AIM: This paper is a report of a study exploring nurse radiographers' experiences of examining patients who do not speak the native language. BACKGROUND: The increased number of immigrant patients in Western countries poses a challenge to healthcare staff, as mutual understanding is needed in encounters with patients who do not speak the language of the host country. In particular, little is known about the quality of communication in the setting of radiological examinations, i.e. short encounters with demanding technical and caring components. METHODS: Three focus group interviews with experienced nurse radiographers (n = 11) were carried out in 2007. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. A qualitative content analysis method was applied to analyse the interview texts. FINDINGS: Four main categories emerged in the analysis: modes, needs, quality and improvements of interpreting. The need for an interpreter is strongly associated with the type of examination. For interventional procedures and contrast-enhanced examinations, a professional interpreter is required to inform the patient and to identify and handle side effects and complications. Friends, relatives, particularly children, and staff as interpreters were not considered ideal as an alternative. Shortage of time and lack of specific knowledge about radiological procedures were identified as problems with professional interpreters. Interpreter training and checklists specific for radiology department routines were suggested, as well as improved nurse radiographers' education on intercultural communication. CONCLUSION: The need for an interpreter, and the native tongue of the patient, should be clearly stated on the radiology request form, to allow timely scheduling of an interpreter. Intercultural communication in nurse radiographers' education should be enhanced.