the referral agency, the better.

It’s all about planning.

Most agencies prefer you give as much lead time as possible. For example, if you know you will need a team of sign language interpreters in April, it’s a good idea to place your request in January or February at the latest.

In some cases that’s not always possible or realistic, but it will set you up for the best chances of getting the interpreter coverage you need. Request in advance and you will be in good shape!

If you’re a new customer with an urgent request and have never done business with the referral agency you contacted, you should expect a quick response to address your request. However, don’t be surprised if the agency cannot fill your request since most agencies prioritize their referrals for existing customers.

By doing the above three things, you will greatly improve your chances of securing the interpreter you need for your event.

Are You Authorized to Request an Interpreter?

This point seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning anyway. Make sure you’re authorized to place interpreter requests on behalf of your organization.

Because by submitting a request, you’re entering into a contract for services with the referral agency, and the referral agency will then invoice your organization for the services.

If you’re not sure you have the authorization to place interpreter requests, check with your supervisor or manager. Here is more information on how interpreter pricing works.

Interpreter Request Process

Now that you know what you need to do ahead of time, here are the essential methods you can use to request interpreters. Make sure the referral agency you’re working with offers you multiple ways to request interpreters.

It’s always good to have multiple options, since people in your organization will have their own preferences.

At the very minimum, you should be able to call the referral agency you’re working with and place your request by phone. However, if you have to place hundreds of requests per week, this may not be a very efficient way to do it.

From my experience, here are four ways you can request interpreters.

1. Request by Phone

When time is of the essence, this is perhaps the best way to request an interpreter. All you have to do is call the referral agency and place your request.

Use this request method only for urgent requests as the other three options described below are probably more efficient and less time consuming.

2. Request by Fax

The referral agency you’re working with should provide you with an interpreter request form template, like the one found here.

You can then fill out all the necessary encounter information and fax it to the agency.

Alternatively, you can create your own interpreter request form and use that instead.

3. Request by E-mail

Very similar to faxing your request, but instead you’re emailing it. Just make sure you’re emailing confidential information, such as HIPAA PHI, over secure email.

If you have confidential information you need to transmit with your request, you’re better off not using email.

4. Request Online

Many referral agencies have their own interpreter request portals. These portals allow you to place a request securely online using a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

This is probably the most convenient way to place requests. Just make sure the portal site you’re using is secure.

There might be additional ways to request interpreters, but the above four are the most common ones from my experience. If you know of other ways, please share them in the comments.

Information to Include with Your Request

Be prepared to provide the following information with your request. The more information and details you can provide, the better.

1. Your Information

The referral agency you’re working with will need to know who they are dealing with. Be prepared to provide your first and last name.

It’s also a good idea to provide your direct telephone number and an email address to ensure smooth communication.

2. Encounter/Event Information

Provide all the details about the event and any other special instructions for interpreters. This will help the referral agency determine the interpreter qualifications needed for your event, as well as how many interpreters you will need.

Other event related information such as the place of service, address, city, state, ZIP, date of service, start & end times are needed as well.

3. Consumer Information

Your organization may need to keep track of the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) consumers receiving interpretive services.

If this is the case, provide that information to the referral agency.

This may include consumer’s name, gender, date of birth and language.

If consumer information is not critical for you to keep track of, you don’t need to provide it.

What Happens After You Place Your Request

You placed your request, now what?

The referral agency will confirm interpreter availability and assignment with you, using your preferred method of communication.

Depending on the urgency of the request, the referral agency will let you know whether they can or cannot fill your request within 24 hours of receiving it.

If the referral agency cannot fill your request, they should offer you an option of when the interpreter will be available.

This way you have an opportunity to reschedule the event around the interpreter’s schedule, which is often difficult to do.

Just remember, to get the interpreter you want and ensure availability, schedule the services with as much lead time as possible.

Additional Resources

If you’re thinking about creating your own internal request process, here are some great resources to help you shape it.

Please note that these resources are not limited to American Sign Language interpretive services. You can apply the same concepts to spoken languages.

