Bridging the Gap – Summer 2015


BTG Summer 2015 Flyer

Discussion of Language Differences

Author Jeanette Kibler

On April 17th, Interpreters of Languages of Lesser Diffusion joined our Japanese Interpreter colleagues for a workshop on interpreting at MPU appointments. We had a fascinating discussion as we quickly realized that Interpreters face different challenges depending on their culture.

One fun discussion was around the translation of the word “diabetes”.  One of the Somali Interpreters explained that in her language “diabetes” is translated as the equivalent of “sweet pee” and is diagnosed because ants gather around the patient’s urine. A Thai Interpreter chimed in and said it was also the equivalent of “sweet pee” in her language.  Then one of the Japanese Interpreters commented that in Japanese it is literally the characters for “sugar” and “urine” disease.

Orawan Wong, our Thai Interpreter wrote about her experience at the workshop:  The word “stomach” has a different meaning in other cultures, especially in Thai culture. It covers the area from underneath the chest down to the end of the body trunk. At the MPU, patients will be asked about their medical history. Medical terms for diseases are used by medical personnel. The patients might not understand the terms even though they are translated into their language. It can be helpful to ask the patients what problems they are having or have had inside their stomach. And then, we can go from there to explain which organs and what symptoms they have or had.

And this from one of our newest Interpreters in Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi: Thank you so much for letting me participate in such an engaging, informative and a well-organized workshop.  It was great to meet other colleagues and learn their perspectives from their cultural backgrounds. I thoroughly enjoyed the role play and learned how imperative it is as an Interpreter to not only be a conduit but at times also be a provider of clarity, a cultural broker, and an advocate. Also, it was wonderful to receive the forms that we can translate in our languages and be of further help to our patients. –Shanila Khan

The Team

As a manager, I am constantly impressed by our Interpreter’s dedication to their work but, this past Memorial Day weekend, I was blown away by a special group of Interpreters.

One phrase word summed up this group: The Team, The Team, The Team. Simply amazing teamwork practiced by all. Our Deaf Access Team had a crazy week leading up to the Memorial Day weekend. They prepared for the weekend by determining interpreter needs for our inpatients and setting up backup Interpreters “just in case”. Emergency room, new admits, and medical complications just kept rolling in all weekend. In all my years here, I have never seen such a weekend for any language group.

This group of Interpreters had incredible communication amongst themselves. Everyone took on a leadership role when needed. The backup interpreters had backups. The support and positive reinforcement each Interpreter had for one another continued throughout the entire weekend.

One interpreter commented: “. . .still amazed and impressed with how everyone managed to cope with such a torrent of work….cooperation and professionalism in the highest! Brava ladies, brava. . .”

I couldn’t have said it better. These Interpreters probably went through more in one weekend than they have in six months of interpreting. I am so proud of how they conducted themselves. They were efficient, flexible, effective, responsive, empowered . . .

The positive and supportive camaraderie of the Deaf Access team should serve as a role model to other teams. Thank you for everything you did this past holiday weekend and for what you do every day for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients and their families. You embody the Michigan Difference.

Sight Translation: Healthcare Interpreters’ Cinderella

Not long ago the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) hosted a webinar on the subject of Sight Translation in medical settings: “When Interpreter Meets Translator: Sight Translation of Healthcare Documents”, which was presented by Natalya Mytareva (M.A., CoreCHITM, CCHI Managing Director) on Sunday, Feb 1, 2015. Revising several concepts discussed during the webinar, some thoughts sprouted on this particular chapter of our regular duties as healthcare interpreters. Let us here comment on some of them.

