Skip to main content

Spoken Language Interpreting Services

The Provincial Language Service provides interpreting services to BC health authorities and private physician offices.

Please Note: This service is requested directly by health care providers. If you are a patient or family seeking interpreting services, contact your health care provider.

What we do

Interpreter, patient and momOur services include:

  • Onsite spoken language interpreting for official minority language speakers and immigrant and refugee populations 
  • Remote interpreting by phone or video conference
  • Online booking, schedule changes and reporting

We will dispatch a professional interpreter to your location or immediately connect you with a professional interpreter over the phone.

Languages interpreted

We provide spoken language interpreting services in over 150 languages. Download the list of languages we interpret and translate. If you don't see the language you need on this list, please contact us.

Note: Please determine if your client requires Mandarin, Cantonese or another Chinese dialect.

Who we serve

We provide interpreting services to health-care professionals who work for any agency or service under the BC health authorities and private physician offices.

Interpreting Services for the following health authorities are consolidated and funded under a centralized budget.
  • Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA)
  • Providence Health Care (PHC)
  • Fraser Health (FH)
  • Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)
 

Interpreting services may be accessed by all Island Health staff and are funded under a separate centralized budget administered by Island Health.

 

Interpreting services are provided to Interior and Northern Health staff on a fee-for-service basis. For more information, including rates, please contact pls@phsa.ca.

 

Interpreting services are available to private physician offices including BC family practices and specialists. Telephone interpreting is available for office-based family physicians and nurse practitioners at no cost. For more information, please contact pls@phsa.ca.

 

Modes of interpreting

PLS provides spoken language interpreters to enable communication between patient with limited English proficiency, clients and health-care practitioners. 

We offer the following modes of interpreting:

  • on-site
  • over the phone
  • video conference

Why use a professional interpreter

A qualified interpreter optimizes the delivery of safe and equitable health care for patients with various cultural and language needs.

BC health providers who use telephone interpreting report it to be timely, helpful and reasonable to use, even on a busy day.  

There are more than 350 skilled language specialists available for in-person and phone interpreting across the province. 
PLS interpreters adhere to rigorous quality-assurance measures and to national professional standards. 

Code of ethics

  • Accuracy and fidelity – interpret the message accurately and completely, without additions or distortions
  • Confidentiality – all information learned during interpretation is confidential
  • Impartiality – striving to show no bias to either side during interpretation
  • Maintaining role boundaries – professional role; no personal involvement
  • Accountability – accountable to all parties and organizations for accuracy of interpretation
  • Professionalism – act in professional and ethical manner at all times
  • Continued Competence – lifelong learning to keep up with changes in language
Professional interpreters are trained to accurately convey all parts of a message without changing the content, meaning or tone, reducing errors. 

Using an interpreter allows the patient or family member to focus solely on understanding their illness or to support a loved one.

Remember that family and friends should not be used as interpreters. The role of the family in an interpreter-assisted appointment should be one of support, similar to the role of family in an appointment in which the health care provider and patient speak directly.

Information for your clients


Access interpreters

Health care providers can access in-person interpreters or connect to an interpreter over the phone within minutes. For family practices and specialists, visit the private physician offices section below for access instructions.

Health authority staff

  • First time user? Sign up by calling 604-297-8400 or toll-free: 1-877-BC Talks (228-2557) during business hours (8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.).
  • Immediate or phone booking: Book or connect to a phone interpreter immediately by calling 604-297-8400 or toll-free: 1-877-BC Talks (228-2557)
  • Advance booking: To access an interpreter more than two business hours in advance, use the PLS online system. Need an online booking ID or forget your password? Call the number above or email pls@phsa.ca
Please have the following information ready:
    • Appointment date
    • Start and end time
    • Location
    • Language
    • Purpose of appointment

  • User guides are available on your intranet (accessible only while on a health authority network):

    PHSA POD  |  PHC Connect  | FH Pulse  | VCH Connect

Private physician offices

  • Sign up: Contact pls@phsa.ca to get started. 
  • Connect with an interpreter: Refer to the phone number on your access card from the Provincial Language Service or contact your division of family practice for access information.  
The following video provides a quick reference for family practices to access and work with an interpreter over the telephone: 

 Content Editor ‭[5]‬

  • Visit the Tips & best practices tab above for more tips and information on working with an interpreter in a variety of situations.
  • Print out this reference card to help you quickly and easily access a qualified interpreter from your office or clinic.  

