Category Archives: Thoughts on Interpretation

Early Language Learning Positions Workers for an Expanding Global Market

In the United States, the majority of students who learn a second language do not begin learning this language until the age of 14, or when they enter high school. However, studies have shown that there are several benefits to learning a foreign language earlier in life, and many elementary schools are offering foreign language courses, as well. Spanish is the foreign language most commonly taught at the elementary school level, followed by French, Latin and Chinese.

In a market in which the demand for bilingual individuals is growing rapidly, the earlier the student can begin his or her language learning the better. Not only do students who begin learning a second language in elementary school often show improved test scores and cognitive function over those who do not, but these students are also 70% more likely to reach an intermediate level of communication than those who begin in high school. This means that the early language learner has a much higher chance of effectively using these skills in the marketplace as an adult. As more and more companies expand and do business overseas, the ability to be able to speak and interact with those who speak another language will be more important than ever. 

Those who are able to master a second language from an early age are also more likely to continue to develop their language skills throughout life. One way that they are able to do so is by developing skills needed for translation and interpretation, industries that continue to grow year after year. While simply being bilingual isn’t enough for most translation and interpretation projects, those individuals who have the strong grasp of a second language from an early age are better equipped to master the art of translation or interpretation as an adult. A person who did not learn the language until later in life has to focus on both learning the language and the skills needed for translation and interpretation within a shorter time period.

In Europe, 80% of students speak a second language, but only 14% of students in the US consider themselves bilingual. When you couple results like higher test scores and cognitive function with a higher propensity for specialized language application later on, introducing a foreign language program into an elementary school level curriculum seems to make a good deal of sense, as it would allow the US to better position skilled bilingual workers in an ever-expanding global market.

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Filed under Language training, Thoughts on Interpretation, Thoughts on Translation, Translation Industry News

All interpreting is not created equal

All interpreting is not created equal. A potential client said something along these lines to us recently and we thought, “Wow. This person really gets it.” This might be a hard concept for many to grasp, especially without a background in language learning or bilingualism, however it’s something we find that more and more clients realize and it’s what sets them apart from their own competition.

One might ask, “Well, if you have speakers of two languages and an interpreter present, why is not all interpreting considered equal?” Take the incident that occurred at the funeral for the late Nelson Mandela. Onlookers were appalled that the sign language interpreter was signing phrases that made little to no sense and that clearly were not an accurate rendition of what was spoken during the ceremony. South African officials were ashamed and social media blew up over the incident.

Think about whether or not your brand could afford such an incident in the public eye. Vetting and hiring professionals is key in making sure that the individuals who speak on behalf of your brand will deliver. Contracting professional interpreters (or translators) is no different. Imagine this scenario.

You have a business meeting in two days and you’ve hired an interpreter to assist for a two-hour meeting with a potential client who could boost your company’s sales and visibility. You’ve sent all of the materials to be covered in the meeting to the interpreter ahead of time so that he/she can come prepared. On the day of the meeting, the interpreter shows up late and is stumbling through the assignment, obviously ill prepared. You find out later that the client understood very little of the interpreter’s rendition of the content and that there are still many unanswered questions. What could this mean for your company’s potential contract with this new client? Did you just lose the opportunity to do business with them? Do you bring them back for another meeting with a new interpreter? What does this say to your client about your brand?

Most certainly in life mistakes happen, and you might have hired the wrong interpreter for the meeting. However, if mistakes can be avoided, why not take the steps beforehand to ensure accurate interpreting of the meeting and possibly win a contract that could grow your business?

It seems that more and more people are catching on to the concept that our potential client mentioned: “All interpreting (or translation) is not created equal.” Branding is not only about the content your team creates, but rather, in all of your interactions with others. Hiring professionals who are trained and well versed in a specific content area is key for your business. It’s also crucial for interpreting and translation.

Have you ever been in a situation in which an interpreter was present and misinterpreted the content of a conversation or speech? What did the poor interpreting say about the company or organization for which he/she was interpreting?

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Filed under Customer Service, Legal translation/interpreting, Medical translation/interpreting, Thoughts on Interpretation

How can telephonic interpretation benefit you and your company?

One of the first questions new interpretation buyers ask when they reach out to us for an interpreter is whether or not they will need to have one of our interpreters come to their office several times a week in order to be available when an LEP (Limited English Proficient) individual shows up or calls in for information or an appointment. Our answer? Not necessary.