SIGHT TRANSLATION is the oral rendition of text written in one language into another language and is usually done in the moment (NCIHC, 2010). Traditionally, instead of an activity on its own, sight translation has mostly been considered as a supportive interpretation method for simultaneous and consecutive interpretation, a type of simultaneous interpreting, or just a pedagogical exercise for getting started in the techniques of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting (Ersozlu, 2005). However, sight translation is neither proper INTERPRETATION (oral rendering of spoken or signed communication from one language into another; NCIHC, 2010) nor proper TRANSLATION (rendering of a written text in one language in a comparable written text in another language; NCIHC, 2010), although a tension with this latter activity is clearly apparent: both translation and sight translation share the intended communicative purpose, require knowledge of similar specific documents, and start their journey on a written text.

sight v written translation graphic

Their particular outcomes, though, as well as the problem solving routes that can be undertaken in a given difficult situation are different in each case. While in translation the linguistic form is always preserved, in sight translation simplification is considered acceptable due to the need for immediate delivery.

Sight translation is an exercise half way in between interpretation and translation that requires its own particular set of skills:

  • Knowledge of TERMINOLOGY (the system of terms belonging to any science or subject, nomenclature; OED) specific to healthcare documents.
  • Understanding the REGISTER (a variety or level of usage, especially as determined by social context and characterized by the range of vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, etc., used by a speaker or writer in particular circumstances; OED) to have the ability to adjust it to neutral if needed.
  • Understanding the SYNTAX (the set of rules and principles in a language according to which words, phrases, and clauses are arranged to create well-formed sentences – the ways in which a particular word or part of speech can be arranged with other words or parts of speech; OED) and, if required, be able to SIMPLIFY it without sacrificing accuracy of meaning.

natalya mytareva

(Graph by Natalya Mytareva)

Sight translation requires different skills than oral interpreting, and sight translating long documents can consume quite a lot of time, fatigue the interpreter and increase the risk for error (NCIHC, 2010). Thus, we come with the dilemma of:

Sight Translate versus DO NOT Sight Translate

From the pool of documents that we, healthcare interpreters, might handle while performing our duties, there are those ones (institutional forms and some informational documents) that we may sight translate (green in the table below), those ones (legal documents) that should practically never be sight translated but translated (red in the table below), and those ones (some informational documents) that depending on their length and level of complexity might or might not be sight translated (yellow in the table below).

chart 3.2015

Once it has been decided that a given written document is suitable for sight translation, here are some tips to prepare for it as they were suggested by Natalya Mytareva:

  • Beforehand:
    • Collect and study (translate and become familiar with) healthcare documents; even better if they are from the institution/s you are working for).
    • Prepare yourself by:
      • Analyzing the peculiarities of healthcare documents.
      • Analyzing sentences and identifying their subjects and predicates.
      • Studying specific vocabulary (legal, insurance, etc.)
      • Practicing paraphrasing sentences without changing the original meaning.
      • Creating your own sight translation glossaries (including formulaic phrases, sentences, paraphrases, and expressions without standard equivalents in other languages).
    • On site:
      • Identify the intent of the document & focus on preserving the intended meaning.
      • Review the whole document.
      • Simplify the written form as you go (idea by idea, not word by word).
      • While sight translating a sentence, read ahead to the next one to ensure an even pace.
      • Try sight translate at a moderate, even pace with a non-monotonous intonation.

Along with sight translation, TRANSLATION “ON THE SPOT” (written source to written target, on site), probably a performance less frequently done than sight translation, is also something that we are requested to do. Therefore, hinted here are types of texts that might be considered suitable for translation on the spot:

  • Notes on documents; not the whole document
  • Only from English to patient’s language
  • Only short, specific portions
  • Non-Technical” language

On-the-spot translations by interpreters, aside from documents such as those mentioned above, are unnecessary if materials have been translated in advance and are available for use in patient encounters (NCIHC, 2010).

It would be grand for those few comments if they manage to spark discussion among your fellow interpreters, especially among those ones working for your same department/agency, so when approaching a particular situation where sight translation might be required, by your professional response you can undisputedly be identified as a member of your institution.


Medical Interpreting for Spanish Speakers – Spring 2015


MISS Spring 2015 Flyer