Posted by: sbilingual | November 7, 2011

Beautiful Interpreters: Training Dual-Role Interpreters in the Medical Setting

Some are doctors, some are nurses, some are admissions clerks.  Some were lawyers or engineers in their own countries and, on one occasion, even a TV reporter.

Some, like myself, came to this country as refugees, others learned a second language by studying abroad or joining the Peace Corps, and still others learned it at home.

A few have had to interpret all their lives, as children helping their parents,attempting to interpret concepts that they were too young to understand.

Others have had to practice their skills on the battlefield, knowing that their renditions might result in someone’s death.  One interpreter is regularly called upon without notice to interpret in the ER because he’s the only one in the community who speaks that language.

The languages are as diverse as the world we live in: Spanish, Kreyol, Russian, Croatian, French, Somali, Tajiki, Arabic, Kirwandan, Italian, Portuguese, Burmese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, to name just a few.

But all have one thing in common

They use their skills to provide language access to health care services for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).  And, most beautifully, they do it with pleasure and the desire to enhance the patients’ experience.

I meet these dual role interpreters as a trainer for Language Line University’s Advanced Medical Interpreter Training.  Most of them have a regular position within their organization and are called on occasionally to interpret, so my job is to ensure that they adhere to the standards of practice of the medical interpreting profession.

We start with the concept of interpreter as conduit, interpreting without additions, omissions or changes, beginning a dialogue that runs throughout the rest of the training.  We discuss other interpreter roles, such as that of culture broker, clarifier, and advocate, and give them the tools they need to fulfill those roles, as appropriate.

We work on memory skills and how to extend the length of the segment they are able to interpret, and discuss terminology, formulating glossaries for describing pain, parts of the body, organs, and diseases, for example.

Then there are the stories that we tell each other…

Such as the one about the Russian interpreter who saved her hospital millions of dollars when she sat with the family of a deceased patient who had brought suit against the hospital.  She interpreted the results of the patient’s blood tests accurately and clearly, with the help of all her dictionaries and the doctor’s clarifications, thereby demonstrating clearly that the patient had not died due to malpractice, but to disease. The family decided to drop their lawsuit.

My goal is to make these trainings interesting and to engage the participants, using their comments as opportunities to teach and make everyone feel sufficiently at ease to offer ideas, strategies and opinions.

In this manner, their comments benefit the entire group, everyone “owns” the training, and the concepts involved are easily assimilated.  By the end of the sessions, we can all wholeheartedly agree:

 “Interpreters shall provide to the best of their ability, a complete and accurate rendition of the meaning and spirit of what is stated without altering, adding, or omitting anything whatsoever.”


Bilingual Resources Group, Inc.
Tel: (504) 253-0364
Toll Free: (877) 608-4594
Fax: (504) 910-8499

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