Of course, we are happy to have new clients, but we want what’s best for our clients, and having an interpreter on-site for an extended period of time without the definite need for his/her services is not practical or cost-effective. So, what do we suggest? Telephonic interpretation.

If you are unable to foresee the time/date that you’ll need an interpreter to assist your clients and staff, how can you give the LEP individual your undivided attention when he/she calls in or shows up unexpectedly? Telephonic interpretation can be very effective in these situations, and you don’t need an appointment. Many of our clients choose this option in order to best handle incoming phone calls, unexpected visits and for times when their staff needs to reach an LEP patient or client to relay information.

How does it work? Our over-the-phone interpreters are trained and screened before they ever take the first phone call. They maintain complete confidentiality of your organization’s information and are professionals who can assist you to speak to clients and staff without the stress of making an appointment for a meeting and having to call in an on-site interpreter. We will set up an account for you and supply you with a toll-free number to call whenever you need the service. You also have the option of making a three-way call with our phone interpretation option.


Some of our clients use the service to interact with clients and colleagues overseas, while others just want to communicate with individuals who frequently come to their office but have little to no fluency in English. Whatever the case may be, we can support you and give you an accessible solution in over 150 languages.

How do you know if this is the best option for you? Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Do you find yourself at a loss when LEP customers or staff need to talk to you and you haven’t had time or been able to find an on-site interpreter?

2. Do you want to show these LEP individuals that you do care about your interactions with them and want to give them the attention they deserve?

3. Do you want a service you don’t have to worry about scheduling and that is always there when you need it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, find out more about our telephonic interpretation services today and let us be your solution.


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Filed under Customer Service, Legal translation/interpreting, Medical translation/interpreting, Thoughts on Interpretation

3 Things You Should Never Ask of a Health Care Interpreter

Medical interpretation, whether in a hospital, clinic, at the scene of an accident or in a family physician’s office, is a professional service provided by professional individuals and language agencies. However, it can often be challenging for the interpreter, both mentally and emotionally, depending on the patient’s condition, the situation in which the interpreter is needed and other factors that arise as part of the job.

Health care professionals are faced with challenges in their own daily work as well. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that one’s own professional challenges in a given situation may not be the same as those of another and vice versa. Doctors, nurses and administrators in medical settings each have their own capacity in performing their work, as do health care interpreters. Here are three things to avoid requesting of a health care interpreter.

“Could you please read/fill this out for the patient?” This question might seem innocent and one that is meant to help a process move along a little faster or more smoothly, but it’s a common question asked of health care interpreters in health care facilities daily. Some patients cannot read well, write well or may even be illiterate, however it is important to remember that the interpreter is not responsible for filling out a patient’s medical information and should never be asked to do so.

Consider this scenario. A patient arrives for an appointment and speaks little to no English. The interpreter introduces him/herself to the patient and the health care staff upon checking in. While the administrator behind the desk prepares the paperwork the patient needs to fill out, s/he asks the interpreter to explain the forms to the patient and help him/her fill them out. Ethically, the interpreter should know better and kindly inform the administrator of his/her role as an interpreter. The administration should provide someone from its staff to go over the forms with the patient, while the interpreter interprets the content. This way, if the patient has any questions or concerns, the staff can answer these, leaving the interpreter to do his/her job and avoid giving any medical advice, which is clearly not his/her role. This also deflects liability from the interpreter for doling out incorrect information or making a mistake on the patient’s documentation.

“Can you hold this child’s legs while we give her the booster?” This question might even sound humorous to someone reading, but it has happened and continues to happen often. Ask any parent or nurse. Giving a child a vaccination can be a stressful situation. A child is upset, sometimes crying, squirming, etc. But again, the interpreter’s role is to interpret, not to assist in performing any medical act or procedure.

Image Source: "Dedicated to All Better: A Blog by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta"

Image Source: “Dedicated to All Better: A Blog by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta”

Many times, health care staff see the interpreter as an extension of their own staff. This is wonderful in terms of respect and professionalism, but it’s important to know where to draw the line when it comes to overstepping an interpreter’s role. This is all in addition to any liability issues that could result from an interpreter helping to restrain a patient. Ask another staff member to assist and leave the interpreter to interpret.

“Tell us your opinion of this patient’s mental state.” Many of you who are reading may already be shaking your head. How can an interpreter assess a patient’s mental state? Yet, this question is often asked of interpreters in situations in which the patient’s mental or emotional health is being assessed.

