The debate on using an interpreter or a translator?
In our multicultural province, many service providers will encounter clients or patients that don’t speak their language and may have to go through an interpreter to communicate.
Often this person is referred to as a translator, but is this accurate? Let’s clarify these terms. An interpreter translates your words on the spot orally, whereas a translator translates words from one language to another, usually in written form. Simultaneous interpreting is when the person can see the speaker and is interpreting in real time to an audience that can’t hear the speaker, usually from inside a private booth. Consecutive interpreting is also done in the presence of the speaker, usually side by side, where they take turns speaking. This consecutive interpreting is what we, as Community Health Reps with AHS, do a lot of on a daily basis.
Generally a physician will speak to the client and then we interpret what has been said to the client; then when the client responds, we interpret their response back to the physician. This back and forth takes patience and trust between all parties and can save a lot of frustration, confusion, and even sometimes, save lives.
When preparing a speech or preparing to deliver information where you will use an interpreter, keep in mind that this will take longer and cutting your content to the most necessary information is key. Also to consider is that jokes or stories, might not be easy to interpret as not only can the terminology in their language be lacking, but also the concept could be foreign and the punch line might not make sense! That being said, once relationships have been built, a simple joke to put everyone at ease can be very appropriate.
Whenever possible, brief your interpreter before you begin your conversation with the client. This way the interpreter can ask for clarification on any industry specific or specialized terms beforehand. When written material is available beforehand, provide the interpreter with a copy as well so he/she can follow along and nothing is missed. How familiar the interpreter is with the topic of discussion can make a big difference in how well the interpretation will go.
When you are talking, face the person or audience to whom you are delivering your message and have your interpreter either beside you or beside the client(s). Speak to your client as though you speak the same language rather than asking the interpreter to speak on your behalf. This helps to build relationship and prepares your client for that day when they have learned enough of your language to communicate on their own. Some may understand enough to answer basic questions and if asked directly, this encourages clients to respond on their own and build on their language skills, confidence, and sense of value.
For our Low German Mennonite families, making eye contact can be intimidating, but as a service provider making eye contact can again help build that relationship.
At a recent client appointment the service provider, upon hearing that there was an interpreter present because the client didn’t speak English, began to speak very loudly and emphatically to the client. Try not to do this. Talk to your client as though they can understand you, keeping your tone normal and still using gestures. Also keep in mind that when somebody can’t speak your language, this doesn’t mean they can’t read your body language. A smile goes a long way in setting someone at ease and in the same way, a frown or negative body language can cause someone to feel out of place.
Whenever we go to a country where our language isn’t spoken and we struggle to understand, it helps when the natives speak in simple, clear, low-level language without using slang or metaphors that we wouldn’t get in a million years! So this is definitely important to keep in mind even if working with an interpreter.
For example, you could ask if someone feels like they will throw up instead of asking if they feel nauseous. Or ‘do you need help’ instead of ‘are you in need of assistance.’ Speak slower than usual and pause after a few sentences or one thought so that the interpreter can remember all that was said.
The interpreter needs to be able to convey all of the information in a way that makes sense to the client, this can mean explaining concepts or describing something that there aren’t words for in the client’s language. So if the interpreter takes longer to relay what you have just said, this could be because there wasn’t the same terminology in the language being spoken and instead it has to be described or explained in greater detail.
As interpreters, we have to hear a message in one language and rearrange the content and relay it in another language while still making sense. If you see your interpreter looking off into the corner or looking a million miles away, this is likely because he/she is hearing in one language and processing in another and this can take concentration! Sentence structure, concepts, inflections, and situation all play into the interpretation quality.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for caring enough about your clients to have an interpreter present to help them understand fully. Anyone that has ever been in a situation where they didn’t understand what was being said or couldn’t communicate their own needs or wants, knows how valuable it is to have someone take the time to help them understand.
We’d also like to thank all those that have enlisted our help and have demonstrated patience and appreciation for our time and efforts. As mentioned earlier, body language is felt in any situation no matter the language spoken and when one feels wanted and appreciated, the experience is so much better for the client, service provider, and interpreter!
Tina Fielding is a Community Health Representative and works with Population Health Promotion with Alberta Health Services as an interpreter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-388-6671. Some info taken from http://www.advanced etiquette.com/2015/09/8-tips-when-using-aninterpreter/