Tips & best practices

Learn tips for working with an interpreter on the telephone. Review best practices for working with patients, translation tools and interpreters in various situations.

Tips for working with an interpreter on the telephone

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities for you and the interpreter at the start of the session: i.e.  “Hello interpreter, my name is (Dr. ___) I am a physician and I have a (Cantonese) speaking patient in the office with me today. (Provide some contextual info i.e. the patient is here regarding flu like symptoms). Please introduce yourself to the patient, explain who you are and your role.”
  • Elaborate by being more descriptive when giving directions to the patient as the interpreter cannot see your gestures i.e. “Turn your head to the left,” rather than, “Turn this way.” 
  • Speak in first and second person as you would in normal conversation when speaking with a patient in English i.e. “Do you have a fever?” rather than “Ask her if she has a fever.”
  • After speaking two to three sentences or finish a thought, pause to give the interpreter time to interpret. 
  • Ask the patient questions to ensure they understand what was communicated. Avoid missing non-verbal details from the patient by asking questions in different ways. 
  • Articulate clearly and ask others to do the same. Encourage the patient to speak slowly and ensure confidentiality of the process if the patient seems anxious.  
  • Use plain language by avoiding the use of idioms or jargon. These words or phrases may confuse the patient, and do not allow an interpreter to convey the message accurately and completely.
  • Explain to the patient these calls may take longer as the interpreter is there to facilitate communication.
 
Please note: The interpreter is bound by professional ethics and standards, and will not frame questions or provide explanations for you; they will interpret what you or the patient has said. 

Don’t ask the interpreter to step outside their role (e.g. don’t ask them to stay on the phone after patient has left to ask additional questions) or to summarize or give explanations. 

Informed consent is a communicative process between a patient and health care provider (HCP) in which treatment explanations are provided and risks associate with such treatments are explained. This process allows opportunity for a patient to ask questions. It culminates with the patient signing a Health Authority consent form that states he/she is informed and understands the treatment and risks. Obtaining informed consent is an ethical and legal obligation.   


According to the Health Care Consent Act (HCCA), the 4 legal requirements for Informed Consent are that:

  • Patient must be capable
  • Consent must be voluntary  
  • Consent must be informed
  • Consent must be treatment specific

Lack of Informed Consent in clinical practice can cause:  

  • Health events with adverse effects
  • Extends the length of hospital stay
  • Inappropriate use of testing
  • Unauthorized procedures such as surgeries

Consent Documents  

  • Should not state that the interpreter translated the information
    • Translation refers to written rendering of a language.
  • Should not be sight translated by the interpreter
    •  Sight translation I s the oral rendering of written text from one language into another
  • Should be interpreted which implies that in addition to the interpreter, the HCP and patient are involved
    • As stated above informed consent in completed by a HCP with the assistance of an interpreter
  • Should not include a section in which the interpreter indicated the patient understood the information given as interpreters canon attest to whether the patient understood
    • An interpreter can only attest that the interpreting was delivered faithfully and that the use of vocabulary, language structure, syntax, etc. when going from source to target language was appropriate
  • Should include a section that indicates an interpreter was used

Informed consent as a communicative process between the patient and the health care provider allows for an opportunity to ask questions. Informed consent is an integral, ethical and legal component of the treatment process therefore language barriers that negate informed consent must be addressed. For BC's limited English proficiency population, informed consent for procedure or participation in clinical trials can only be achieved by the use of an interpreter. The need for an interpreter is even more pronounced in clinical trial as in addition to the information exchange being more substantive (i.e. the study objectives, participant expectations, expected benefits, what is known or unknown about the drug or procedure, etc.), the trials in‐ form future treatment processes and drug utilization. If population groups are excluded due to language barriers, the numbers of eligible participants is reduced and the results of the study are not inclusive of the diversity of the population. Without an interpreter an inequity prevails as one group is allowed access to treatment while another group is robbed of the same. Disease and illness are not impeded by languages barrier; opportunities to treatment should not be either.  