Consider this. Would it make sense to ask an English-speaking individual present for another English-speaking patient’s visit what s/he thinks of the patient’s mental state? What authority does this person have to assess another’s mental condition? The same goes for an interpreter and the ethics we practice in our industry. Interpreters are not health care professionals, nor are they qualified to assess a patient’s condition. Yes, they are professionals who are able to communicate in both languages with a high level of medical knowledge and terminology, but this does not make them colleagues in the same sense.

Interpreters’ professional code of ethics also prohibits them from stepping out of the roles of the profession. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC)’s National Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care clearly states, “The interpreter maintains the boundaries of the professional role, refraining from personal involvement.” This allows the interpreter to remain unbiased as much as possible and avoid any involvement that could result in larger problems down the road.

Many health care professionals are unaware of interpreter ethics and standards, which is why it is crucial to take the time to learn about these aspects of the interpreter’s role and what to expect of a professional service. For more information on National Standards of Practice or the Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care, please visit the NCIHC webpage.


Filed under Medical translation/interpreting, Thoughts on Interpretation, Translation Industry News

Interpreting in health care: Why health care providers should skip the drive-thru method

Technology in the language services industry is in rapid growth mode. However, there seems to be a misunderstanding among the masses of ways technology will solve problems regarding language barriers in our society today. Perhaps it says something about the way we think and how we carry ourselves day to day. I’ve heard it referred to as a “drive-thru” society at times, i.e. we don’t have time to stop the car, go inside and order our food. Rather, we’d prefer to sit in the comfort of our own vehicles and order at the window, assuming that service will be quicker and we can get on with our days a bit more easily.

For anyone who has ever gone through a drive-thru more than once, you know that this may not be the case. You may end up sitting in line longer than it would have taken you to simply park the car, go inside and order your food to go. So how do our fast food society habits compare to language access and technology?

Recently, medical students at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) created an application (app) for medical translation. An article published by UCSF in 2011 stated that a couple of medical students were frustrated at how long it took them to communicate with Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals, especially at night and on the weekends. It also mentioned that the San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH), where they worked, “…offers assistance in more than 65 languages through a combination of staff medical interpreters, a telephone language line and a video medical interpretation system proving real-time access to providers and patients within four minutes.” Four minutes! In most fields, access to an interpreter in that amount of time is incredibly fast. So, why the need for a translation app?

One of the students, Alex Blau said, “Ninety percent of diagnoses come from the patient’s self-reported medical history, so the ability to communicate is critical,” referring to nights and weekends. “Time is not an asset doctors or patients have. You need that information when you need it.” I would say it’s safe to argue that most patients, whether they speak English natively or not, would rather their doctors slow down and take the time to talk with them (not to mention, in their own language).

In order to solve their dilemma, the students decided to create an app that would “translate” medical history questions into other languages. The article did not mention whether or not there was a feature that would “translate” the patients’ responses. How would these students capture responses from patients or further explain if a patient does not understand the question, is illiterate or hard of hearing? Many professional interpreters know that when a patient is asked his or her name, at times, the patient may not even be able to spell it. An app certainly won’t solve this issue.

The best choice is to have a professional, trained interpreter present in person, on the phone or available via video access. If a patient needs assistance via a professional interpreter, waiting the four minutes (and many times, less!) will give everyone peace of mind to know that the patients’ concerns and medical information is interpreted accurately and efficiently. One more issue comes to mind when considering the features of the app in general. Although the creators have made it available in multiple languages with multiple questions about one’s medical history, how does it really save time? It seems to only save a little time on the wait time (which, we have already established is really not that long), as patients have to take the time to read or listen to the questions and then respond. I would argue that medical interpreters are much more efficient in rendering the message accurately and interpreting the answers patients give, which tend to be explanations, rather than one- to two-word responses. Telephonic and video interpreters, as well as in-person interpreters, also work in the evenings and on weekends. So, availability is typically not an issue if the medical provider has a quality service provider.

Going to the doctor’s office can be stressful enough, with filling out insurance forms, waiting for the doctor and feeling sick all at once. After waiting to see my doctor (which will certainly take more than four minutes), I’d like to think I can take the time I need to fully explain what I’ve been feeling or experiencing personally, without having to read or listen to an app, which may or may not contain the questions necessary to discuss my ailment. If I needed an interpreter, I would hope my doctor would take the four minutes or less to access one and read my chart while we wait. This seems like a much better use of technology and time.

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Filed under Customer Service, Medical translation/interpreting, Thoughts on Interpretation