Need to Request an Interpreter Now?

Let’s discuss your specific needs. Contact us.


Requesting interpreters from interpreter referral agencies doesn’t have to be a difficult process. As long as you understand what’s involved and what you can do to make it smooth, you will be in good position to secure interpreters for your events.

If you don’t currently have an established relationship with a referral agency and anticipate needing interpreters in the near future, I recommend you set something up now. You should also familiarize yourself with the referral agency’s request process.

Follow these recommendations and you will avoid last minute stress and headaches trying to request an interpreter for your event.

What are your experiences with requesting interpreters from referral agencies?

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Why Interpreters Charge for Untimely Cancellations

A friend of mine will be getting married next year.

He and his fiancée are currently in the process of putting all the pieces together for the wedding, which includes food & drinks, music, flowers and photography.

After talking to him, what I discovered is that the vendors that provide these services for weddings generally charge a retainer fee in a form of a deposit just to hold the date. If for any reason the wedding is cancelled, the deposit is forfeited.

Let’s take photography for example. A wedding photographer has to start planning for the wedding season, which usually runs from late May to early September here in the Pacific Northwest, at least 6 months in advance.

Since weddings are lengthy events, the photographer usually has to block out an entire weekend for one customer. Since there are only so many weddings you can do during the summer, even one cancellation take its toll on the photographer’s schedule (and pocketbook!)

Why Interpreters Charge for Untimely Cancellations

Booking a wedding photographer is no different than scheduling a language interpreter for a service to be provided on a specific day and time. It takes a lot of time and preparation for the interpreter to commit to specific assignments.

While most interpreting assignments don’t take as long of a commitment as wedding events, the concept is still the same. Just like a photographer, the interpreter reserves his or her time for a specific request, and may have to turn down other requests for the same time slot.

If that request is cancelled on an untimely basis, the interpreter loses the opportunity to make up that revenue elsewhere, as the other requests for that time slot have likely already been filled.

This is the reason why interpreters charge for untimely cancellations – They forgo other assignments to make themselves available for a specific job.

What is an untimely cancellation?

An untimely cancellation is generally defined as a cancellation made by the requester of interpreting services that doesn’t leave the interpreter enough time to find a new assignment in its place.

An untimely cancellation can also be the result of one of the parties receiving the interpreting services not showing up for the assignment, which is also known as a “no show”.

There is no specific industry standard for the amount of time needed when a cancellation would not be considered untimely. In my experience and observation, giving at least 24 to 48 hours is a common practice.

This means that if the assignment is scheduled for noon on Friday, the cancellation has to be made before noon on Thursday for it not to be considered untimely.

Why do untimely cancellations happen?

Untimely cancellations can happen for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most common reason is that one of the parties simply forgets to show up to the assignment. If all the relevant parties are not present, the interpreting session cannot take place.

Other cases can include either the requester or the limited-English proficient (LEP) party cancelling the services last minute due to illness or scheduling conflicts.

Whatever the reason may be behind an untimely cancellation, the end result is the same.

The interpreter forgoes other interpreting assignments by reserving the time for the one that was ultimately cancelled.

How to prevent untimely cancellations?

Communication is the most important factor in preventing untimely cancellations.

When initially reserving the interpreter, make sure you have a clear understanding on when the assignment will take place. This includes all dates, start and end times.

At least two days prior to the assignment make sure you remind all parties involved that it is still taking place. And then do another reminder at least 24 hours before to prevent no-shows.

If you do have to cancel, make the cancellation timely so the interpreter has an opportunity to find another assignment to fill the gap in his or her schedule.

There is no way to prevent all untimely cancellations. However, if you communicate and do your best to confirm the services taking place, you can reduce the number of occurrences.

Typical charges for untimely cancellations.

Most interpreters will charge at least a 2-hour minimum fee for untimely cancellations, even if the assignment is scheduled for less than that. The reason behind the 2-hour minimum is to cover the administrative time it takes for the interpreter to block out the time, prepare for the assignment and cover any potential travel cost.