When working with an interpreter HCPs should consider what their role would be if the patient were an English speaking patient and remember that their role does not change in an interpreter‐assisted appointment. It is important maintain control of the session and cultivate a relationship with the patient, not the interpreter.  

It is always best practice to meet the interpreter a few minutes ahead of time for four main purposes:


  • Briefly identify who you are and your role with the patient
  • Provide a brief overview of the nature of the study and the types of terminology that might be used
  • Provide general information about the nature of the session.
  • Review your expectations of the process

Tips for during the session:

  1. Have all parties introduce themselves.
  2. Explain the role of the interpreter to the client. Position yourself to maintain eye contact with and talk directly to the client.
  3. Use the first/second person 'I" and "you" rather than "him/her."
  4. Avoid jargon, technical terms and idioms.
  5. Keep statements short.
  6. Keep control of the conversation.
  7. Do not ask the interpreter to speak as a cultural liaison.  
  8. If you and the interpreter need a conversation to explain terms or for clarification, ask the interpreter to explain to the patient the nature of the exchange

Using apps, computer programs and other resources to communicate with patients with low English proficiency. 


There are many apps and programs that are intended to support communication with patients with low English proficiency. Effective communication with patients is extremely important, however, these electronic and digital tools are not recommended for use within the healthcare setting. While some of these tools may seem helpful to communicate very simple messages, they can be risky.


All available machine translation or interpreting devices that are currently available pose a risk for misinterpretation. While misinterpretation can also occur with human to human interpreting, machine interpreting does not include the same opportunities for clarification that human to human interpreting provides.


Here are some questions that will also help you think about how a specific tool might be helpful or harmful in your work:

  • Are there positive reviews in the literature from users of this tool? Are any negative impacts of using the tool described?
  • Do you have sufficient information about how/when the tool should be used in order for it to be safe and effective?
  • Was the tool developed in consultation with, or at least tested by, those who would use it in a healthcare setting?
  • Was the tool reviewed by language and communication experts?
  • Does the tool protect patient confidentiality as per the PHSA PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY policy?
  • Do the images and functions included in the tool seem culturally appropriate for the patient?
  • Does the tool address any issues for which consent are needed? When discussing issues that need consent with patients with low English proficiency, professional interpreters should always be used.
  • Are you confident that the tool uses the appropriate dialect, tone and language for your patient?
  • Does the tool seem to be sufficiently patient-centered, rather than solely allowing for the care provider to receive some of the information they want?
  • Does the tool transfer any information directly into a patient's chart? This should never occur—all information that is input into a chart should be reviewed by a human for accuracy.

The purpose of this guideline is to provide direction to health care staff, including Contractors and students (hereto known as Staff) regarding protocols for using spoken language interpreters when language assistance is required during the care of a patient infected with or suspected of a high risk communicable disease.


When language assistance is required:


Staff must take all reasonable efforts to use a professional interpreter when receiving or providing information to:

  1. A patient infected with or suspected of a high risk communicable disease;  
  2. Their family and/or any individual that has had unprotected contact with patient  
  3. The interpreting may take place via telephone or in‐person.
  4. Interpreters required in‐person should not enter the room of the infected patient an the interpreter may have limited knowledge and practice with infection control measures. To ensure disease containment, interpreters should stand outside the room and use the telephonic equipment provided by the facility to interpret.
  5. Staff using interpreters for communication with those infected or suspected of high risk communicable disease must ensure appropriate equipment is available in the room and on the floor. Appropriate equipment includes:
    • A telephonic device with speaker phone capacity in the patient's room  
    • A telephonic device for the interpreter's use if in‐person interpreter is required  

For spoken language interpreters, call Provincial Language Service at 604‐297‐8400/1‐877‐BC TALKS (228‐2557) to connect directly to a telephone interpreter or to request an in‐person interpreter. In‐person interpreters may not be available at the requested time, therefore Staff requesting the interpreter must be flexible with the requested time.  

Note: Emergency rooms with direct dial access to phone interpreters should continue to use the direct dial access method.

Tab Heading

SOURCE: Spoken Language Interpreting Services ( )
Page printed: . Unofficial document if printed. Please refer to SOURCE for latest information.

Copyright © Provincial Health Services Authority. All Rights Reserved.

    Copyright © 2018 Provincial Health Services Authority