If the assignment is scheduled for more than two hours, it is common for the interpreter to invoice for the entire scheduled block of time in the event of an untimely cancellation.

As you can see, cancelling assignments in a timely manner can help reduce the amount of money you spend on interpreting services. It will also give the interpreter an opportunity to find another assignment for that day and time.

Here is more on interpreter pricing and how it works.

Wrapping it up.

There are many similarities between wedding vendors and interpreters when it comes to untimely cancellations.

Focus on improving your logistics and communication to mitigate untimely cancellations, since they cannot be prevented entirely.

Everyone involved will appreciate your courtesy and you will have more in your budget to spend on interpreting assignments that actually take place.

What are your experiences with untimely cancellations?

Share them in the comments.

Why Work with a Professional Linguist

There will come a time when you will need to communicate with someone who speaks another language, whether verbally or in writing.

You have a friend who speaks another language or a bilingual employee.

You quickly reach out to them to help you facilitate the communication.

But is this really the best practice?

Read on to find out why you should always work with a professional linguists as opposed to bilingual individuals.

Bilingual individuals, translators, interpreters – What’s the difference?

It’s true that all three have one thing in common. They know at least two languages.

Translators and interpreters are bilingual by definition, sometimes specializing in more than two languages. They are also professional linguists.

The same cannot be said for bilingual individuals.

Read on to find out why you should work only with professional translators and interpreters on your projects and how to distinguish them from people who merely speak more than one language.


To better understand why you should work with professional translators and interpreters, you must first know what each one specializes in.

These definitions are directly from Oxford Dictionaries online.

  • Translator (Syllabification: trans·la·tor, Pronunciation: ˈtransˌlādər) – A person who translates from one language into another, especially as a profession.
  • Interpreter (Syllabification: in·ter·pret·er, Pronunciation: inˈtərprədər) – A person who interprets, especially one who translates speech orally.
  • Bilingual (Syllabification: bi·lin·gual, Pronunciation: ˌbīˈliNGɡwəl) – A person fluent in two languages.

Expanding on the definitions above, a translator specializes in written communication, whereas an interpreter focuses on spoken and sign language communication.

Why You Should Work with a Professional Linguist
5 Reasons Why You Should Work with a Professional Linguist

We came up with five reasons why you should work with professional linguists, including translators and interpreters.

1. Quality

This is perhaps the biggest reason why you should work with professional linguists. The level of quality a professional translator or interpreter can deliver to you will be superior to what a bilingual individual can do.

If you are okay with mediocre work, then stick to amateurs. If quality is important to you, work with a professional linguist.

2. Education & Training

One of the things that makes a professional is the level of education and training one has to go through. A professional linguist will typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in linguistics or a similar field.

Continuous education and training is also something translators and interpreters must participate to keep current with the latest trends. Such training and education opportunities are offered by industry associations such as the ATA.

3. Professionalism

Just like doctors and lawyers, translators and interpreters are professionals in their field. Therefore, they should present themselves as professionals and be treated as such.

Of course, there will be a few bad apples in every industry, but for the most part you should expect a professional level of service.

Learn about the 17 attributes that make a good translator.

4. Certification

Many translators and interpreters are certified by accredited institutions such as the ATA and CCHI.

Some projects may also require work to be completed by certified linguists.

Certification provides further proof that the translators and interpreters are capable of performing quality work.

5. Liability

According to the Contract Interpreter Information Center (CIIC), over 93% of all translators and interpreters are freelance contractors. This is a generally acceptable business model in the language services industry.

Essentially, this makes translators and interpreters operate as small businesses. Small businesses should, and in some cases required, to carry liability insurance. This will give you a piece of mind that should something go wrong, there is insurance to cover it.


Your take away from this article is that you should always work with a professional linguist on your projects.

To find a professional linguist near you, check out the searchable directory provided by the ATA.

To make your search easier, contact a language service company with your requirements.